As CSOs rally against money laundering through party politics

THE quality of political leadership in the country, which has been on the decline since the aborted Third Republic, is often blamed on the flow of illicit funds into politics. Not only has this distorted the nation’s political reality, it has also resulted in arrested development. To address this slide, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), in conjunction with some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and other stakeholders, held a round-table in Lagos last week to bring to light the ills of financial inducement in the political process. Sulaimon Olanrewaju reports.

ACCORDING to Vifredo Pareto, there are three motives for providing funds for the political process. The first is to support an ideology, the second is to attract social honours and the third is for material benefits. For Nigeria, the first two motives in Pareto’s political hypothesis were applicable in the First and Second Republics when politicians were driven more by patriotism and service than by self-aggrandisement. In the current dispensation, those who invest their means in the political process do so principally for pecuniary gains and self-perpetuation in power. Hence, the political race in Nigeria has degenerated from being ideology-driven to being money-propelled.

Speaking about the commoditisation of Nigerian politics recently, Dr Goodluck Jonathan, former President, said: “Compared to other African countries, we spend too much money here. Probably we need to review our laws because I have observed a number of elections in African countries.”

He added, “For instance in Tanzania, a candidate does not need to print his name on matchbox or any items to woo voters. If you do that they say that you are inducing the electorate. It is against their laws. “But here if somebody is contesting elections you buy bags of rice, wrappers, and all manner of items to induce the electorate. Ordinarily, our electoral laws are supposed to frown at such practices. If you do that you are supposed to be disqualified from contesting in the election. So these are the things that make our election expensive.”

Experts are of the view that allowing financial inducement in the electoral process results in prebendalism, a situation in which members of the political class use state powers to acquire wealth because they regard the money spent to attain political power as an investment which must yield returns. This weakens the state and impoverishes the people because resources that could have been used for developmental purposes are converted and diverted to personal uses. The number of politically exposed persons that have been convicted for corrupt enrichment lays credence to this.

Concerned that financial inducement may impair the ensuing 2023 general elections, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) rallied other stakeholders at a round-table in Lagos to sensitise the public to the ill of monetizing the electoral process. The round-table was organised under the Strengthening Accountability Networks among Civil Society (SANCUS) project, which started in January 2021 and runs till December 2023. SANCUS is implemented by Transparency International Secretariat through its chapters in 21 countries with support from the European Commission.

CISLAC, as Transparent International Nigeria (TIN), is currently implementing this project in Nigeria with the focus on solving the core problem of filthy lucre in Nigeria’s politics, which perpetuates a culture of lack of accountability and corruption for power preservation and self-enrichment. The project aims to improve the democratic accountability of public institutions globally by empowering CSOs to demand systemic change to address accountability and anti-corruption deficits.

At the Lagos event, there were participants from civil society organisations, the media, Inter – Governmental Action against Money Laundering in West Africa – GIABA, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and National Orientation Agency (NOA).

While intimating participants with the aims  of the gathering, CISLAC said the essence of SANCUS was to  advocate the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies,  an increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies;  an improved oversight function of the National Assembly; improve capacity of the media and civil society to investigate the presence of dirty money in Nigeria’s political processes and finally to  increase citizens’ demand for accountability in the funding of political processes. CISLAC hoped that the sensitization would instill some level of sanity in the Nigerian political class whose actions continue to tarnish the image of the country as a democratic space which operates within the purview of maximum respect for the rule of law.

In his opening remarks, Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, expressed concerns on the enforcement of laws enacted to tackle money laundry, corruption and electoral malpractice “Our laws are not enforced or are ignored outright. According to the widely shared public opinion, political contests have little to do with ideas but rather corruption and populism take the upper hand.”

He said this crisis of the image of Nigerian politics has led to a widely disillusioned electorate that expects to profit from the corruption instead of trying to stop it. He noted that although this is more of a leadership problem, the people are equally guilty. Citing the 2019 general election, he said over one quarter of voters came to the ballot box with the offer to sell their vote to the highest bidder.

