The commendation by guests at the Realnews 11th Anniversary lecture was well deserved, especially for bringing to the fore the threats of illicit funds flow to the African economy and inviting the right expert to do justice to the subject which poses significant threat to the developmental agendas of African countries.
By Goddy Ikeh
THIS year’s Realnews 11th Lecture Anniversary held on November 7 in Lagos was specially hailed by the Guest Lecturer, Guest Speakers and Guests alike for the enduring legacies of the management of Realnews, especially in the area of agenda setting roles in both Nigeria and the continent of Africa.
Delivering the keynote address at the lecture, Ahmed Kuru, Managing Director, Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria, AMCON, said: “Please allow me to join the organisers in welcoming you all to this 11th Realnews Anniversary Lecture & Investiture into the Realnews Hall of Fame. I want to believe it is one of those no holds barred ‘media agenda setting’ by my sister – Maureen and her team at Realnews to bring to the fore once again, one of those threats to the economy of our country, and our continent, which if left unattended will hurt us as a collective.
“Although I have been asked to deliver the Keynote, which is more like lay the foundation for our guest lecturers and discussants to further dissect in great details, let me say that I totally agree with the organisers on the theme for this year’s lecture – ‘The Threats of Illicit Funds Flow To the African Economy’. It is indeed one very important area we all need to pay close attention to.
“To set the ball rolling, let me remind us that the World Bank, WB had described illicit funds flow or illicit financial flow, IFF as “Money illegally earned, transferred, or used that crosses borders,” he said.
According to him, looking at this simple definition of IFF, every discerning mind can easily point out the dangers this practice can pose to any economy be it in Nigeria or in Africa at large. “It also tells us that government at all levels as well as private enterprises must all work as gatekeepers if this challenge is to be tackled or even eradicated.
“I agree with the World Bank that IFF is so dangerous if not checked because amongst its many vices, it reduces domestic resources, and tax revenue needed to fund poverty-reducing programmes, and infrastructure in developing countries such as Nigeria. Accordingly, these issues are receiving growing attention as key development challenges. Aside from IFFs reducing resources, they are also symptomatic of other issues that constrain poverty reduction, and shared prosperity, such as vested interests, and weak transparency, and accountability.
“I want to state here that, if institutions in Nigeria, and across the African continent can strengthen their internal processes, and make them transparent and accountable, the energies that propel activities of illicit funds flow would be cut off thus making it extremely difficult for it to thrive. This is not a job that should be left to ministries, departments, and agencies, MDAs of the government alone, it should be a collective fight that the media should champion like Realnews Magazine is doing today,” he added.
In his speech, the Guest Lecturer, Edwin W. Harris JR, Director General, Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa, GIABA, said: “I am deeply honoured to be invited to deliver the 11th Anniversary Lecture of the Realnews Magazine and Publications Ltd. I am particularly thankful to Maureen Chigbo, the Publisher of the Realnews Magazine and his entire team for organizing this Annual Lecture, with the theme: “The Threats of Illicit Funds Flow to the African Economy”. I would like to acknowledge the key role that Realnews Magazine and other media houses are playing, especially in exposing illicit financial flows, IFFs, and underlying criminal activities and commend their work and contributions to the development of Nigeria, and indeed, the region and Africa in general.”
According to him, Illicit Financial Flows, IFF are a global phenomenon. “They do not respect borders. They undermine global social, political and economic security and have become a serious threat to the attainment of development agenda, particularly in Africa. Consequently, these issues have moved into the forefront of Africa’s agenda in recent years and will continue to shape thinking about development in the coming years. I am pleased that Realnews Magazines has chosen to focus on this matter from an African perspective during this anniversary.
“This is apt and timely, because our continent is one where IFFs pose a significant threat to the developmental agendas of our countries. I strongly believe that this event will boost the sense of urgency that we have about the threats of IFFs and raise our collective response against such flows.”
Earlier in her welcome address, the Editor of Realnews, Maureen Chigbo, observed that $18 billion is lost yearly to illicit financial flows, Iffs, through the banking sector despite the effort of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and other regulating institution in the sector to curb it.
Chigbo, who is also the President of the GOCOP, stated that Nigeria is one of the 23 countries ranked as non-co-operative in the combined efforts to fight money laundering globally, since its establishment in 2003. She disclosed that Realnews has to zero in on “Threats of Illicit funds flow to the African Economy” this year because of “our deep concern about the nefarious effect of illicit funds flow on the economy, resulting in dwindling revenue for Africa governments”.
Chigbo recalled that Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, executive director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC on October 22, painted a gory picture of impact of illicit funds flow, stating that Nigeria lost $18 billion yearly to illicit financial flows, IFFs through the banking sector despite the effort of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN and other regulating institution in the sector to curb it.
Rafsanjani also the head of Transparency International, TI Nigeria said that Nigeria was one of the 23 countries ranked as non-co-operative in the combined efforts to fight money laundering globally, since its establishment in 2003.
According to Rafsanjani, “The banking sector has been largely implicated in money laundering where they have been instrumental in the initial entry or placement phase that involves the initial movement of an amount of money earned from criminal activity into some legitimate financial network or institution.
This illicit act embedded into a legal trade has pervaded both the national and international business and banking industry with unabated vigor. Rafsanjani is of the view that adequate measures is needed to sanitize the nation’s financial system by helping to prevent money laundering and illicit financial flows, IFFs through which terrorism is largely funded, to effectively tax bank executives, and to expose illegal financial transactions by full disclosures.
Chigbo disclosed that the anniversary lecture series is one way Realnews contributes to nation-building and development by providing a forum for policy change-oriented discussions by professionals, scholars, technocrats and decision-makers on the way forward for our great nation and Africa in general.
