Illegal Assets Seizure Bill Divides Senate As It Passed For Second Reading

Some senators on Thursday kicked against a bill that empowers the government of Nigeria to seize assets deemed to be illegally acquired, even as it passed for second reading following majority decision.

The contentious bill titled, ‘A bill for an Act to Make Comprehensive Provisions For Seizure, Confiscation, Forfeiture and Management of Properties Reasonably Suspected to Have Been Derived From Unlawful Activities’, is sponsored by Senator Suleiman Kwari.

When it was announced and placed for debate, Kwari said the proposal passed first reading on March 16, 2021, and was also listed among the versions of bills of interest contained in the recent communication from President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly.

Recall that Buhari had last week appealed to the parliament to pass three anti-corruption bills on proceeds of crime, whistle-blower and witness protection.

While the Senate had on Tuesday passed the Witness Protection Bill for second reading, the asset seizure bill was listed for today, Thursday.

Defending the bill, Kwari said the main objective of the bill was to provide for the establishment of a department in the relevant organisations to manage forfeited assets.

“This bill further makes provisions for restraint, seizure, confiscation and forfeiture of property derived from unlawful activities; any instrumentality used or intended to be used in the commission of such unlawful activities; and for non-conviction based procedure for the recovery of proceeds of crime.”

He added that the bill’s other objectives are to strengthen the criminal confiscation procedure by ensuring that the total benefit from a person’s criminal activity is calculated and an equivalent amount, where recoverable, is confiscated on behalf of the Federal Government.

Senator Smart Adeyemi, who spoke in support, stated, “I hold the view that the people who have acquired their properties legally and with good funds have no cause to fear,” he said.

According to the Deputy Majority Whip, Senator Aliyu Sabi-Abdullahi, “I think it is our duty to support such a law, but it must not be done in a manner that at the end of the day, when you have somebody that does not mean well, you have given him a weapon to go after his perceived enemies. I think that is where caution has to come in.”

But this did not go down well with some senators. Headlining those opposing the bill was Senator Stella Oduah, who has been indicted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for sundry corruption cases.

Oduah said, “For very brilliant senators such as us, we cannot be seen to pass a bill which we haven’t thought through and that is not in line with best global practice. We shouldn’t play ostrich with this bill.

“We are going to create a situation where conflict of interest within establishments will continue to exist. Subjectivity in handling issues will be the subject of the day, and innocent Nigerians will be made to be victims of this law, and laws are not supposed to be like that.

“Laws are supposed to stand the test of time. This bill will not stand the test of time because it will be very subjective.”

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, after the second reading, referred the bill to the Joint Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes; and Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters.

The joint committee was given four weeks to report back to the Senate in plenary.

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