Heads of anti-corruption agencies stated recently that the government should publish the names of property owners in Nigeria as one of the ways to cub money laundering and other forms of financial crimes. Prior to this recommendation, the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers (NIESV) had signed a pact with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) designed to track property transactions in the country. The deal is yet to be effective. Regardless, the places the search ought to begin, according to the nation’s anti-graft chiefs, are the land registries across Nigeria, Bennett Oghifo reports
Prospective land or property owners pay a lot of money to the state and federal governments for the documentation of land and buildings but it is a wonder the identities of the owners of these properties are shrouded in secrecy, even by public officials.
Some states, including the Federal Capital Territory, have sophisticated geographic information systems (GIS) but no names pop up at a push of a computer button, as it is designed to be. Nobody knows who owns what. Buildings are left un-occupied in Abuja, Lagos and in other cities for years and, untaxed unlike what is done in countries where property contributes to the GDP.
Names Property Owners…
The nation’s anti-graft chiefs have called for disclosure and need for land registries to publish the owners of properties around the country, describing asset declaration as a veritable tool for fighting corruption.
They also argued that assets should be declared every two years instead of the present four years and called for stiffer sanctions for erring officers or individuals.
These came to fore as Heads of the various anti-corruption agencies met in Abuja, recently, to harmonise gaps in Nigeria’s implementation of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and also map out strategies for the adoption and implementation of a National Anticorruption Strategy.
A statement by Mr Sylvester Tunde Atere, Outreach and Communications Officer, United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) said the Heads of the anti-corruption agencies “recommended adequate and strategic funding plans of anti-corruption agencies akin to Marshal Plan which gives a clearer picture and exact amount needed to fund the anti-corruption agencies to avoid overt dependence on foreign aids. They will also want review of obsolete laws to reflect the reality of present trend in Nigeria.”
They said for instance, “The law governing the Office of the Auditor General for the Federation was passed in 1958 and has not been reviewed. This, they reasoned, has hampered the operations as auditing reports sent to the National Assembly between 1999 and have not been acted upon.”
In his opening remark at the meeting, the Country Representative of UNODC, Koli Kwame, who was represented by Regional Advisor, HIV and AIDS, West Africa, Gunasekaran Rengaswamy, welcomed participants and expressed commitment of UNODC to support national efforts in fighting corruption.
The event comes under the aegis of the European Union (EU) funded project “Support to Anti-Corruption in Nigeria” implemented by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)
While Nigeria signed unto the UNCAC in 2003 and ratified same in 2004, an implementation review of Nigeria’s ratification of the Convention was carried out by two State Parties – Lesotho and Montenegro – who identified gaps in the implementation of the UNCAC, with specific reference to the chapters under review. They also made recommendations that need to be addressed by the country as soon as possible.
The Executive Summary of the report of Nigeria’s review has been published on the website of UNODC, while the main report has been submitted to the Nigerian government. The Review Mechanism is an intergovernmental process whose overall goal is to assist States Parties in implementing the Convention and is based on the terms of reference of the Review Mechanism.
While deliberating on the recommendations from the UNCAC Review and the draft National Anti-Corruption Strategy, the anti-graft chiefs presented a plethora of issues that must be fully addressed for Nigeria to win the battle against corruption. They include adequate funding, judicial system and a practice direction that puts a timeframe to the length of the cases.
Estate Surveyors partner EFCC…
Some years ago, the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, (NIESV) held talks with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on how to check money laundering in Nigeria’s housing sector.
The pact was brokered during the tenure of a former president of the institution, Mr. Emeka Eleh, who said, “We are willing to partner with the EFCC, which is a government agency that is set up to fight corruption and, our members, as citizens of this country, are also against corruption.”
The discussion with the EFCC, he said at the time was in its early stages and so would not want to give details. “We are willing to partner with the EFCC the same way we are willing to partner with the Code of Conduct Bureau. We have been in touch with the EFCC in the past four years and that talk will continue because it is an on-going process to assist the commission to fight against corruption. We are ready to partner with any agency of the government to ensure that corrupt practices come to an end in this country.”
Eleh said, “the issue of members of the institution being involved in corrupt practices or of willingly dealing with does involved in corrupt practices will not arise. We are a self-regulatory body. Our members are regulated by our own rules and code of ethics which every member must adhere to. It is also regulated by the Estate Surveyors Regulatory Board of Nigeria (ESRBON).”
He said the lack of transparency in some of the home deals was of great concern to the institution, because “all over the world, buying and selling to property is a regulated business. In South Africa, for instance, you cannot even sell your own property without it being registered in a way. There are procedures through which an owner can sell his/her property.”
This is being done because “it is only by bringing all property to the table under regulation that you can now control it. Reports that a single person purchased 45 houses are strange because we know our members cannot be involved. It is the same thing with building collapse. More often than not these houses are not designed by engineers. It is when people cut corners that such things happen.”
Adhere to Code of Asset Declaration…
Eleh said corruption in the country could be reduced if the code stipulating that public officers declare their assets is adhered to strictly. “By virtue of the laws of this country, every public officer is supposed to declare his/her assets on assumption of office and before leaving office. Our position is that it is only our members that are registered by ESVRABON our regulating body. It is only our members that are authorised by law to determine the value of real estate asset all over this country and, so, we are saying that with regards to asset declaration that has to do with real estate assets, such value must be confirmed by our members and, declarations outside this will not be in conformity to our laws.”
The institution, he said was encouraging the government that members are willing to partner them to fight corruption. “Asset declaration in conformity with the laws of this country and we will assist that process. We believe that the only way to conform to our existing laws is by saying that every asset declaration form is accompanied with valuation report prepared by an estate surveyor and valuer, particularly if they are real estate assets.”
He said if the assets included stocks then the value should be determined by a stock broker. “The country must use its professionals in the fight against corruption; must use professionals, who have the competence to do the valuation, using existing laws to fight corruption.
He explained that there is a form that “people who want to declare their assets fill out and to which they would append the value of their assets wherever they are in the country and they will say for instance the asset is worth x million and, we are saying who valued it as x million?”
According to him, if things were done as stipulated by law, then “where real estate assets are involved, estate surveyors, who are authorised by law to determine the value of real estate. When the form is being returned then it should carry the signature of one of our members. The form will provide the location of the asset, the description and every characteristics of the property including the title. That way there will be no doubts. There should be nothing like anticipatory declaration.”