According to her, the lecture series since 2014 have focused on elections, economy, security, challenges of Leadership in Africa, Africa’s political transitions oil and gas, unfolding integration of the African Market, and drug abuse among youths in Africa.
“Based on these facts, we began a search for the best brain to deal with the theme. We narrowed down on our Guest Lecturer today because of his pedigree. I have no doubt that he will do justice to the topic of this lecture. We have also a carefully selected panel of discussants with relevant expertise, knowledge and experience to shed more lights on the topic,” she said.
Speaking on the theme of the lecture, the Guest Lecturer, Edwin Harris of GIABA, Maida of NCC, Kuru of AMCO identified the huge economic and social impacts of financial crimes and the link of financial crimes with violent crimes that lead to loss of lives. They also noted that illicit funds flow has become the major source of terrorism financing today in the world.
Harris disclosed that Africa loses at least $60 billion each year through Illicit Financial Flows, IFFs and that a High Level Panel, HLP, on IFFs also stated that Africa is estimated to have lost $1 trillion or more over the past 50 years to IFFs.
Warning on the threats of Illicit Financial Flow, Harris stated that the continent is estimated to lose over $50 billion annually to IFFs . According to him, this fact is corroborated by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, when it estimated that Africa loses as much as $60 billion each year in IFFs.
He also recalled that that in 2020, the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD in its report on Economic Development in Africa, estimated that Africa loses about $88.6 billion, 3.7 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product, GDP, annually in IFF.
Harris said that at a regional level, the scale of criminal proceeds in West Africa has been estimated at 3.6.per cent of global GDP. ”IFFs from Africa typically originates from three sources, which are “corruption, including money acquired through bribery and abuse of office by public sector and private sector officials..
”Others are criminal activities, ranging from trafficking in people and drugs, arms smuggling, fraud in the financial sector, such as unauthorised or unsecured loans, money laundering, stock market manipulation and outright forgery, and commercial activities, arising from business-related activities, and having several purposes, including hiding wealth, evading or aggressively avoiding tax, and dodging customs duties and domestic levies.”
He therefore urged African leaders to step up efforts in the fight against IFF in the region.
Harris also said that this would require a collective action by all critical stakeholders, including national authorities, the private sector and civil society organisations to press for change in their countries and the continent at large. According to him, these leaders cannot afford to watch this cankerworm that is gradually destroying the continent.
“IFFs are a global phenomenon and do not respect borders. They undermine global social, political and economic security and have become a serious threat to the attainment of development agenda, particularly in Africa.
“Africa’s efforts to ensure the reduction of IFFs must be pro-active, firm and unwavering while activities that give rise to IFFs must be vigorously fought without compromise.
“The key task is to take bold steps, cooperate and coordinate efforts and unit to dismantle the system extracting wealth from Africa,” he added.
Similarly, Aminu Maida, Executive Vice Chairman/CEO of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, observed that these crimes threaten the integrity, trustworthiness, stability, security, safety, and future of an entity, country, enterprise and individuals.
The NCC boss described financial crimes as all criminal activities that involve transactions, abuse, misuse, deception, or manipulation of financial systems for personal gain.
Maida, who was represented by Reuben Muoka, the Public Affairs Director of the NCC, also noted that these offences cover a wider range of crimes such as insider abuse, money laundering, terrorism financing, proliferation financing, and embezzlement, fraud (e-fraud, banking, securities, corporate and intellectual property.
He, however, called for increased adoption of Information and Communication Technology, ICT in curbing this wide range of crimes.
According to him, this has become necessary due to the emergence of new technologies, the often-transnational nature of these crimes, the scope of financial crimes, which has broadened and created further concerns.
He noted that robust ICT systems are critical for preventing/investigating financial crimes or mitigating the risks associated with virtual assets in financial markets.
“These systems facilitate compliance with established standards or regulations, they also provide a platform that allows the monitoring, tracing and analyzing of digital transactions in real-time. ICT systems support secure data storage and encryption technologies, which are critical for safeguarding sensitive financial data.
“To combat financial crimes, innovative solutions such as blockchain, instant payments, artificial intelligence, machine learning, data analytics, regulatory technology solutions, and automated procedures are being deployed. The use of technological tools has made it significantly easier to deal with financial crime while building a long term strategy for combating it,” he said.
However, Maida also disclosed that while ICT has transformed the fight against financial crime, there are still difficulties that must be addressed collaboratively
He noted that as ICT systems get more complex, cybercriminal activities also do the same because criminal actors take advantage of the inherent and emerging flaws identified in the ICT systems, exploit these flaws and cause harm.
Another reason, according to him, is that relying too much on automated systems for crime detection might result in false positives, in which innocent people or transactions are identified as suspects.
In the same vein, the two discussants, Felix Obiamalu, Associate Director of Legal and Sanctions, Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, and Kayode Adedayo, Director of Proceeds of Crime department of ICPC, stated that IFF is a menace that has eaten deep into the Nigerian system and urged the government at all levels to take the lead by showing the political will to destroy it and promote the whistle blower mentality among the citizens.
They also called on the federal government to establish a clear and up-to-date policy and guidelines on how to combat IFFs in Nigeria. They also stressed the need for the governments to look beyond short-term goals to global approach in combating IFF and other corrupt practices.
There should be increasing focus on IFFs in the extractive sector and greater openness in government revenue sources and expenditure to remove opacity and ensure transparency. While calling for streamlining and coordinating the various agencies working on IFFs, they also stressed the need for robust role for Civil Society Organizations, CSOs in International Policy and protection of whistle blowers and the media.
-November 13, 2023 @ 17:45 GMT |