Dilemma as agencies resume sale of salvaged FG assets

SThe list of assets confiscated from the federal government, worth N4 trillion naira, is once again marred with suspense and controversy as the collection agency that has been empowered to take over the process , by court judgment, must still move to begin the process.

The court order nullifying the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to set up a committee for the sale of salvaged assets has thrown a dilemma on the federal government’s decision to dispose of the confiscated assets.

With the judgment of the Federal High Court handed down in Lagos on May 10, disposal of recovered assets fell to collection agencies.

The court quashing follows a lawsuit brought by the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), through its lawyer, Omotayo Olatobuson, challenging the powers of the AGF.

Judge Ambrose Lewis-Allagoa upheld HEDA’s argument that struck down the 2019 Asset Tracking, Recovery and Management Regulations, saying they are an invalid regulatory instrument, the first not having conferred on itself no power arrogated by the defendant (AGF) in the last settlements.

The court further made an “order setting aside the Search, Recovery and Management of Assets Regulations 2019 as an invalid statutory instrument, together with the provisions of the Independent Securities Practices Commission Act 2000.” bribery: “An order voiding all sales and disposals of assets made by the defendant under the said Asset Search, Recovery and Management Regulations 2019, even being ultra vires the defendant’s office and powers. »

“Therefore, the administrative powers to be exercised by the AGF must derive from enabling legislation.

“It is pertinent to clarify that the powers of the AGF do not override the provisions of the enabling statutes stabilizing the powers of law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies, and therefore the powers referred to in clause opening of the settlement are only to be exercised under the law, and not to usurp the mandatory powers granted to law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies.

Judge Abubakar Malami (SAN)

However, it is feared that the agencies have not yet begun any process of disposing of the assets in accordance with the enabling legislation, the Proceeds of Crime (Recovery and Management) Act 2022.

Some of the agencies involved include the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC); the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC); the Nigeria Police, Nigeria Customs Service, Nigeria Navy and the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON).

Contacted to find out about the ICPC’s involvement in the management or disposal of recovered and confiscated assets under the law, the commission’s spokesperson, Ms. Azuka Ogugua, explained that there is a designated department for this purpose. effect within the committee.

“We have a proceeds of crime (collection and management) department, so when we recover or seize assets under the ICPC Act, we go to court to obtain interim and final forfeiture. There is a Proceeds of Crime Act that also guides all of our operations in this regard,” she said.

The ICPC official, however, remained silent when Daily Trust on Sunday inquired about a judgment of a Federal High Court in Lagos, which ordered a panel set up by the AGF office to postpone the sale of recovered or confiscated assets.

In a similar vein, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) spokesperson Wilson Uwujaren said the commission would not be interested in talking about the issue of asset recovery.

However, he promised to come back to our journalist after checking the judgment of the Federal High Court.

Speaking, the Executive Director of the Center for Social Justice (CSJ), Eze Onyekpere, instructed the agencies empowered by the recently passed Proceeds of Crime Act to support and enhance transparency in the process of disposing of assets. assets.

“There is a coordination mechanism under the law that should dispose of these assets. The fact that you have recovered a property does not oblige you to manage it. You can take an inventory of salvages and hand them over to people who can better value them and auction them off,” he said.

The executive director of the African Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), David Ugolor, said collection agencies are now empowered to dispose of confiscated assets.

He however pleaded with the Federal Government not to entirely renounce the work already done by the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Disposal of Confiscated Assets of the Federal Government of Nigeria previously set up by the Federal Government so that it does not become a piece of trash.

“We have to ask ourselves what happens now to the work already done by the panel, because the members of the committee have contributed to the knowledge,” he said.

Prior to the court order, the federal government was engaged in the processes of disposing of the recovered and confiscated assets, which some say would bring in 4 trillion naira to the country and prevent further borrowing.

President Muhammadu Buhari had in November 2020 given the new compound a six-month mandate to dispose of all confiscated assets.

The panel, which was inaugurated by AGF and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, a Senior Advocate from Nigeria (SAN), consisted of 22 members, chaired by the then Permanent Secretary, Dayo Apata (SAN). .

Malami said the committee derives its enabling powers from the overriding powers of the AGF under Sections 150(1) and 174(1) of the 1999 Nigerian constitution.

He instructed members to investigate, search, seize and dispose of stolen or illegally acquired assets and proceeds of crime under the Assets Tracing, Recovery and Management Regulations 2019 issued by his desk.

He said the group was established under the directive of President Buhari in October 2018 following the recommendations of the Presidential Audit Committee on the recovery and management of stolen assets due to the need for effective management. and efficient recovery of assets as an interim measure pending passage of the Proceeds of Crime Bill.

Malami listed the committee’s responsibilities to include implementing the provisions of the Asset Traceability and Recovery Management Regulations; ensuring transparency in the disposal of permanently confiscated assets of the federal government; ensure synergy and collaboration between AGF and law enforcement and anti-corruption agencies, other relevant ministries, departments and agencies, and non-governmental organizations in collecting records of all assets.

Others consist of setting up asset information flows; respond to ongoing asset management audits and asset performance reports; Consistently implementing enablers and controls that support decision-making and service delivery effectiveness that govern asset disposal, and developing objectives for the committee to measure performance.

He said, “I must, however, warn that the task ahead of the Inter-Ministerial Committee is enormous and must be carried out with the utmost dignity, having the interest of Nigeria at heart.”

In his reaction, the chairman of the committee and then permanent secretary of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Dayo Apata (SAN), described the event as “another milestone in the new frontiers drawn by the AGF beyond the conventional responsibilities of prosecute, defend or represent the federal government and its MDAs in litigation and provide legal advice.

The committee also invited 398 real estate surveyors and appraisal companies who requested the appraisal of the forfeited assets from the federal government to allow the auctioneers to begin sales.

The National Chairman of the Nigerian Auctions Association (NAA), Alhaji Aliyu Kiliya, has advised the relevant collection agencies to ensure that the disposal of assets is subject to professional auctioneers for transparency and accountability in accordance with public procurement law and compliance with the rules. and regulations governing the disposal of public assets to avoid legal burdens.

The Head of the Asset Recovery and Management Unit of the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs. Ladidi Bara’atu Mohammed did not respond to messages sent to her on the status of the confiscated assets.

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