By Musa Abdullahi Krishi,
Looters of Nigerian treasury may get “full and complete amnesty” based on a proposed law currently being considered by the House of Representatives.
The proposed law seeks to give the looters leeway to escape any form of probe, inquiry or prosecution after fulfilling certain conditions.
Besides, such looters shall not be compelled by any authority to disclose the source of their looted funds. The scheme is to last for three years, but it could be extended at the instance of the Federal Government, the bill provides.
The proposed law is titled: ‘A Bill for an Act to establish a scheme to harness untaxed money for investment purposes and to assure any declarant regarding inquiries and proceedings under Nigerian laws and for other matters connected therewith.’
The bill was introduced and read for the first time on June 14 on the floor of the House. It now awaits second reading where it would be debated.
Sponsor of the bill, Linus Okorie (PDP, Ebonyi), said the bill “seeks to allow all Nigerians and residents, who have any money or assets outside the system or have acquired such money or assets illegally (looted or any variant of the cliche) to come forward, within a set time frame, to declare same, pay tax/surcharge and compulsorily invest the funds in any sector of the Nigerian economy; and be granted full amnesty from inquiry or prosecution.”
The draft law covers all assets whether held in Nigeria or outside the country.
The bill, dubbed ‘Economic Amnesty,’ provides in Section 4 a 30 percent tax and additional surcharge of 25 percent of such tax. While the proposed tax would be remitted to the federation account for distribution to all tiers of government, the surcharge is to be remitted directly to specific agencies towards agricultural and infrastructural development of the nation, the lawmaker had said.
The agencies are the National Agricultural Research Development Fund and the Nigerian Infrastructure Fund.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is to manage the scheme, while the declaration would be made to the chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
The proposed law also exempts all declarations made from further assessment/taxation by any tax authority within Nigeria, outside the tax and surcharge provided therein.
In the bill, the Federal Government has powers to make consequential “orders not inconsistent with the Scheme to remove any difficulties” that may arise in the course of implementation.
It provides in Section 3 (1) that “…any person may make, on or after the date of commencement of this Scheme but before a date to be notified by the Central Bank of Nigeria in an Official Gazette, a declaration in respect of any income chargeable under the income-tax law for any assessment prior to the enactment of this Act.”
Section 3 (2) states that: “Where the income chargeable to tax is declared in the form of investment in any asset, the fair market value of such asset as on the date of commencement of this Scheme shall be deemed to be the undisclosed income for the purposes of sub-section (1).”
In Section 5, the bill proposes that “the amount declared from the undisclosed income shall (after payment of the tax, surcharge in respect of the declaration) be invested in Nigeria by the declarant in any sector of the Nigerian economy.”
“Being an interventionist Scheme, the bill proposes a time-frame of three years for the commencement of its implementation unless extended by the Executive, through CBN.
“In return, the bill proposes a total and comprehensive amnesty for all declarants from all otherwise repercussions under Nigerian laws and further provides that all such declarations shall be inadmissible in evidence against the declarant except in ‘matters of national security,” the lawmaker said.
Matters of national security are those facts and issues to be determined by a court of competent jurisdiction before effect is given to the exception, the bill says.
“Outside the exception on grounds of national security, no declarant shall be required to state the source or sources of the assets or income declared,” the lawmaker said.
He said the bill was “proposed as a practical, though temporary, solution to a national cankerworm – corruption – which has afflicted all generations of our society, since independence and force us continuously down the development pyramid.
“It provides a window to the quagmire facing all repentant (past and present) actors, who may have assets and resources within and outside Nigeria and find it difficult to acquit themselves under extant anti-corruption and related criminal laws of the land,” he said.
Additionally, the lawmaker said the scheme would be a workable solution to reverse capital flight that has bedevilled the Nigerian economy and initiate a reverse flow through resultant repatriation.
“It is estimated that with the quantum of resources envisaged to be declared and invested in the Nigerian economy, micro and macro-economic stability would result and in turn engender massive economic growth and prosperity with a short time,” he said.
“It would further enable national institutions and operatives to gain valuable insight and intelligence in assets tracing and tracking through professional analyses of generated information,” he said.
“The full and successful implementation of the proposed scheme will result in the purging of the rather accommodative mindset of most Nigerians of corruption and engender a new desired national attitude against crass acquisition of wealth to the detriment of the common good,” the lawmaker added.
Proposed law self-serving, anti-people – CISLAC
Meanwhile, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Awwal Musa Rafsanjani said the proposed law is an attempt by the Nigerian elite to legitimize the looting of public treasury.
While describing the draft law as ‘self-serving and anti-people,’ Rafsanjani called on Nigerians to rise against such laws.
“This bill that is proposed in the House clearly shows the desperation by people that looted the country to hide. It is an attempt to legitimize stolen funds. This is a calculated attempt to further deepen and institutionalize corruption in Nigeria, whereby you can steal as much as you want then come and declare whatever you deem fit.
“One can steal N10 billion and declare just N100 million. The proposed law is anti-people, unacceptable and not in the spirit of the fight against corruption. It won’t scare those that looted the public treasury. It is another means of giving them confidence.
“We reject this idea in totality because it won’t help in the fight against corruption. We call on the National Assembly to desist from considering it. In the event that they pass it, we call on the president not to sign it and we call on Nigerians to rise against it,” he said.
Asked about the provision that compels looters to invest the looted funds in the Nigerian economy, Rafsanjani said: “It’s not workable to force them to invest the looted money back in Nigeria.
“The only thing is to force them to refund the entire money. So, for us this isn’t an appropriate thing. When people know that they’ll refund the entire money, it would discourage them and others.
“What they’re trying to do is to give legitimacy to what is clearly illegitimate. Looting is a crime against Nigeria and Nigerians because it denies provision of infrastructure such as roads, water and other things. As far as we’re concerned, this is wicked.
“There are enabling laws in existence, so they should strengthen them instead of giving legitimacy to looting. They should create an atmosphere that looters will find everywhere un-conducive to steal and hide money,” he said.