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Nigeria updates Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing laws; but pardons make a mockery of stance.

This week, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has signed three Bills, bring them into law. Bucking the global trend to try to incorporate multiple aspects of financial crime law into a single piece of legislation, the new Acts are the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, the Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022, and the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act, 2022. But the word of the day is "irony."

The President, through a spokesman, said that the former Acts were inadequate and had made it more difficult to bring successful prosecutions.

That, one might consider, is ironic: in April this year, Joshua Dariye and Jolly Nyame were pardoned. They had been convicted of corruption. They had been, respectively, governors of the states of Plateau and Taraba, in charge for a decade. The pardon was granted by the Council of State which includes the President and a range of officials including the attorney general and current and past Chief Justices. The Council had received recommendations from the Presidential Advisory Committee on Prerogative of Mercy which is a twelve member committee created by President Buhari in August 2018 and headed by Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation Abubakar Malami.

Dariye's conviction in 2012 resulted in a sentence of 14 years' jail for what was described in court as "systematic looting" and"diverting public funds to the tune of N1,216 million." He was convicted on 15 out of 23 charges brought against him by the much maligned Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. His sentence was reduced to ten years on appeal but his conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court in March 2021. His defence had been that he had been "deceived" by his bank.

Nyame was subject to 41 charges and convicted on 27 of them. The amount involved in his "“money laundering, criminal breach of trust, and misappropriation of funds” was N1,640 million. Originally sentenced to 14 years, it was reduced to 12 on appeal and, in 2020, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction. His "defence" was that the charges against him were “incompetent and brought in bad faith.”

Granting pardons to convicted corrupt officials was a way of life when Nigeria was under military rule under President Ibrahim Babangida (1985-93) when corruption was built into the price of everything Nigerian traders began operating large parts of their businesses offshore to avoid problems. Indeed, many of the trade-based financial crime mechanisms now in use became popularised during that time, ironically as a means of avoiding corruption. And in 2013, the relatively highly regarded President Goodluck Jonathan pardoned his former mentor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha who, charged with money laundering, skipped bail in London, was convicted of embezzling some USD55 million in state funds. Jonathan later said that the decision to pardon Alamieyeseigha was not his and had been made by his predecessor, Umaru Yar’Adua, who died suddenly. Jonathan said he was merely implementing an existing decision. The reason, Jonathan said, that the pardon was granted was that Umaru Yar’Adua had agreed with Alamieyeseigha a deal to arrange a meeting with various terrorist groups to try to improve security in the Delta region. Terrorist activity there was having a serious effect on Nigeria's oil industry and, therefore, its economy.

The EFCC has been the target of a sustained attack from the authorities. It is a combined Financial Intelligence Unit and investigation unit, the model started by Thailand's AMLO. The EFCC has had many successes but it has also found courts willing to help frustrate it. A case in point is the case of James Ibori, arrested in 2007, and the former governor of Delta. Simply getting a decision to extradite Ibori from his hideaway in London proved time-consuming and complicated.

In 2020, Ibrahim Magu, the head of the EFCC was suspended from office amid multiple allegations of fraud. He was not the first to be removed on grounds that many consider trumped up. In yet another irony, the EFCC has been accused of being a tool to target opponents of the government - whichever government is in charge. And as if that's not enough irony for one day, before Magu's term began, he was himself arrested, allegedly on the orders of the then head of the EFCC, Mdm Farida Waziri, who was subsequently removed by Goodluck Jonathan who said that the EFCC had, indeed, been "selective" in its choice of targets. Various international pressure groups have criticised the EFCC for failing to pay sufficient attention to their own particular hobby horses: Transparency International leads the pack in this regard.

Only this week, Magu has been promoted within the police to Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIG) but he has never returned to the EFCC. He recently said he intended to retire from the police and cynics might say that his promotion is so that he can retire with superior rank. There are reports that he retired as soon as he was promoted but that has not been confirmed. What is clear is that there remains a cloud over him. Minister of Police Affairs, Maigari Dingyadi, said today that Magu is still under investigation and that the investigation, conducted by a special panel created by (once more, ironically) President Buhari, will continue and, if it finds evidence that would support prosecution, proceedings will be brought.

When set against this, the problem does not appear, on the face of it, to be legislative. It seems to be primarily a question of political will.

The EFCC has been getting convictions, some in very high profile cases. It doesn't matter what the law says or if it is changed to make convictions easier if the judiciary obstructs cases and if, when a hard-fought conviction is secured, the Government cancels the result.

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