“We all know the problem illicit financial flow (IFF) causes and as CSOs working around the themes of money laundering there is a need to call out the wrongdoings of the government as well as commend the government when they are taking the right actions. Doing this will greatly reduce IFF in Nigeria and you agree with me that with the high rate of borrowing, it is important for us to block these leakages.

“All hands must be on deck to ensure that scenarios where looted funds are stashed either at home or abroad only to be used when it is time for political campaigns and elections is reduced to its barest minimum.”

According to Rafsanjani, SANCUS has come to Nigeria at the critical juncture of the pre-2023 elections, as there is a need for all CSOs to unite and come up with strategies aimed at mitigating the role of dirty money in the upcoming electoral circle, and also develop a strategic document for CSOs on how to advocate for a reduction of dirty money in politics.

He added, “On the positive side, the necessary institutional and legal infrastructure is in place. We have the Independent National Electoral Commission and laws in place that, in theory, should regulate how money enters politics.”

Rafsanjani equally noted that the SANCUS project plans to advocate for the operational independence of anti-corruption agencies, an increased enforcement of existing anti-money laundering provisions and policies, and an improved oversight function of the National Assembly.

Speaking on the issue of dirty money in politics, representative from Inter Governmental Action Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), Timothy Melaye, noted that Nigeria loses billions of dollars as a result of money laundering activities.

According to him, “We don’t want dirty money in politics and whatever clean money we have in it should be controlled. Dirty money in politics should not be reduced, it should be totally eliminated.”

He said if dirty money was not stopped from coming into politics, those with dirty money would be the ones winning election and ruling over everyone. “But the point is, even the clean money should be regulated. This is because, if you put N2 billion in contesting an election, after you have won, you will take your money back. So, even if you have clean money, it should still be within a threshold.”

Also speaking during the forum, Director Legal, National Orientation Agency, Amina Elelu-Ahmed explained that the issue of dirty money in Nigeria’s politics with its attendant negative consequences was no doubt a threat to good governance.

“It is no longer news that politics in Nigeria, perhaps more than other avenues, is a leading means of money laundering. Many money bags see political parties as avenues for investment with an expectation for return on investment and therefore would never be guided by the rules of accountability and transparency in governance.

“It is in this regard that I think a deeper look should be taken on sources of funding that those who present themselves for political positions spend during elections.”

She said it is necessary for the Code of Conduct Bureau, the EFCC, and others to investigate people aspiring to contest various positions, “so that patriotic Nigerians driven by the passion to serve are not schemed out by those in possession of dirty money.”

On his part, representative of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Moses Azege, noted that non-state actors play a unique role in supporting state actors in such ways that result in more effectiveness in the democratic efforts. According to him, such collaborations result in innovative concepts like the theme of SANCUS Nigeria Project.

Azege said, “This initiative could not be more timely bearing in mind that we are about to begin another electioneering process and we know that electioneering is expensive for the ordinary Nigerian because more corrupt proceeds tend to flow into the electioneering space.”

He concluded that “corruption is not just a threat in itself but an enabler of other illicit conducts. Consequently, the motivation for corruption is more widespread during the period leading to elections. Therefore, all stakeholders have to be alert to this and collaborate in ways that will mitigate these illicit flows,” he said.

Two resource persons joined the discourse virtually. They were Matthew Jenkins, SANCUS Policy Lead, Transparency International, Berlin, Germany and CISLAC Policy Consultant, Vaclav Prusa. On how to fight illicit money, Prusa said the institutions of government should be built in a way that in fighting dirty money in politics, there will be nowhere for the culprits to hide. He said: “It should be built in a way that there will be no secrecy of jurisdiction, no anonymous companies, every company must be clearly identified and their owners known, just like the idea of hiding under cryptocurrency to perpetrate the act should not be allowed.”

Prusa added that the institution must ensure that no person or organization helps the culprits against the law. On what the CSOs and others should do to fight dirty money in politics, he said, “They are to monitor compliance, monitor campaign, political spending, follow up money in politics, press for the fulfillment of anti-corruption pledges, educate the public about political integrity, expose unexpected wealth of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), and mobilise critical mass of people to reject dirty money in politics.”

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