Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the allegations of media trial were being sponsored by treasury looters in their bid to wage a counter-war against the fight against graft in the country.
He also called for the prosecution of international banking institutions culpable in the transfer of ill-gotten funds from Nigerian to foreign nations.
Osinbajo spoke in Abuja during the opening session of a three-day ‘Conference on Promoting International Co-operation in Combating Illicit Financial Flows and Enhancing Asset Recovery to Foster Sustainable Development’.
The event, which held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja, was co-organised by the Prof. Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, the Federal Ministry of Justice and the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Speaking as the special guest of honour during the opening session on Monday, the Acting President noted that there was an ongoing media war between treasury looters and those fighting corruption.
He explained that the treasury looters were fighting back by tagging the ongoing anti-corruption war as media trial in order to legitimise their acts of corruption.
In faulting the allegation of media trial, the Acting President said there was nowhere in the world where huge sums of money would be discovered in an air-conditioned room without the event making headlines.
He said, “If you look at the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria, there is a major fight back in the media.
“There is a media war, between people fighting corruption and those behind the stolen funds. It is called media trial, I don’t know what that means.
“If you discover for instance large sums of money in an air condition room there is nowhere it will not make news anywhere in the world.
“So this whole idea of trying to legitimise corruption is definitely being fuelled and sponsored by those who have these resources, who have stolen funds.
“Unless we see it as a problem that can bring down our system then we will never be able to fight. I hope we will be able to advance this with other African countries.”
He said corruption was already fighting back eloquently in Nigeria in such a manner that could overwhelm the government if care was not taken.
He said, “Like President Buhari has said repeatedly that if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill it. When corrupt monies find safe havens it will begin to fight back and if government is not careful it can fight back.
“In Nigeria for instance where corruption fights back so eloquently that government itself if not careful can be overwhelmed.”
He also called for the prosecution of international banking institutions which had made the transfer of illicit funds abroad possible.
He said, “There is no way the transfer of these assets can happen without a handshake between the countries that they are transferred and the international banking institutions in the countries in which they are transferred, there is no way it will happen without some form of connivance.
“We have to look at somehow delegitimizing those kind of financial institutions and criminalising them so that banks and financial institutions that actually engage in this can be called out and made to face the consequences of engaging in criminal practices. If that isn’t done we are not likely to go very far.
“For there to be collaboration there must first be connivance, in the agreement and conventions we will be signing we must find away and ensure that financial institutions are not given a free run and hold them accountable.”
As solution to illicit financial flows, Osinbajo suggested that Nigeria and other African countries must find a way of making beneficiary nations of illicit funds to develop outrage against proceeds of corruption as they had against terrorism financing and drugs money.
Citing the report by the Thabo Mbaki Panel, Osinbajo said most of the illicit funds leaving Africa were from Nigeria.
He, therefore, urged the law enforcement agencies to do more to stop the illicit flows.
He described as absurd the fact that more money was being stolen from Nigeria than the amount the country received from foreign nations as grants.
He said, ”The Thabo Mbaki report shows that most of the illicit funds flow that comes out of Africa are from Nigeria and that shows us very clearly especially the security agencies that we simply have to do more. It is evident that so much money is leaving our shores.
“I was arguing with somebody about the fact that they were stopping certain funding, and he kept telling me Nigeria is no longer a poor country but now a mid-income earning country so they shouldn’t be giving us those kinds of aids.
“It was barely a week after that a large sum of money was found at the Kaduna airport and it was roughly about half of the money we were looking for.
“So he sent me a text telling me that the money has been discovered at the Kaduna. Of course, I didn’t reply him but when he persisted I called him and asked if this was his own form of a joke.
“But clearly, it’s sometimes absurd that when we are asking for aid so much money are being stolen. So we ourselves must take responsibility and ensure we keep talking about this.”
On his part, Sagay regretted that most of the financial assets stolen from Nigeria were usually transferred abroad and in effect deprived the nation of the capacity to realise sustainable development goals.
He noted that annual flow of proceeds of criminal activities globally was estimated at between $1trn and $1.6trn, with half of the amount coming from developing countries.
Sagay said, “Most of the financial assets pillaged from state coffers find their way out of the country as part of the illicit financial flows.
“The immediate impact is that Nigeria is deprived of the capacity to realise the sustainable development goals of the United Nations officially known as ‘Transforming Our World’.
“These goals include, No poverty; Zero hunger; Good health and well-being; Quality education; Clean water and sanitation; and Affordable clean energy.
“None of these goals is affordable in a developing economy whose wealth is haemorrhaging and flowing to already developed societies.
“The concept note of this conference informs us that the annual flow of proceeds of criminal activity is estimated at US$1trn to US$1.6trn and that half of these flows come from developing and transitional countries.
“It is therefore vital that we as a country and Africa as a continent, improve our capacity in understanding and stemming the illicit financial flows; this hemorrhaging, if we are to have a chance to meet our sustainable development goals or if we are ever to dream of transformation from third world to something better even by 2030.”
He quoted a press statement by the Federal Government in January 2016 to underscore the “negative social impact of this looting of national assets”.
Sagay quoted the statement as stating, “One-third of the stolen funds could have provided 635.18 kilometres of roads, 36 ultra-modern hospitals per state, 183 schools, educated 3,974 children from primary to tertiary level at N25.24m per child and built 20,062 units of two-bedroom houses.”
Muna, a member of the Thabo Mbeki Panel which was commissioned by the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for African noted that Africa was losing “anywhere from $50 to $80bn annually through illicit financial outflows”.
He added that despite the inflow of development assistance inflow of development assistance,”Africa still remains a net creditor”.
He argued that better way of recovering stolen funds from beneficiary countries, was to create an escrow account with development banks where frozen illicit money could be kept pending the conclusion of legal processes instead of the money remaining with the complicit bank.
He said, “It is important for this meeting to consider what was recommended in the Thabo Mbeki Report: the creation of escrow accounts within the development banks.
“Frozen money should not stay with the complicit bank, but in an escrow account with a third party, pending the courts’ or competent authorities’ determination as to the rightful owners of the funds.”
On his part, Onyeama, the Minister of Foreign Affairs urged international community “to strive to eliminate safe havens that create incentives for foreign transfer of stolen assets and illicit financial flows”.
He also urged the international community to support developing countries’ efforts to curb and counter illicit financial flows.
On his part, the AGF, Malami said there was an ongoing effort to review the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Establishment Bill and the Proceeds of Crime Bill to aid in tackling illicit flows.
He added, “The commitment to prosecute corrupt officials and the recovered looted funds is reflected at all levels and sectors where corrupt practices occur.”
The pioneer chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Nuhu Ribadu, who headed a panel during the event, also highlighted the complicity of banks in the illicit financial flow, saying corruption or bribery could never take place with tacit support by banks.
Executive Secretary of PACAC, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, said his committee was already pushing for a policy which would ensure that the middle-men, usually the banks and their officials, were not left out whenever the politically-exposed persons accused of stealing public funds were arrested.
“Let the bankers suffer the consequences together with the politically exposed persons,” Owasanoye said.
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, argued that appealing to beneficiary countries to release Nigeria’s stolen funds kept with them would not work.
“What I think should be done is that once we discover the stolen funds, we should go after the banks warehousing the funds by filing actions in court on behalf of our government,” Falana said.