‘Synergy between Bar associations can help trap laundered funds overseas’
African lawyers at the just-concluded International Bar Association (IBA) Conference in Washington DC, United States of America (USA) called on the international community to desist from harbouring stolen funds from Nigeria and other African countries. They were unequivocal in their call for immediate action at a session on the “impact of illicit financial flows on Africa’s development and what African bar associations should recommend to their members and governments in response to the illicit flows”. Some of the recommendations at the forum include filing of legal action against countries and institutions that habour such illegal funds. Former attorney general of Benue state, Mamman Mike Osuman (SAN) spoke with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE on the sidelines of the conference in Washington DC about the issue and many others.
You attended a session on the illicit flow of funds from Africa. What do you make out of the suggestions raised?
Not enough time was given to the topic, particularly as it concerns Africa and particular Nigerian. We have a unique and peculiar system that is clouded by politics and family interest. And except we organise that type of forum within and contributors examining it objectively with a view to identifying signpost, we cannot succeed.
What approach do you think Africans can adopt to repatriate these stolen funds?
African relationship with the rest of the world is predicated on treaty. These bogus treaties that are international in character is not enough. It has to take personal arrangement between individual countries, not just merely being a signatory to bogus treaties where sometimes it is difficult to cross all the ‘T’s and dot all the ‘I’s. For example, we used to be a colony of Great Britain and we have this affinity with them. First port of call for any Nigerian is usually Great Britain. Just like forensic experts come to Nigeria to testify on behalf of the EFCC, we should have that type bilateral agreement so that when funds are stolen from Nigeria and lodged in any bank or in an investment in United Kingdom, it should be easily traceable. And I think that any person, whether civil servant or private public servant, each one should be able to re-declare his properties that are localised and those that are outside. And knowing Nigerians, someone is going to betray such person before long. When that is done, it should be thoroughly investigated and when these properties are identified, they should be appropriated by government.
Femi Falana advocated suit against agencies or governments in possession of these illicit funds. Do you agree with that?
I totally agree. If it does not immediately achieve result, at least, it would terrorise them and they would be on their guard.
Do we have the international instrument that would enable us file such action? For example, we understand that a lot of those funds are in America but America has refused to join the International Criminal Courts?
We can use international conventions. We know that America has always presented itself as a country that fights corruption. Even within the framework of America, tax evaders are arrested and prosecuted. I think that if there are talks between mutual agencies- America and Nigeria, they will get to a position where we are going to get a cooperation notwithstanding that they are not signatory to International conventions.
How in your opinion do you think that the bar associations would form a synergy with anti-graft agencies in respective countries using Nigeria as a reference point?
That’s a very good point! Actually, rather than doing it in a cosmopolitan manner, the bar associations like the one in Nigeria and United States of America can form a synergy with a view to assisting one another. Particularly, Nigeria should reach out to the American Bar Association. American Bar can always assist if there is such a synergy. I think that should be explored. The synergy between America and Nigeria and synergy between Nigeria and Britain can be explored because we are among the commonwealth countries. Our lingua franca is English and there is always this proclivity towards going towards Britain. And with America, we are practising a presidential system of government like them and our legislators always go to America to freshen up and learn more about how to run the Nigerian parliament. So to that extent, it would be a welcomed development.
Do you think that international corporations assist in moving those illicit funds out of Africa as was raised at the session today?
Yes! One of the contributors said the directors of such companies are left to float and those are the persons who assist in making sure that those funds move from place to place. The contributor complained that there are always left afloat and nothing is done to them. The moment they are pursued using due process, I believe that we would be able to get some positive results.
Away from anti-corruption and money laundering issues, what lessons do you think the NBA can learn from what the IBA is doing?
This conference at this material time is not only time wasting, it also involves a lot of expenditure and individual Nigerians cannot afford this luxury. Sometimes we go to sessions, the contributors speak so fast because of their dialect. Sometimes, we don’t grasp everything. And this is the period of Information Communication Technology (ICT) and not many Nigerians know how to access information through ICT. So, the earlier we start organising this kind of conferences domestically, the better. We could do it zonally like in six geopolitical zones or two zones can come together and hold a conference like this and share knowledge with the view of seeing what they can do because a lot of these zones overlap geographically. If we start at that level, at the end of the day, we can have one, fairly colossal and it would affect all the zones in Nigeria. We should be able to do such in Nigeria rather than running down to a place like this from time to time.
If you notice, when parastatals send their staff here, they are more interested to be noted to have attended the conference. They go shopping and hardly attend any session. Some people fall ill because of the type of food they take here and access to medical services is expensive. So it is better we start doing it at home instead of parastatals, companies and ministries sending people to places like this. It is not worth it. I have been attending conferences since 1987. What a lot of people do is to mix the factor of this conference with other interests. Why spend money unnecessarily on a conference as this? This is like a festival for a lot of Nigerians.
So, what other session or sessions appealed to you in this conference?
Human rights! Basically arbitration, anti-corruption, money laundering, international law and human rights. There are so many others, but basically, those are the sessions and it includes criminal law.
What are the issues raised in any of those sessions that you found fascinating?
There has been isolated issues that has been raised and I am surprise that at the end of this conference we have not been given CD rom. It used to happen in other conferences. You are given a CD rom where all the papers delivered, contributions and committee conclusions are contained because sometimes, there might be two sessions you are interested in, going on simultaneously. Because you are interested in the two, how do you divide yourself to attend each of them? So, I will say that one thing that has interests me a lot is the awareness that has been raised about the synergy between countries, particularly between drowning countries like Nigeria and America and Great Britain.
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