The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has written to the Chairman, Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Mr Sam Saba, requesting for the immediate investigation of all named public officers in the Panama Papers scandal.
The group, in a letter, urged the CCB to probe the current and immediate past high-ranking public officers named in the Panama Papers and others that are maintaining and operating or have maintained and operated foreign accounts in other safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions.
The organisation further urged the Bureau to refer such officers to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for prosecution.
The letter dated 8 April 2016 and signed by SERAP executive director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said: “We would be grateful if the Bureau could begin to take these steps within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then as to the steps the Bureau is taking to address the concerns raised in this letter, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel the Bureau to effectively discharge its constitutional and statutory mandates in this instance.
“SERAP believes that the Panama Papers have shown the extent to which public officers in the country are concealing their stolen wealth in safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions, contrary to the Code of Conduct for Public Officers which prohibits public officers from maintaining and operating foreign accounts.
“SERAP hopes that the Code of Conduct Bureau will learn from the lessons of the Panama Papers to combat the abuse of the asset declaration requirements and not wait for further international disclosures that may implicate even more public officers in corruption and money laundering.
“SERAP argues that unless high-ranking public officers who use safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions to breach the fundamental requirements of asset declaration are sanctioned, named and shamed, the credibility of the asset declaration regime as a tool of preventing and combating corruption will continue to be doubted, and Nigerians will continue to witness climate of lack of transparency and widespread impunity of corrupt public officers in the country.
“SERAP also believes that bodies like the Code of Conduct Bureau should now seize the opportunity and use its mandate to react to this international scandal by taking concrete and proactive steps to address increasing breaches of constitutional provisions by high-ranking public officers. This action will be entirely consistent with the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), the law establishing the Bureau, and will meet demands by Nigerians for improvement in transparency regarding asset declarations and sanctions of public officers for breaches.
“Effective asset declaration regime can play an important role in detecting illicit enrichment and preventing corruption and avoiding the kind of international embarrassment that the Panama Papers represents for Nigeria.
“SERAP notes that the aims and objectives of the Code of Conduct Bureau include the establishment and maintenance of a high standard of morality in the conduct of public business and ensuring that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability.”
SERAP therefore asked the Bureau to:
1. Promptly, thoroughly and transparently investigate and where appropriate and there is sufficient admissible evidence refer to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for prosecution current and immediate past governors of the 36 states of the federation and the current and immediate past leaders of the National Assembly that are maintaining and operating and/or have maintained operated foreign accounts while in office, including in safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions like Panama;
2. Promptly, thoroughly and transparently investigate and verify high-ranking public officers’ asset declaration forms including those submitted by current and immediate past governors of the 36 states of the federation and the current and immediate past leaders of the National Assembly to find out those who have made false declarations in order to cover up assets illegally acquired in corruption or abuse of office;
3. Name and shame anyone found to have breached the Code of Conduct for Public Officers through the use of safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions like Panama, and refer such person to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for prosecution;
4. Promptly, thoroughly and transparently investigate and prosecute former governors who currently serve in the National Assembly after their ‘retirement’ as governors and continue to receive remuneration from public funds in addition to their pension and emolument;
5. Promptly, thoroughly and transparently investigate, name and shame and where appropriate and there is sufficient admissible evidence refer to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for prosecution high-ranking public officers who perform the functions of their offices before submitting their asset declaration forms to the Code of Conduct Bureau. SERAP believes that since the declaration of assets precedes the taking of oath of office and oath of allegiance, a fortiori, a political office holder cannot, strictly speaking, legally assume office before declaring his assets;
6. Work closely with other anti-corruption agencies to make it harder for corrupt public officers to access the international financial system such as Panama to hide and enjoy their ill-gotten wealth Promptly, thoroughly and transparently investigate and where appropriate and there is sufficient admissible evidence refer to the Code of Conduct Tribunal for prosecution public officers using shell companies to hide their identity and ill-gotten wealth. In cases of false declarations, the Code of Conduct Bureau should publish an open list of the beneficial owner/controller of all companies and trusts;
7. Share information on asset declaration forms submitted by public officers with banks to prevent corruption-related money laundering
The statement further read, “SERAP notes that provisions on the declaration of assets by public officers in Nigeria are entrenched in the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, contained in Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. These provisions aim to prevent corruption and abuse of office, to ensure transparency in public officers and to prevent high-ranking public officers operating foreign accounts to hide their ill-gotten wealth.
“SERAP also notes that acts prohibited by the Code include a public officer putting himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and official responsibilities; holding two posts from which he is being paid from public funds; and operating foreign accounts. “The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners, including the Guardian and the BBC. The documents show the myriad ways in which corrupt public officers including from Nigeria can exploit secretive offshore regimes to hide their ill-gotten wealth.
“Among national leaders and former and current public officers that are reportedly mentioned in the Panama Papers are: Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki; Senator David Mark and the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ononefe Ibori. According to reports, Nigerian public officers, their families and close associates are increasingly using safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions like Panama to hide their stolen assets.”