I am extremely pleased to join national and international partners here today for this pre-GFAR consultative meeting, in the lead up to the main event in Washington in December.  Thank you for inviting me to make these brief opening remarks.

As some of you may know, GFAR was one of a number of commitments participating countries made at the London Anti-Corruption Summit in May 2016, hosted by our then Prime Minister David Cameron.  This was an important international conference which demonstrated the UK Govt’s commitment to this crucial agenda. That commitment continues under our current Prime Minister, Theresa may. Frank and open dialogue and collaborative working amongst partner countries was considered crucial to the success of asset recovery moving forward.    So I’m very pleased Nigeria is one of the four priority countries in this effort at the forthcoming Washington meeting. At this point, may I congratulate the Federal Government on progress made through your membership of the Open Govt Partnership.

The UK is very pleased to be working with others to deliver against this commitment.  This is why we readily agreed to fund the proposal from the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, to hold this event in Abuja in preparation for the GFAR, which will be co-hosted by the UK and US.   Well done to all the planners and organisers of this event for bringing us all here together today.  We continue to commend President Buhari’s leadership in tackling corruption in Nigeria and also the strong efforts shown by the various anti-corruption Agencies and Committees, in pressing ahead with this challenging agenda.   We are particularly impressed by the close collaboration between Government and civil society on asset recovery. The presence of representatives of the Vice President and the many Civil Society Groups present today are testament to the growing success of this vital partnership.   

Our Governments have been working closely together on asset recovery. We were pleased to sign a Memorandum of Understand on Asset Recovery with Nigeria in August 2016. Whilst I am sure everyone here would agree that it is essential that due legal process is followed in cases of asset return, be that here in Nigeria or in the UK. We understand the frustration the delays this can bring and the slow pace of progress in certain cases in the UK.

There are no short cuts when it comes to the law. But we recognise the importance of managing such challenges and expectations. Clear, honest communication is vital in order to build the confidence and trust of citizens in the recovery process and the broader fight against corruption.  We were pleased to meet with the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption during their visit to the UK last month to discuss barriers to asset returns. We think it is important to have these conversations on a more regular basis going forward.  GFAR, as a forum for policy makers and experts, will be an important point to reflect on ways to improve how we currently work, with the aim of effectively tackling some of these challenges.

The Proceeds of Crime Bill is expected to provide the legislative framework to ensure greater accountability and transparency around assets recovered. The UK is keen to see swift passage of this Bill and stands ready to support its implementation. Civil society organisations will also have an important role to play in the monitoring and oversight of assets. We are also keen to support them to strengthen their capacity in this regard.

Asset recovery is an important shared priority in the UK/Nigeria bilateral relationship.  The return of assets, and the transparent management and use of monies thereafter, matters as much to the UK as it does to Nigeria. We want to see stolen monies retrieved, both in Nigeria and in other jurisdictions, and put to good use by the Government of Nigeria, for the people of Nigeria.

I would like to close by wishing partners a very successful session in preparing for a productive and constructive GFAR in Washington.

Thank you.