Abuja (Sundiata Post) – Over 2,000 assets, including proceeds of corruption, confiscated from politically exposed persons, civil servants and other individuals are currently rotting away, findings by Sunday PUNCH have revealed.
This is happening at a time the Federal Government is facing a cash crunch that has made it resort to borrowing from multilateral agencies and China to pay salaries and execute capital projects.
Some of the assets include over 90 sea vessels, scores of fuel-laden tankers, trucks, exotic cars, residential and commercial buildings, machinery, phones, laptops, jewellery, furniture, equipment and other items, which have been left at the mercy of the elements.
The assets were recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Police Force, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency and others.
Apart from this, many of the assets have also been cornered by top officials of the agencies and the government or sold to their cronies illegally.
A report of the Presidential Committee on Audit of Recovered Assets titled, ‘Final Report of the Presidential Investigation Committee on the EFCC Federal Government Recovered Assets and Finances from May 2015 to May 2020’, stated that the former acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, could not give a proper account of 332 out of the 836 recovered properties in March 2018.
The panel alleged that recovered properties were taken over by some top EFCC officials or sold to Magu’s friends and cronies at giveaway prices.
It also disclosed that the retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police was unable to account for the interest generated from the N550bn cash recovered from 2015 to 2020.
The report stated, “A disturbing example is the two vessels that allegedly sank at the NNS Beecroft Naval Base, Lagos, and the NNS Pathfinder Naval Base in Port Harcourt without trace under the watch of the acting chairman of the EFCC.
“The vessels named MT GOOD SUCCESS, MV PSV DERBY and MV THAMES were allowed to sink in spite of several warnings from the Navy on the need to evacuate the petroleum products in the vessels.”
According to the News Agency of Nigeria, the damning report led to the constitution of the Justice Ayo Salami committee, which probed Magu’s tenure and recommended his sacking and prosecution.
Diezani, Badeh’s assets
Some of the abandoned properties were seized from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke; the late Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, and hundreds of other people convicted of corruption by the anti-graft agencies.
Diezani, who was minister under former President Goodluck Jonathan, has been in the United Kingdom since 2015 and has refused to return to Nigeria.
Assets confiscated from her are located in highbrow Banana Island Foreshore Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos, and include 18 flats and six penthouses at Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista, Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout.
Other recovered items are 125 pieces of wedding gowns, 13 pieces of small gowns, 41 pieces of waist trainers, 73 pieces of hard flowers, 11 pieces of suit, 11 pieces of invisible bra, 73 pieces of veils, 30 pieces of braziers, two pieces of standing fans, 17 pieces of magic skits, six packets of blankets, one table blanket and 64 pairs of shoes.
Assets confiscated from Badeh are located in the Wuse 2 and Maitama areas of the Federal Capital Territory.
Other assets listed for sale by the government include No. 14 Adzope Crescent, off Kumasi Crescent; 19 Kumasi Crescent, Wuse 2; and 6 Umme Street, Wuse 2, Abuja.
Investigations revealed that the forfeited assets were being kept in over 25 locations across the country and many of them were said to have depreciated greatly.
For instance, scores of the seized vehicles kept at a dump opposite the National Mosque, Central Business District, Abuja, are no longer serviceable. Some of them have also been vandalised or plundered, while others have been destroyed.
The premises of the EFCC headquarters in Jabi, Abuja; Lagos, Port Harcourt and other places are also littered with fleets of forfeited exotic cars, which are rotting away under the elements.
In March, over 20 trucks filled with assorted types of petroleum products impounded from suspected illegal artisanal refiners were gutted by fire following a massive explosion at the Iriebe premises of the EFCC in the Obio-Akpor Local Government Area of Rivers State.
Similarly, the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Assessment and Status of All Recovered Loots Movable and Immovable Assets from 2002 to 2020 by Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria for Effective, Efficient Management and Utilisation raised the alarm last November that some of the 90 ships seized by the EFCC had begun to sink in waters across the country.
The Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, had in November 2020, inaugurated an inter-ministerial committee on forfeited assets following the approval of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), on October 27.
The committee was initially headed by the erstwhile Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata, who handed over to his successor after his retirement in July 2021.
The committee was given a six-month timeframe for the disposal of all Federal Government assets slated for sale.
Speaking during the inauguration of the committee in Abuja, Malami stated, “The Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations, 2019, the standard operating procedures and terms of reference are the working tools to serve as guidelines for the inter-ministerial committee and how best to actualise the quick disposal of the Federal Government assets in line with Mr President’s directive.
“Your mandate is to ensure the expedient disposal of all FGN forfeited assets and generate revenue for the Federal Government of Nigeria. On this note, I wish to implore the inter-ministerial committee to work as a formidable team with the relevant agencies in accordance with extant laws and regulations. It is also my hope that the proceeds from this exercise will be a source of additional revenue for the country.”
The committee subsequently screened 613 independent valuers to manage the sale of the assets marked for auction, whose number it put at 1,620, including cars, houses, phones, laptops, vessels and other valuables.
Lagos had the highest number of properties comprising 31 houses and 589 vehicles.
In the course of its work, the committee members visited five locations in Abuja where they identified properties, including house No. 6 Ethiope Close, Maitama; 19 Kumasi Crescent; 14 Adzope Crescent, Wuse; and a commercial building, Platinum Resident Hotel, Owu Fall Close at Amasco Platinum City, Galadimawa.
At the expiration of the deadline, 284 firms submitted bids for the valuation of landed property, including residential, commercial, institutional and underdeveloped plots of land slated for disposal.
However, the committee’s assignment was truncated in May 2022, by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, which nullified the Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations, 2019, for being “an invalid statutory instrument.”
The order was made by Justice Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa in suit FHC/L/CS/40/2021 filed by the Incorporated Trustees of HEDA Resource Centre.
The AGF’s power to set up the committee was challenged by HEDA, through its counsel, Omotayo Olatubosun, who argued that the regulations conflicted with the EFCC Act; Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Enforcement and Administrative Act, 2015; National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Act, 2004; and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act, 2000, among others, on the matter of disposal of final forfeited assets.
Govt officials silent
The AGF’s spokesman, Umar Gwandu, directed all inquiries on assets management and disposal to the Head of Asset Recovery in the Ministry of Justice, Hajia Ladidi Muhammed, but she was unreachable on the telephone. She had yet to reply to an SMS seeking her reaction as of the time of filing this report on Saturday.
The Head, Media and Publicity, EFCC, Wilson Uwujaren, did not respond to inquiries on the delayed disposal of the assets. He had yet to respond to a text message requesting his comment on the matter.
When contacted, the ICPC spokesperson, Azuka Ogugua, simply said, ‘’Before the passing of POCA (Proceeds of Crime Recovery and Management Act, 2022), an inter-agency committee was responsible for disposing of assets. With the passing of POCA in May 2022, the commission is following all due process in assets forfeiture, recovery and management.”
The Customs spokesman, Timi Bomodi, said many cases involving seized items were still being heard by courts.
But when asked about the permanently forfeited assets, he said, “Do you know more than me? If you say it is public knowledge, then go and get your reaction from there,” he said and cut the call.
The spokesperson, Ministry of Finance, Philomena Abiamuwe-Mowete, said the delay in selling the assets did not concern the ministry. But when reminded that the Nigeria Customs Service, which is under the ministry, also had catalogues of assets that had yet to be sold, she terminated the phone call abruptly.
Commenting on the delay in disposing of the wasting assets, the President, Nigeria Association of Auctioneers, Alhaji Musa Kura, lamented the failure of the government to get value from the assets, noting that they were being vandalised.
He complained about the delay in selling the assets, saying it was unfair to seize the properties and allow them to waste away.
According to him, some of the assets, particularly ships, will eventually be sold as scraps as they are no longer serviceable.
