Tackling Unexplained Wealth in Nigeria through Property Tracking

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The panama and paradise papers exposed how prevalent the use of properties was as a means to launder money amongst Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) in Nigeria. These papers revealed how Nigerian PEPs use off shore companies to buy properties or assets abroad. Similarly, an interesting article by Mathew T. Page published in Quartz Africa (November 2017) talks about how Nigerian PEPs buy up properties in expensive London areas. The article also discusses how much Nigeria has lost as a result of these money laundering activities. According to Page’s article, ‘Nigeria has lost an estimated $230 billion or more in illegal financial outflows since 2004: equal to $1,280 for every Nigerian citizen’(Click to view full article). 

It is disturbing to see that monies meant for the development of Nigeria and its citizens is being ‘chopped’ and used to improve the lifestyle of the rich. These monies can help provide clean water, electricity and good roads for a large number of poor rural communities in Nigeria. This is why I was excited about the introduction of the Unexplained Wealth Order in the UK which interrogates the wealth of property owners in the UK (See previous blog article). The Nigerian Government also appears to be making some commitments towards tackling illicit property in Nigeria. Recently, the Chairman, Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Property, Okoi Obono-Obla mentioned plans to track and name owners of properties in highbrow Maitama that have been acquired through proceeds of corruption.  

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are even making stronger efforts to curb this issue of using properties to launder Nigeria’s money. Innovative approaches are being introduced by CSOs to help tackle this problem. The lead civil society campaigner in this area is Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) led by Revered David Ugolor. They recently launched an online reporting platform called “Propati Tracka” that will track the owners of properties in Nigeria’s capital. This will enable citizens to report properties that are owned by politically exposed persons in highbrow districts of Abuja ( Asokoro, Maitama and Wuse). If done well, this could help expose corrupt public officials and recover stolen assets. Better still, this initiative is a collaboration between CSOs and the Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Property. The Presidential Panel has pledged to investigate the source of funds of property owners reported on this platform. 

ANEEJ has also suggested the need to introduce a Property Verification Number (PVN) to track property owners in Nigeria. This will be similar to the Bank Verification Number (BVN) which is being reported as helping to tackle the use of banks for money laundering activities. The BVN has helped to show the number of accounts owned by an individual. PVN if introduced will be used to identify all properties acquired or purchased by an individual. Other countries could help by having visa bans for Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) that are being investigated for corruption. This could also be extended to their families. When it becomes harder for PEPs to buy properties abroad through corrupt proceeds and for their families to enjoy the properties abroad, it may make it less attractive for PEPs to launder money using properties.

The Property Tracking Initiative is a good step in the right direction. This alone will not tackle corruption. Like a leaking pipe with water flowing through it, if you block one leak but others remain, water will just escape faster through another. Unchecked corrupt persons will find other ways to launder money.  These admirable efforts on property should be combined with other reform initiatives that will ensure higher conviction rates for corrupt individuals. Collective action in building our value systems will also be important as well as challenging the social norms that drive corruption and allow it to persist.

 

Written by Onyinye Ough and Ibukunoluwa Ijaopo

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