1. Introduction

The Conference of the States Parties (COSP) is the main policy-making body of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. It supports States parties and signatories in their implementation of the Convention, and gives policy guidance to UNODC to develop and implement anti-corruption activities. The Conference was established, as per article 63 of the Convention: To improve the capacity of States to implement the Convention; to enhance cooperation among States in achieving the objectives of the Convention; and to promote and review the implementation of the Convention.

The Conference meets every two years and adopts resolutions and decisions in furtherance of its mandate. The eighth session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption took place in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates from 15 to 20 December 2019. A number of meetings were held on 14 and 20 December 2019 among the government delegation and Civil Society Organizations during the one-week meeting.  

As part of opportunity to show case MANTRA Model at the global event, ANEEJ organized a side event as part of the special event at the CoSP8. The event had various participants from different countries including delegates from Nigeria in attendance. The objectives of the side event are to challenge the removal of bottlenecks facing asset recovery and return efforts; to promote peer learning in asset recovery and utilization of asset for sustainable development and poverty reduction and to channel assets towards Agenda 2030.

  • Panel Discussion

The panel session was chaired by Ms. Gillian Dell Coordinator UNCAC Coalition, other panel member includes; Ms. Gretta Fenner Managing Director Basel Institute for Governance; Mrs. Maryam Uwais Special Adviser to the Nigeria President on Social Investment; Ms. Fatima Kanji Research and Policy Manger International State Crime International, Queen Mary University of London and Rev. David Ugolor the Executive Director ANEEJ. 

The moderator introduced the panelists to the audience and then gave background to the topic of discussion by linking it to the inaugural Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) that was held in Washington, DC, December 4th to 6th, 2017, hosted by the United Kingdom and the United States with support from the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative (StAR). She said the inaugural meeting focused on assistance to four priority countries: Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Tunisia and Ukraine. She said the deliverables for GFAR included progress on cases achieved by the four focus countries, increased capacity through technical sessions, renewed commitment to advancing asset recovery cases, and increased collaboration among involved jurisdictions.

In order to link the relevance of the side event to 8th CoSP she said GFAR was established as an outcome of the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit, hosted by the United Kingdom. The Summit communiqué points to the provisions of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) that call for the proceeds of corruption to be identified, seized, confiscated and returned.

Then the panel commenced with discussion from Ms. Gretta Fenner Managing Director Basel Institute for Governance. She raised the following issues as area of concern in the recovery, return and utilization of the returned assets.

  • That there is need for partnership and collective action towards asset tracing, recovery, return and utilization
  • That there is need for establishment of platforms to empower the investigators and prosecutors charged with identifying and tracing assets and getting necessary cooperation with financial centers in recovering and returning them.
  • That there is need to invest the returned assets on the victims of corruption, that is citizens of the host country in form of provision of social amenities such as good schools, roads, hospital and potable water. She said in doing this, it will lead to increase in standard of living of the host countries.
  • That it is high time our government utilised returned asset for people’s creativitiy and innovation in the asset recovery and money laundering in order to reduce the incidence of Ilicit Financial Flows from developing countries by ways of strengthening the criminal justice system.
  • That because processes of tracing asset is cumbersome, emphasis should be on prevention of looting of asset from developing countries as well as need to continue to improve on international cooperation from the host country.
  • Finally, she said countries should take it as a priority to channel returned asset towards attainment of SDGs in order to reduce incidence of poverty among the vicitims of corruption.

When it was turn of Maryam Uwais, who is the Senior Special Adviser to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigria in the Office of the Vice President the office sadlled with the coordination of the National Social Investment Programe (NSIP), she started by showing some impactful video clips on the feedback from the intervention to the audience. Particpants agreed and commended the office for the impactful use of the returned asset for the people based on the experience shared directlty by the beneficiaries from the film.

Then she explained the processes of recruitment of beneficiaries and the various categories of human resources engaged in a transparency manner for the benefit of the populace using ICT platforms. She also empahsised one of the conditions set by the World Bank and how the government key into the existing system in order not to duplicate efftorts and resources. She said despite the successes recorded, they faced some challenges. She commended the roles played by CSOs especially ANEEJ on the monitoring of the intervention and the feedback gotten from ANEEJ and its partners to retrace the intervention to have direction.

