Government should organise transparent public bidding and auction sessions to dispose of the assets
At the back of every anti-corruption drive, no matter how untidily executed, is the intent to legally recover what may have been stolen, diverted, misappropriated or illegally converted. Such recovered stolen value is then restored to the public treasury. The standard assumption is that immoral people entrusted with public funds or assets may have converted them to their personal ends, hence the need for such assets and funds to be forfeited to the state.
The gamut of conviction, forfeiture and recovery of stolen value sends a punitive moral message as a deterrent to future thieves. But the amelioration of the damage done by corrupt acquisition is never complete until the residual value of whatever is recovered is converted into cash payable to the public treasury originally pillaged by the convicted thieves. Sadly, the Nigerian experience with assets recovered by anti-corruption agencies is a mixed bag. Almost daily, we read reports about assets recovered from former government officials or the opposition. But what happens to the recovered assets are kept in the dark.
In 2017, the then Senate President, Bukola Saraki lamented that “the National Assembly has been strident about the opacity shrouding the management of recovered funds, which in many cases get re-looted by the agencies that investigated and recovered them”. It is no news that some recovered funds and physical assets have sometimes been re-stolen even by those entrusted with the task of recovery in an endless vicious cycle of endemic culture of corruption. In fact, the head of the Asset Recovery Management Unit (ARMU) of the Federal Ministry of Justice is currently being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged sale and diversion of the proceeds of some of these recovered assets.
However, recent reports of the state of recovered physical assets by both the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) are more disturbing. The warehouses, stores and parking spaces of these agencies are overflowing with vehicles, generators, expensive furniture and other assets recovered at different times from corrupt individuals which have been left to rot. Many of these assets are reportedly being vandalised by sundry thieves and miscreants. There are also reports of recovered residential and commercial real estate scattered all over the country which have remained under lock and key on the orders of courts acting on behalf of these anti-corruption agencies.
It is unfortunate that these assets have continued to deteriorate and lose value. Besides, we are not aware that there has been any transparent effort to maintain a verifiable inventory of these recovered assets with a view to disposing them through a transparent public auction. While the federal government has occasionally resorted to selling off legitimate public assets to raise money to augment its dwindling resources, trillions of naira worth of recovered assets are wasting away in various locations across the country.
The logical action urgently required is a series of transparent recovered assets disposal process. The anti-corruption agencies should compile and publish a detailed inventory of all recovered or forfeited assets with a clear indication of their locations. As a follow up, professional valuers should be engaged to establish the asking prices of these items. Thereafter, government should organise transparent public bidding and auction sessions to dispose of these items. Banks should be appointed the receiving agents for the proceeds of these sales and total monies realised should be made public and paid into the federation account as other recovered monies.
The time has come to achieve real closure on the various cases of proven corruption and the resultant recovered and forfeited assets. We cannot continue with a regime of waste and mismanagement at a time we are borrowing to meet basic obligations.