Kura stated, “Some of them are being vandalised on a daily basis; we go round, we know where most of these things are and we know their conditions. The government needs money, so why allow these assets to be perishing when they can fetch money?
“Instead of leaving these things to perish, why don’t you sell them and put the money in government coffers? Unfortunately, for almost five years now, this issue has been lingering and nothing has been done.”
A member of the Certified Institute of Auctioneers Nigeria, Prince Adeshina Okuneye, submitted that the abandoned assets could fetch the government at least N4tn.
He stated, “Presently, the Federal Government is losing money and revenue on these forfeited assets, which officially was put at N4tn, and we are saying we don’t have money. Is this reasonable for a country that has over 20 million out-of-school children coupled with the unending ASUU strike?
“The country is losing out and will continue to lose money if we are lackadaisical and let the forfeited properties rot and waste away in the various dumps; even the ships will soon become history after vandalism and eventual sinking.”
The Registrar, Certified Institute of Auctioneers, Mr Adeleke Hassan, said professional auctioneers were ready to assist the government to sell the assets, adding that the institute was willing to offer his expertise in the service of the nation.
“We organised a conference in 2018 and told the government that we are ready to assist in disposing of the assets anytime they are ready. But we are not part of the government committee, so we don’t even know where the assets are.”
Lawyers knock govt
In his reaction, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, said the properties were not supposed to rot or waste.
He stated, “Usually, the courts grant interim or permanent forfeiture of assets. Each of the agencies involved is required to dispose or manage such assets through transparent procedures. What happened in recent time was that the Attorney-General of the Federation made a regulation whereby he decided albeit illegally to acquire and dispose of assets forfeited by the government.
“In the entire constitution, there is no provision empowering the AGF to acquire and dispose of assets. Each of the law enforcement agencies is empowered by the law setting it up to dispose of assets through a transparent procedure and remit the funds realised from the sale to the account of the Federal Government.”
Similarly, Ebun-Olu Adegoruwa, SAN, said the Buhari regime needed to create an interim body that would manage the forfeited assets, noting that pending the expiration of cases and appeals over the assets, it was important that they remained viable for return or disposal, depending on the judgment of the courts.
While referencing the Salami panel that disclosed the underhand dealings of some corrupt members of the anti-corruption agencies and the depreciation of assets, he said such acts were a dent on the anti-corruption war.
Another lawyer, Kemi Pinehero, SAN, said, “You (government) need some form of statutory intervention that allows effective disposal of the seized assets or their translation into liquid assets so that if anything happens, you can use it to remit back to the defendants in the event that the litigation is set aside.
“Apart from the statutory intervention, you also need the cooperation of the judiciary to help expedite the appeals that arise from corruption cases.”
Another lawyer, Malachy Ugwumadu, stated, “You will appreciate that we have Assets Forfeiture Act and there are policies of the government that specifically targets the proceeds of crime in the event of either conviction to trial, whether civil or criminal.
“Nigeria should not become a wasteful country. Why will such assets be wasting away? You can remember that when the federal capital moved from Lagos to Abuja, a lot of properties were abandoned. I have done matters even in Abuja that you will be scandalised to see one quarter of the buildings in the Federal Capital Territory, particularly the very giant buildings there are not occupied. I think the government should revive whatever special body it is or direct the relevant agencies of government to act on the recovered properties.”
Meanwhile, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Awual Rafsanjani, has called for a legal framework to streamline and manage all seized assets by law enforcement agencies in ways that would not lead to depreciation or spoilage.
He said, “CISLAC has been at the forefront of advocating a legal framework that will ensure proper management of recovered assets in Nigeria. Currently, so many agencies are recovering assets without public accountability on how they are being utilised.
“People cannot recover assets and another set of people will disappear with them. There should be a framework that will account for each agency’s recovery to ensure transparency and accountability.
“There must also be quick and firm judicial pronouncement to ensure that perishables do not spoil because the spoilage of assets is bad for the country.”(Punch).