Anti-Corruption Climate Change: it started in Nigeria

6th National Seminar on Economic Crime

Abuja, 13 November 2007


Mr. President,

Ministers, Excellencies,

Mr. Ribadu,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Nigeria is benefiting from climate change. No, I don't mean the weather. I mean a climatic change in attitudes, laws and measures against corruption. 

Astronomical Sums

Your country used be notorious for corruption. It lost billions of dollars - the livelihoods of millions of people - to foreign havens, stolen and expatriated by corrupt leaders. By some estimates close to $400 billion was stolen between 1960 and 1999. Sani Abacha alone is estimated to have stolen the equivalent of 2 to 3% of the countries GDP for every year that he was President.

That is a staggering amount of money - almost unimaginable. Indeed, astronomical because if you were to put 400 billion dollar bills in a row, you could make a path from here to the moon and back, not once but 75 times.

400 billion dollars ladies and gentlemen: think of the millions of vaccinations that could have been bought; the thousands of kilometres of roads that could have been paved; the hundreds of schools, hospitals and training centres that could have been built; and the water treatment facilities that could have been modernized with this money. The "opportunity cost" of the stolen common wealth is enormous. Think of how different Nigeria would look today.

But the climate is changing. These days Nigeria is cited as a good example of how to build integrity in politics and business.

My compliments to you, President Yar'Adua, for continuing the fight against corruption started by your predecessor President Obasanjo.    

And my congratulations on the outstanding work of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Your anti-corruption broom has swept even high officials from office for stealing the public's money. UNODC is proud to work with the most successful anti-corruption agency in Africa in order to strengthen integrity and accountability in Nigeria, and set an example for the rest of the world.

Corruption Kills

While there have been clear signs of progress, there is still much to be done to reduce the vulnerability of Nigeria, and all of Africa, to the devastating effects of corruption.

Corruption kills: literally, through counterfeit medicines; by bribes paid to security officials that enable terrorist attacks. 

Corruption kills trust - in government, public institutions, and companies.

It kills the environment - through the dumping of hazardous waste, illegal logging, over-fishing, or the extraction of blood diamonds.

And corruption kills growth - by stealing public money needed for schools, hospitals, roads, and by driving business into the shadow economy.         

Reducing Vulnerability to Corruption

Paradoxically, countries blessed with natural resources are particularly vulnerable to corruption. This is what economists call the "the natural resource trap", or "Dutch disease".

The economic argument is well-known. The export of a valuable commodity drives up a country's currency and makes other traditional exports less competitive.  Export earnings become heavily dependent on this one resource, and vulnerable to the boom and bust of global price fluctuations. 

In an economic climate of corruption, abundance of a single resource also perverts politics. Huge revenue from, say, oil or gas, means low taxes, but also low accountability and a lack of transparency, as well as limited public services.

As a result, politics becomes defined by patronage: networks of favouritism based on ethnicity, religion, or where you are from.

These supporters need to be funded. Where checks and balances are weak, natural resources are exploited for the benefits of a well-connected few at the expense of the disenfranchised majority.   

As corruption spreads, foreign investment dries up or is driven away, poverty deepens, and public discontent grows. As a result, society becomes even more vulnerable to corruption, crime, bad governance, and poverty. There is even the risk of violence and serious damage to the environment - look no further than the Niger Delta.

In short, when power and influence are bought, trust and legitimacy are sold.

To escape this trap, my Office together with the Government of Nigeria, hosted a Round Table for Africa, right here in Abuja two years ago. The Programme of Action - endorsed by African leaders who took part - includes a range of priorities designed to reduce crime and drugs as impediments to security and development in Africa. I am glad to see that the African Union will adopt a strategy to fight drugs and crime at its upcoming Ministerial Conference in Addis that reflects most of these priorities.

One of the concrete measures of that Plan of Action was to strengthen anti-corruption authorities in all countries, and specifically Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which we have been doing for the past two years thanks to generous support from the European Commission.

This is a success story. Since its establishment in 2002, EFCC has restrained cash and assets valued at over $5 billion; secured 205 convictions and effected over 400 arrests and prosecutions. People who used to be esteemed or feared for this ill-gotten wealth and power are now behind bars. Well done.

I pay tribute to the Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ribadu, a crime-buster made of the hardest steel alloy every manufactured.   

Asset recovery: the StAR Initiative 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

While the past can not be undone, there is hope that some of vast amounts of that were stolen can be recovered to benefit the present generation. In the future, I hope that - with access to safe havens precluded - no more money will be stolen from the people of Nigeria.     

Asset recovery is a fundamental principle of the United Nations Convention against Corruption - the world's only global anti-corruption instrument. The Convention contains concrete measures to help States get their money back.

To assist in implementing these revolutionary measures, my Office has joined forces with the World Bank to launch a Stolen Asset (StAR) Recovery Initiative. The aim is to strengthen the legislative, investigative, judicial, and enforcement capacity of states in order to deter asset theft and successfully recover stolen assets. The StAR Initiative is also designed to promote cooperation between States seeking to recover assets, and states in which the assets are being harboured: for example, helping countries produce the adequate and appropriate requests for mutual legal assistance.

Cooperation of banks and governments is essential. Indeed, progress is impossible without it. It took the Philippines 18 years to recover money stolen by President Marcos that was stashed in foreign banks. It has taken more than five years to recover some of the money stolen by Mr. Abacha, and corrupt governors of a few oil rich states. In the future, such cases - despite their complexity - should run more smoothly and quickly.

