Representatives of civil society, anti-corruption agencies, government institutions and diplomatic corps from several West African countries rose from a 2-day summit in Abuja on Thursday with a renewed commitment work together towards eradicating corruption and enhance stolen assets recovery in the sub-region.
The sub-region which is one of the poorest in the world is noted for serial practices of transfer of illicit funds through smuggling, drug trade, human trafficking, corporate corruption, money laundering and stealing of public funds by public officials and private investors, running into billions of dollars every year.
In recent years, this has been compounded by illegal mining by international criminal gangs all of which fuel poverty, infrastructural decay, health challenges, extremism and even terrorism.
About 100 representatives drawn from Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Gambia and other western countries met over the two days on the theme Illicit Financial Flow and Repatriation of Stolen Funds Within and From West Africa.
For two historic days, participants deliberated on corruption with particular focus on illicit financial flow and transfer of stolen funds from within and across West Africa, the African sub-region made up of 15 countries with a population of about 362 million people of diverse heritage and civilizations.
“This is a significant milestone in the history of West Africa. We have gathered here to work out a sub-regional strategy against corruption in West Africa. If we work together, victory is certain.
“There are criminals in Nigeria who live like statesmen in Ghana and there are crooks in Senegal who are heroes in Gambia because of lack of coordination and shared information on crime actors,” Chairman, Human Environment and Development Agenda, (HEDA Resource Centre), Mr Olanrewaju Suraju, whose group organized the event told an excited audience.
Also speaking at the conference, the Director General of the Nigerian Financial Intelligent Unit (NFIU), Moddibo Tukur said regional cooperation was imperative in the fight against illicit financial flow, urging the people to realise that corruption remains one of the biggest hurdles against sustainable development in West Africa.
The Special Adviser to the President on Economic Matters (Office of the Vice President), Ambassador (Dr.) Yemi Dipeolu commended the organizers of the conference and challenged the civil society organizations on their roles as catalyst of social changes in the society.
He reaffirmed the findings of the Thani Mbeki Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa with further confirmation of the reports insufficient capturing of some more egregious corporate malfeasance and economic exploitation against the continent.
The ultimate task of stakeholders is the prevention of Illicit Flow of resources from the region.
The organisers said the conference was informed by the fact that West African peoples have shared history, fears, aspirations and challenges and have for long been victims of horrendous cases of corruption in the form of illicit transfer of funds which continue to fuel extreme poverty, underdevelopment, starvation, instability and the growing trend of violent extremism.
The sub-region remains at the bottom of scale of poverty with low income per capital and poor GDP.
Special Adviser to the President of Nigeria on Social Investment Program, Mrs. Mariam Uwais, showcased the potentials of recovered assets with the display of achievements of the Social Intervention Programmes of the Nigerian Government from proceeds of recovered stolen assets.
“Citizens are the government and should engage with the process of monitoring utilization of their resources by elected officials.” According to her, “the cost of stolen fund recovery is enormous and valuable time lost.”
The communique issued after the conference stated that for an effective fight against corruption and repatriation of public funds kept within or outside West Africa, civil society and governments in the sub-region will strengthen cooperation, solidarity and networking to stem corruption and ensure the repatriation of stolen funds and asset recovered within and outside West Africa.
The delegates noted that West African civil society will work harder with governments and other relevant institutions towards reclaiming of the floundering moral fortunes which is the bedrock of human character in West African primary and tertiary institutions.
It stated “Through information and knowledge sharing, participants will positively explore Information Technology, which has literarily broken down ancient borders, creating greater opportunities for unlimited bound among the peoples and governments of West Africa towards anti-corruption.”
Participants also promised to work with all stakeholders for institutional reforms focusing on critical areas like taxation, customs duties, the civil service, the banking sector and the judiciary for an impactful anti-corruption campaign.
The communique stated further “We call for greater national and regional cooperation among the various anti-corruption institutions, law enforcement agencies and the civil society for significant anti-corruption war. This also involves bringing the initiatives of the major anti-corruption agencies in West Africa under one roof to effectively tackle illicit finance and assets recovery.”
The Conference calls for legal framework for the disbursement of recovered looted funds to ensure expenditure for long term benefit of the people urging the civil society across West Africa to work more in the grassroots towards community empowerment for a more practical anti-corruption action plan.
Organized by Nigeria’s foremost anti-corruption group, the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) the conference was supported under the Strengthening Citizens Resilience Against the Prevalence of Corruption managed by Actionaid, Nigeria with funding from UKAids.
Dignitaries at the conference included Special Advisers to Nigeria’s President on Economic Matters and Social Investment Programme, Mrs Maryam Uwais and Ambassador Yemi Dipeolu respectively; Moddibo Tukur, Director, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU); Coordinator, International Press Centre (IPC) Mr. Lanre Gabriel Arogundade; Mr. Femi Falana (SAN); Representative of National Orientation Agency (NOA); Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC); Lisa Obeng, Deputy Director of Article XIX; Marr Nyang from The Gambia; Samuel Thompson-Essel, Former Director of Ghana Financial Intelligence Centre; Sahr Kendema and Tommy Ibrahim from Sierra Leone among many other representatives of civil society and governments from outside the country. Other participants were Prof Shehu Abdullahi, Dr Tunde Akanni, Mr Chido Onumah, Prof Deji Adekunle, Mr Okey Nwanguma, representatives of government institutions and anti-corruption agencies including EFCC, ICPC and many leaders of civil society groups.