Barely one week after President Muhammadu Buhari dismissed foreign- based data on rating of Nigeria’s economy, as wild estimates that bear little relevance to facts on ground, Transparency International and Civil Society Legal Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), yesterday, described as worrisome the president’s position on statistics from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank among other credible global agencies.
This was even as it was revealed that Nigeria loses an estimated $17 billion annually to illicit financial flow owing to government’s failure to honour its commitment to the Beneficial Ownership Register it made in 2016 at an anti-corruption conference in London.
President Buhari had last week Wednesday in Abuja charged an eight-man Presidential Economic Advisory Council (PEAC), chaired by Professor Doyin Salami, to focus on developing reliable data that will properly reflect what is happening in the country.
According to him, most of the statistics quoted about Nigeria today are developed by the World Bank, IMF and other foreign bodies.
Buhari said: “Today, most of the statistics quoted about Nigeria are developed abroad by the World Bank, IMF and other foreign bodies.
“Some of the statistics we get relating to Nigeria are wild estimates and bear little relevance to the facts on the ground. This is disturbing as it implies we are not fully aware of what is happening in our own country. We can only plan realistically when we have reliable data.”
According to the World Bank data, over 70 percent of grand corruption cases included the usage of anonymous companies to move financial assets undetected and without a trace to a true owner – frequently a corrupt public official.
But speaking at a special session titled Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership: Essential or Overhyped on the sidelines of the ongoing World Bank/ International Monetary Fund Annual Membership Meeting in Washington DC, USA, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legal Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/TI Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, described Buhari’s comments as worrisome.
According to him, the only way to deal with issues of corruption is to establish the Beneficial Ownership Register.
He said: “Currently, Nigeria is losing over $17 billion per annum to illicit financial flow. A lot of money laundering through organised crime is ongoing because we do not have the identity of the owners of these assets. So, both locally and internationally, Nigeria is losing to corruption huge billions of dollars annually.
“Some of these individuals use their official position to give themselves tax holiday, waivers and all sorts of frivolous and self-centred interests.
“For example, if an entity has already been privatised, why use tax payers funds to inject to those entities in the name of helping them. This is because many of them in government own those businesses and so they are using their position to short-change the country and the people.”
He advised that “the only way to unravel this mystery is when we have Beneficial Ownership Register in place. So yes, there is a commitment in Nigeria but the sad story is that after we have done all the advocacy in the 8th National Assembly to enact the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) repeal Bill, pass the Witness Protection legal framework and many others, President Buhari, based on some technical reasons, declined to assent the bill and that drew us back.
“That is why we feel that the only way to get the country on track and in tandem with efforts to get back stolen assets both locally and internationally is to get the Beneficial Ownership Register in place, without which we will not be able to fight corruption. Because, people are hiding under the cover of lack of legal framework to fund businesses some of them allegedly being used to fund terrorism and other forms of insecurity in the country.
“For us in Transparency International and CISLAC, there is no way we can deal with corruption without knowing in one way or the other the identity of those who have been syphoning and stealing public funds…”