IT may amount to jumping the gun to describe the horrendous amounts of money being recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from unorthodox places in recent times as proceeds of crime. But with the exception of a few persons who admit ownership of monies traced to them, nearly all the others have furtively avoided being linked with the recovered loot. Yet each of the recovered loot is so indescribably and mind-bogglingly huge that it is difficult to believe it is owned by one person. In one week alone, and in two separate places, the EFCC discovered N.45bn and N.25bn at two locations. Then shortly before the week came to a close, about N15bn in foreign currencies was also found virtually abandoned. No one has been brave enough to claim ownership of the three stashes. In fact those whose names were mentioned with the apartments where the stashes were found have violently rejected any linkage. All together, in about a week, some N16bn has been found, and not one brave soul has owned up.
The EFCC gives assurance that the owners of the abandoned monies will be found, for there was not one find that was made without the assistance of a whistle-blower. If no information has been volunteered to the public by the anti-graft agency regarding the ownership of the monies, it does not appear the problem is knowledge of the monies’ circumstances. The reticence may be tactical. The shops where the monies were found have identifiable owners, and the ones meant to be converted into foreign currencies were brought by identifiable owners. There is indeed no mystery about the monies, only bewilderment about the value, and perhaps shock that each recovery seemed to be owned by one person.
Though neither public commentators nor the anti-graft agency itself can be hasty about ascribing purposes or motives to the stashing of the monies, especially determining whether they are the proceeds of crime, the value of the sums and the contemptuous manner they were disclaimed by their alleged owners suggest they were illicit monies procured and stashed away from the prying eyes of the authorities. Nor is it clear that somewhere along the line, someone would still not come forward to claim association, especially after the initial shock must have worn off and the alleged owners invented a reasonable explanation to justify the ownership of the humongous sums. A few weeks back, a former Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Andrew Yakubu, had, after initial hesitation, claimed ownership of a little less than $10m found stashed fairly unobtrusively in a nondescript apartment in Kaduna. He attributed it to gifts from unnamed well-wishers, an explanation his neighbours and traducers sneered at. Justifying ownership of more than $43m would be nearly impossible.
More of such illicit cash will likely be discovered in the coming weeks, often in very unlikely, embarrassing and demeaning places. With the whistle-blower policy firmly in place and immeasurably enticing, owners of illicit money will no longer trust anyone. To them the streets and neighborhoods are brimming with betrayers. But to the nation, those unlikely ‘loot havens’ are brimming with patriots. Guaranteeing the safety and security of the whistle-blowers, some of them poised to earn in excess of hundreds of millions, will be the government’s next headache, if not nightmare. For no one can tell whether some of the stashed loot are not owned by more than one person, a few of them relentless and vicious.
The government and its EFCC will henceforth work with a few basic assumptions. If the stashed monies are in naira, they will be difficult to hide, and even more difficult to keep next to the owner. Their owners will need to prepare ready alibis to disown the monies. But if the owners elect to change the monies into foreign currencies, in order perhaps to miniaturise the loot and make it a little easier to launder, how can they tell which forex dealers would keep secrets secret in the face of tempting whistle-blower commission huge enough for any struggling dealer to retire on? These are doubtless difficult times for owners of illicit money. Their monies in the banks are been traced, and sooner or later the trace will point in their direction. And to keep money outside the banking system, whether in septic tanks or abandoned houses and shops, some of them in wealthy areas and others in poor areas, is the greatest dilemmas they face.
It is not certain that the media has identified whose brilliant idea it was to adopt and adapt the whistle-blowing policy. Whoever were behind the idea have done Nigeria a whole lot of good, far beyond what words can describe. If the policy is not abused, if the authorities can sustain it faithfully, and the whistle-blowers are not double-crossed or short-changed, more illicit cash will be recovered until, in frustration, public officials find it a great disincentive to fiddle with public funds, at least on the scale that now beggars belief. The measure may be insufficient to stamp out corruption, but it will contribute, among a welter of other policies and controls, to reducing it so drastically that funds for infrastructural development should be more readily and reasonably available.
Even then, the nation still has a lot to do to find an explanation for why, particularly under the last administration, public officials found it so easy to embezzle public funds and for a long time get away with that crime. More, it is important to do a study of the lax controls, bureaucratic and economic structures, and conniving policies that made the looting bazaar flourish so recklessly and so brazenly. Finally, it is also important to document for posterity the hundreds, and possibly more, of the public officials who promoted and energised the criminal bazaar in the past few years and turned it into such a destructive force. Now the image of the country is worth very little in the estimation of the world. The law, even if it is severely enforced, requites the crime somewhat adequately, but it is doubtful whether, given the insouciance those engaged in that unprecedented and mind-numbing stealing have demonstrated, enough deterrence has been put in place to discourage the crime. But one thing at a time