Nigerians sceptical over purchase of seized property
Plans by the Federal Government to sell off all property and other assets recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ( EFCC) and other anti-graft agencies may not be feasible any time soon due to some legal hurdles. President Muhammadu Buhari had dropped the hint on the plans when some elders of his community visited him in Daura last week.
According to the President, the assets needed to be sold off and its proceeds deposited in the Treasury Single Account (TSA) to ensure that corrupt persons from whom the assets were seized did not re-acquire them from the backdoor after the tenure of the current administration expires.
Shortly after his inauguration on May 29, 2015, President Buhari had stated unequivocally that his ad-ministration will prosecute the war on corruption with renewed vigour and determination.
Consequent upon that declaration, the anti-graft agencies – the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), as well as the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) – went to work, arresting many exposed persons.
Apart from politicians of note, top chief executives of corporate organisations and companies, were taken in for interrogation at different times. In the course of arrests, interrogation, and prosecutions in courts, recoveries were made – cash and assets.
Addressing the Daura elders during their visit, Buhari expressed disappointment at the level of corruption among public servants in Nigeria, stressing that, these corrupt individuals have always denied link with many of the confiscated property believed to be proceeds of corruption.
“So as a civil servant, you have 10 houses in Abuja and even in Kaduna and abroad, the more you show them the properties the more they will swear that it does not belong to them.
“If you are following, you will hear that some of these looters were arrested, and for those who deny their loots, we will sell those stolen properties and the proceeds will be deposited in government treasury,.
“If the money is in the government treasury, I will see who will come back after we’ve left to reclaim them,” he said. However, investigation by Sunday Telegraph showed that the move to dispose off these assets may take longer than expected. Some lawyers, who spoke on the matter with this newspaper, said it would be risky for the Federal Government to consider a blanket sale of seized assets.
They hinged their argument on the fact that one of the conditions precedent to selling off assets, is conclusion of litigation.
A former Attorney General of Abia State, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN), said there are two kinds of orders for forfeiture of assets – interim forfeiture and final forfeiture.
He clarified that a presidential declaration could not override extant provisions of the law. Akuma said: “Well, he (president) may have made a statement, but I know that at the point of implementation, they must dispose of
those ones that their matters have been concluded. So, if any of those assets is still the subject of litigation, then there is no way it will be sold.
“And a statement by the president cannot override the subject-matter of a court proceeding. If he is talking of disposing of seized assets that their matters have been concluded, either the one that is voluntarily surrendered, there is no litigation, or the court has made final forfeiture order; there is no pending appeals, then, those ones can be sold. But, any one that is still being contested in court, cannot be sold until a final forfeiture order is made,” Akuma said. A former State Director of the State Security Service (SSS), Mr. Mike Ejiofor, also spoke against attempts to dispose off all categories of assets.
The security expert, who is also a lawyer, said: “I’m not sure they will go and sell assets that their cases have not been disposed of. Except the cases have been disposed of, then they can sell.That is, where the cases have been determined.
“But, it will be risky, or not right, legally speaking, to go and sell properties that the matter has not been determined,”Ejiofor said. Minister of Information and Culture, Alh. Lai Mohammed had, in a statement released to the media, said, among other things, that: “The Federal Government made cash recoveries totaling N78,325,354,631.82 (Seventy eight billion, three hundred and twenty-five million, three hundred and fifty-four thousand, six hundred and thirty one Naira and eighty two kobo); $185,119,584.61 (One hundred and eight five million, one hundred and nineteen thousand, five hundred and eighty four US dollars, sixty one cents); 3,508,355.46 Pounds Sterling (Three million, five hundred and eight thousand, three hundred and fifty-five Pounds and 46 Pence) and 11, 250 Euros (Eleven thousand, two hundred and fifty Euros) from 29 May 2015 to 25 May 2016.”
The statement further noted the recovery of twenty two (22) farmlands, four (4) plots of land, one uncompleted building, one hundred and eighty two (182) completed buildings, 25 vehicles and five (5) maritime vessels. Sunday Telegraph investigations showed that Nigerians seem to be indifferent over the purchase of the seized property by the Federal Government.
The Federal Government had in 2017 set up a Committee to recover all public property acquired through fraudulent means.
The Committee is headed by the Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Prosecution, Okoi Obono-Obla. The Committee had since begun to recover such properties, especially the ones situated at some of the high brow areas in the Federal Capital Territory With the order from President Muhammadu Buhari that such properties should be sold to interested buyers, Sunday Telegraph’s investigation revealed that contrary to expectations, there has been no rush on the purchase of such property.
A source who spoke with Sunday Telegraph on the basis of anonymity said that the recovery committee’s mandate only stops at the recovery and does not extend to sales. “This may however be reason, why the committee may not be in the best position to ascertain the level of interest of people wanting to buy such property.
“To the best of my understanding, the Federal Government may set up another committee to see to the sales of the property, if truly the FG wants such properties to be sold.
There is no doubt that a couple of properties have been recovered by the Committee. “Some of the property are still subject of litigation and until the pending cases are concluded, it may be very difficult to take further action on such properties. “Let me also add that to purchase such property, there is always a procedure.
It is not like going to the market in the morning and coming back home in the evening with goods bought. Rather, this will take a procedure. “I am sure when the procedure is put in place, it will be made known to the public”, the source stated.