Why? Not only because of the tools made available in the UN anti-corruption Convention and the expertise provided by the World Bank and my Office. But because attitudes are changing.

Traditional financial safe havens are waking up to the fact that banking secrecy laws are no longer an obstacle to money laundering investigations. Lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents are becoming more conscious of the reputational risks and liabilities of handling and sheltering stolen goods. 

I am impressed by how some international financial centres, and not only developing countries eager to recover stolen assets, have warmly welcomed the StAR Initiative. I am also pleased that some governments, including in Europe, that were, at first, lukewarm about this Initiative are now enthusiastic supporters. 

I am also encouraged by the way that governments working with civil society - for example here in Nigeria - are taking steps to ensure that recovered assets are used to increase budget spending in support of the Millennium Development Goals.

Of course, asset recovery is an instrument of last resort. The more that can be done to prevent corruption in the first place - by strengthening integrity, accountability and transparency - the lower the risk of public assets being stolen. The key is to build checks and balances into the system.

As most of you know, such measures are contained in the United Nations anti-corruption Convention.

How can these be applied in practice, particularly here in Nigeria?

Preventive Measures

Concerning preventive measures one of the greatest is a culture of integrity. The tide is certainly turning against corruption in Nigeria, starting from the top. Strong political leadership coupled with public intolerance for corruption and an open media are powerful forces that must be tapped, and turned into action - at all levels of government. I encourage governors of Nigeria's oil-rich states to lead by example. 

For example, public officials should disclose their annual earnings and financial assets. If you are a public official, privacy cannot be an obstacle to vetting the origin of unexplained wealth. I urge the Nigerian government to strengthen those institutions responsible for enforcing the Code of Conduct. 

Preventing corruption requires implementing strict rules on funding to political parties and electoral campaigns so that money can not buy power.

It means ensuring that public officials are hired on the basis of what they know rather than who they know.

To prevent money-laundering, there must be an effective regulatory and supervisory regime for banks, and a financial intelligence unit. International recognition of Nigeria's growing commitment to deal with money-laundering and other financial crime is evident by the fact that your Financial Intelligence Unit has been accepted for membership of the Egmont Group of FIUs, and by the fact that the Financial Action Task Force has removed Nigeria from its list of "non-compliant countries". 

A key instrument for preventing corruption, explicitly mentioned in the UN Convention, is an independent (anti-corruption) national integrity agency, sufficiently funded and empowered to investigate and prosecute misconduct of public officials in the handling of public resources. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is a shining example, but its future success depends on its independence and accountability. 

We should also be on the look out for fraud, for example the growing problem of cyber-crime. I encourage you to continue to crack down on advance fee fraud and other related scams that have made Nigeria notorious. I receive more than a dozen fraudulent spam messages from your country every day - many of them very clever. Please shut these crooks down.

One of the main checks and balances of an effective democracy is an independent judiciary. If judges are corrupted, there will be no public confidence in the justice system, and this can compromise the whole system of governance. That is why for the past six years UNODC has worked with the National Judicial Institute to strengthen judicial integrity and capacity in the court rooms of Nigeria - to reduce delays in the system, ensure fairness, and access to justice. We have empirical evidence to suggest that progress is being made.

Another key area is oversight of procurement and the management of public finances in order to prevent the inflation of public contracts, the extortion of bribes from contractors, and fraudulent transactions. Parliamentarians have a key role here. I was pleased to learn of the new anti-corruption legislation recently adopted by the Parliament.

Let us not forget the private sector. It has a major responsibility, as well as a vested interest, in fighting corruption and maintaining high standards of integrity. Just look at the financial and reputational damage caused by corrupt CEOs or blue chip companies that have not followed correct accounting and auditing standards.

Because of the size of the projects at stake, extractive industries, like oil, gas, and mining, are especially prone to corrupt practices that may even generate instability. The Niger Delta is a vivid example.

Fortunately, albeit slowly, companies are starting to assume corporate responsibility for their activities, e.g. through the UN Global Compact, UNCAC, OECD Convention Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions, and the practice of Publish What You Pay which names and shames those involved.

My Office looks forward to working with Nigerian officials and companies to improve transparency and accountability in business transactions, thanks to generous support from the Netherlands.

Criminalization, law enforcement and cooperation

But prevention alone is insufficient. Countries need to make corruption a crime and combat it with effective law enforcement. That means adopting legislation to criminalize bribery, embezzlement, abuse of power and misappropriation of property by public officials. The case of Nigeria shows that a few high profile cases can act as a strong deterrent.

Laundering the proceeds of crime must be criminalized, as should interfering in the course of justice. There should also be adequate protection of witnesses, experts and victims, and compensation for damage.

Since money moves quickly, international co-operation is vital. Borders and safe havens should not be an impediment to investigations or bringing guilty parties to justice. 

Sharing the Common Wealth 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

You currently face a great opportunity. Rising prices for oil and gas - while expensive for the rest of us - are a windfall for Nigeria. This wealth will either be squandered, as in the past, or it can be shared by all citizens of this great country.

Success will depend on how effectively checks and balances are put in place to build integrity and prevent corruption. All of you in this room have a key role to play.

I urge you to continue leading the process of anti-corruption climate change in Nigeria, and share your experience with other countries in Africa and around the world.

Keep up the good work.