Will the owners of unoccupied Abuja estates stand up?
Erhisohwode Assurance Ovie,
ISWF Project officer
According to the UNODC StAR report 2014, the Financial Action Task Force’s annual reports described in detail the variety and “creativity” behind money laundering mechanisms. An interesting feature of that “creativity” is that different types of crimes tend to rely on different types of laundering mechanisms. Relying on reports from the FATF and the Egmont Group, Reuters and Truman (2004) have tabulated the laundering mechanisms employed by each type of crime. They find that out of 580 cases analysed, nearly 25 per cent of them used wire transfers as the laundering mechanism and 13 per cent used front companies. The money laundering process involves four stages which include predicate crimes through corruption and bribery, fraud and other serious crimes. First, the monies are illegally taken out of the common purse and via a backdoor, introduced into the stream of commerce. After they do that, they find a way of distancing the money from its criminal source either by moving the money to different accounts or moving it to different countries. At the last stage of this criminal masterminding, the laundered monies are distributed back to the criminals and therefore create an appearance of legitimate wealth.
Reports flying around in the media have proved to the public that a lot of houses and estates in the city of Abuja are empty. Most of them are proceeds of the elaborate schemata of money laundering. But tell me: how can an average Nigerian living within the limits of his earning afford to pay such sums as would be needed to rent those houses? Several instances wherein ill-gotten wealth has been allegedly used to procure property abound. Past and present public servants are alleged to own mansions in Dubai, the United Kingdom and the US, and property dotting the nook and cranny of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. There is also a case involving a former Chief of Staff who spent the sum of N1.4bn allegedly stolen from the accounts of the Nigerian Air Force to purchase a mansion situated at No. 6 Ogun River Street, Off Danube Street, Maitama, Abuja. For lack of exhaustive investigations, these properties have not been seized and confiscated.
Therefore, if the report on Premium Times of Tuesday September 5, 2017 is something we can put our finger on, that the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property may soon take over empty houses in Abuja and sell them, then, we can all rejoice that indeed some change is coming. You will agree with me that if all these laundered monies were properly expended in our beloved nation’s industrial, ICT and agricultural sectors, Nigeria today will be a centre of excellence and an attraction to foreign investors. Today, politicians send their children abroad for studies believing that our institutions are already crumbled and substandard. If all these laundered monies had been used to enhance our educational system and promote good academic research in our universities, matters would have been different today in Nigeria.
To this end, I suggest that the Federal Government should look critically into the area of illegally acquired choice properties both home and abroad. In the UK, British citizens cannot buy a home with cash. Rather, they pay for a home via a mortgage system. But that same Britain, the US and other EU countries would accept large amounts of money from Nigerians to buy homes instead of helping Nigeria to arrest those stealing from public purses to buy homes abroad. Most of us were happy with the introduction of the Bank Verification Number, and which has saved billions of naira which money launderers would have easily siphoned. For the criminally minded amongst us, their one hope today is built on the landed properties and hotels acquired in and outside the country with looted funds. Politicians who acquire expansive and expensive landed property and erect choice hotels are not ghosts. They are human beings. They can be reined in for questioning and prosecuted accordingly. I urge the anti-corruption agencies to continue to pursue those who are using stolen public funds to build houses which the average Nigerian cannot afford to rent.
A link to this article as published by The Punch newspaper is here: http://punchng.com/will-the-owners-of-unoccupied-abuja-estates-stand-up/