By Matthew Ogune, Abuja
VICE President, Yemi Osinbajo yesterday disclosed that anonymous corporate ownership of companies were covering up multitude of sins across the country.
Osinbajo stated this in Abuja on Tuesday at the opening of the 20th anniversary of the Africa Regional Webinar of the ICPC titled “Combating Corruption and Illicit Financial Flows: New Measures and Strategies”.
Osinbajo listed areas most vulnerable to secret cooperate ownership to include conflict of interests, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and terrorism financing.
According to him, the devastating effect of secret ownership and beneficial ownership on economies across Africa requires that stakeholders on the continent including governments must collaborate to stem the tide phenomenon.
His words: “Although anonymous companies are not always illegal, nevertheless secrecy provides a convenient cover for criminality and corruption”
“Our experience in Nigeria as in other developing countries is that anonymous corporate ownership covers a multitude of sins including conflict of interests, corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and even terrorism financing.
“One more matter of concern that the international community must work together to solve is the matter of secret corporate ownership and the whole issue of beneficial ownership.
“For us in the developing world and especially in Africa, breaking the wall of secret corporate ownership is crucial because secrecy around corporate ownership is implicated in our underdevelopment.”
The vice president regretted that over the years, massive public resources and assets have been directly stolen, diverted, deliberately misapplied to gratify corrupt tendencies, stashed in foreign jurisdictions or mired in and susceptible to pilferage by the inequitable and unjust international economic system that continues to undermine the social and economic development aspirations of poor countries especially from Africa.
He warned that, without effectively combating corruption and IFFs and promoting international cooperation for asset recovery and asset return, Africa cannot achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal 16 of the SDGs which is devoted to corruption and committed to reducing illicit financial flows and arms flows, strengthens the recovery and return of stolen assets and combats all forms of organized crime by 2030.
Noting that there is no magic bullet to ending corruption, stemming IFFs or promoting asset recovery and asset return , he added: “We simply must work hard at it and be determined to succeed. We must make corruption expensive for those who engage in it and send the unequivocal message that corruption simply does not pay.
“We must also make all members of the international community see the benefit of shared prosperity and inclusive growth and development. It is the unenviable but noble task of ICPC and other anti-corruption agencies to make corruption unattractive to its disciples and facilitate new approaches to stemming IFFS and promoting asset recovery and return.
“As you ruminate on the key issues to dominate the UN General Assembly Special Session on Corruption in 2021, I urge you to come up with concrete proposals for Nigeria to take to the UN and also for all of our colleagues in the region, to take to the United Nations in order to begin to positively shape policy in a way and manner that best promotes the interest of our country and region.
“Domestically we must also be prepared to change, to some extent, our tactics
in the fight against corruption. Listening to Edward Kallon, I am convinced that there are many practical steps that can be taken.
“We must democratize the fight against corruption. Many of our citizens are interested in the fight against grand corruption.
“Grand corruption as you know, cripples the economy. But they also want to see action in what would be regarded as petty corruption – in their interfaces with government officials either in the search for certifications, approvals of any kinds, licenses and all of that.
“Many want to see that corruption at that level is tackled effectively. And I think that we must begin to look at innovative ways of doing so.
“Secondly, we must protect, even more, whistle-blowers – persons who come forward with information against corruption. We must protect those who are ready to fight against corruption and who are prepared to do so without necessarily disclosing their identities, and even those who are ready to disclose their identities.
“The thing that we must take note of is that corruption fights back. And it is fighting back and it has the resources to do so. In recent times, one of the chief ways that we are seeing more frequently is the use of unscrupulous individuals who are paid to use social media platforms to make outrageous allegations against persons perceived to be fighting corruption.
“The technique is not new, the idea is to tie everybody with the same so that you cannot recognize the truly corrupt or the truly corrupt activity, and genuine whistle-blowing is discredited as a result.
“And because our court system is slow, they count on the possibility that this victims may not pursue litigation or prosecution, you must devise a new legal strategy to ensure that this dirty trick not only fail but are penalized.
“The fight against corruption is nuanced and hydra-headed, it is not going to get easier by the day, as a matter of fact, it will get more difficult by the day and many will become discouraged in standing up against corruption.
“But it is our duty both as individuals and institutions especially in developing countries where corruption has such a devastating effect, to ensure that we prioritize the fight against corruption and continually device new ways and new approaches even as the hydra itself continue to manifest in different ways.”
Earlier in his opening remarks, ICPC Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye said that the Commission has in the past 20 years recorded a number of achievements
According to Owasanoye, From 44 petitions in 2000 to 1,934 in 2019, adding: “It has received cumulatively 19,381 petitions in 20 years, successfully investigated about 5,000 of the petitions and prosecuted almost 1,000 and secured convictions in about 20 percent of the cases over the years including successfully defending up to the Supreme Court a challenge to the constitutionality of the enabling Act.
Within the same period according to the chairman, the ICPC has conducted 47 System Study Reviews on public sector MDAs and 5 CRAs in different key sectors of the economy including transport, education, health and the e-govemment system.
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