While David Ugolor, the Executive Director of ANEEJ explained the roles played by the CSOs to make sure that the returned loot worked for the populace. He explained that the monitoring worked because of the lessons learnt from the way government mismanaged the Abacha 1. In his explanation, he said the first thing ANEEJ did after the GFAR was to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Federal Government of Nigeria as independent monitor with support from UK/DfID. The MoU then led to:

  • Successful partnership with government; this gesture has never happened before between the govermnet and any CSOs in Nigeria.
  • Engagement of 700 CSOs across the country as monitors is another success story on the utilization of the returned assets.
  • Activation of Grievance Redress Mechanism with the National Cash Transfer Office based on the feedback from beneficiaries.
  • Anti-corruption Agencies intervened on those doing sharp practices within the beneficiaries through removal of names, or deduction of money from the token being paid to them
  • Evidence based advocacy was used to sustain the government/CSOs relationship      
  • Improved on government citizen relationship through information sharing as at when due from stakeholders.
  • While trust and coordination from stakeholders led to proper utilization of the looted money and if it continues, it can lead to revenue generation for government to attain the  SDGs as well as fund its budget deficit.

Ms. Fatima Kanji who is the Research and Policy Manager International State Crime International, Queen Mary University of London focused her discussion on human rights approach to asset recovery, return and utilization. She raised the following as some of the human rights to focuss on when discussing issues related to asset recovery, returning and utilization.

  • Governance structure on asset recovery is key in order not to violate country soverignity.
  • Proceseses of tracing and returning  also need to be reviewed in order not to violate human rights of stakeholders.  
  • Regular independent monitoring of the disbursement for the victims of corruption is key
  • Need to have relevant legislation in place for sustainability instead of operating ad-hoc intervention is important for sustainability.
  • That citizens should not be disempowered of the utilization of the asset return  
  • There is need to continue conducting needs assessment in order to miss the people’s priority.
  • She concluded that taking all the above into consideration, it will link the proper utilization of asset returned to infrastructural development, as SDGs will be attained through proper utilization of asset return.
  • Interactive Session

The floor was then opened for the audience to make input, the first input came from the UNODC Country Representative from Nigeria, Dr. Oliver Stopel. He wanted to know the number of beneficiaries so far, the amount disbursed as well as sustianbility plans put in place after the utilization of the returned money by the Swiss government. The answer was that as at Septembr, 2019 over 890,000 vulnerable family has benefited from the project and is still counting.  Also answer was given on the modalities of paying some loans back to World Bank in the ration 20-80% as part of the conditions of the returned assets during negotiation. On sustainalbility it was mentioned that govermnet is making budgetry provision for the NSIP project annually to the tune of 500 Milion Naira, while there is a presidential directive on the need to lift 100,000,000 out of poverty in the next 10 year.

Another intervention came form the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC). He said it is high time we should also look into utilization of domestic retuned asset for proper utilization for Nigerians. The answer to his concern was that some of the tangible asset especially building are been donated for the government offices as accommodation, while others are still pending for utilization, but the panels agreed that looking inward is critical as well. That such cash can be used to supplement budget financing instead of borrowing.

While Killert from The Corner House, London UK raised the following concerns;  

  • Need for the  Nigerian goverment to popularize the success story of the impact of the utilization of the returned loot for the benefit of the poorest of the poor.
  • Need for the Nigerian goverment to institionalise reforms in order to discourage  looting or re-lootting of the returned asset.
  • There is need to have strong Anti-Money Laundering law in place  

While representative from STAR initiative asked question if there is any where apart from Nigeria where utilization of asset recovery has been used judisiousily. It was responded to that so far no other  country has demonstrated such intiative and this has led to many countries to be coming to Nigeria for learning visit to under study MANTRA Model for replication.  

  • Closing Session

The session was closed with appreciation to all participants and the UK/DfID for making resources available to share the best practices at the UNCAC 8th CoSP.  While it was also highlighted that It is high time we need to point fingers to countries that are not ready to cooperate or frustrating asset recovery proceses by one way or the other,the session was populrised on various ANEEJ social media platforms during the session for visibility and engagement. The side event was attended by over 70 participants that cut across countries and organizations with intrest on the topic of discussion.

  • Pictures of Event
Members of the Panel

Cross Section of Participants at the Side Event

Group Picture of the Panelists after the event
The Nigeria UNODC Country Representaive Asking Question at the session