The Chartered Institute of Forensic and Investigative Auditors of Nigeria (CIFIAN) has been campaigning for the introduction of forensic in the fight against corruption in the country. Its pro tem President, Dr. Victoria Enape, in this interview with KINGSLEY JEREMIAH, discussed the menace of illicit financial flows, insisting that the country would make very little headway in the fight against corruption unless the right approach is deployed, especially against the backdrop of emerging sophisticated technologies.
What is Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) and why is it growing in the oil and gas sector in the country?
As the name implies, illegal financial flows are funds laundered by individuals or groups into another country or destination without the knowledge of the home country.
As we are all aware, the bulk of the nation’s earnings come from the oil and gas sector. In addition to this, oil businesses are transacted in hard currency, which is also what is involved in international trade. Consequently, oil marketers through their involvement in oil subsidy add to the challenge, hence the monumental fraud that happens through that means.
So, these are some of the reasons why the trend is more in the sector. We still see a lot of diversion of oil products from this country and these diversions involve billions of dollar.
How can forensic accounting address this?
The passage of the bill by Forensic and Investigative Chartered Institute of Nigeria would put in place measures to address these illicit financial flows because our major approach is to prevent it from happening. There is no need to let crime happen before acting because prevention is always better than cure, as a lot of people have made away with large sums of money from this country over the years without being tracked down.
Why has the Federal Government not been able to get these people, especially now that the Muhammadu Buhari-led administration is keen on fighting corruption?
People cannot be prosecuted without evidence, and even when there is evidence, it has to be substantial. For people to be charged to court, and we need admissible evidence in a court of competent jurisdiction. People that are involved in illicit financial flows destroy evidence because that is the key thing. This is the more reason why forensic and investigation experts are needed. While preventing, we need sophisticated mechanism to bring out evidence that can be used for prosecution. We must look for people, who are involved in this development and watch the measures that they are deploying. Without doing the right things (even when you see people with money and the money is alleged to be stolen, and transferred into another country), you won’t be able to prosecute without concrete evidence. This is why people who are allegedly involved in high profile fraud cases are walking the streets freely.
So what are the implications of all these for the economy and the Nigerian people?
It is a very bad development because our resources are being depleted daily, and the economy has been struggling because we don’t have money to spend, whereas the money is going into the pockets of a few individuals. The development is also responsible for the high unemployment rate and poor infrastructural development. It is also responsible for the high number of Nigerians that run abroad when they are sick, and this includes top government functionaries, and other such people that have lost trust in the system.
If we keep quiet and do nothing, all our money would be carted away and we would be left with nothing to build infrastructure with. People die on the road daily because of the poor state of our roads. This indeed is very pathetic. To worsen the situation, people go to the hospital to be treated, but their matters are complicated instead of them being treated.
You are one of those, who commended the NNPC over the joint effort with the Nigeria Customs Service and Department of Petroleum Resources to address the issue of smuggling of petroleum products. Do you believe this move has the capacity to bring an end to the challenge?
I think it will work. We are advocates of prevention and this kind of collaboration will bring about prevention. I think the pact will prevent oil theft, oil bunkering and smuggling of petroleum products. But the law must be enforced. It is one thing to have the collaboration in place and another thing to enforce it. If properly enforced, I think it will, to some extent work.
We equally need political will so that we can prevent the diversion of resources. But you know this takes time because we cannot completely stop the menace, but we can reduce drastically.
But the belief of some stakeholders is that IFFs is sophisticated and therefore does not require manual approach in the face of smart technologies. What is your take on this?
I agree with this and that is why I have always said fraudsters have gone sophisticated, especially with the digital technologies that they deploy in perpetrating fraud. But the collaboration alone may not be able to do it perfectly without forensic involvement. This is one of the reasons why our association seeks to collaborate with the NNPC so that we can improve what they have started. By the time forensic is introduced through technology, we will track fraudsters. No matter how small or big fraud may be, forensic will be able to detect. NNPC needs our collaboration in order to boost what they have started. Without forensic, it would be difficult because you cannot use analogue to fight digital.
There are international laws and treaties binding on international companies, that get involved in these crimes. Why are these laws not brought to bear?
The laws may be working, but not effective. That is why it is good to be consistent in the laws that we put in place. We also need to enforce these laws, though it takes time for some of these laws to achieve the desired objectives. Today, we have the EFCC and the ICPC in place, but the rate at which fraud and corruption is ravaging the country is alarming. Most of the people perpetrating IFFs have their ways because they get smarter by day. That is why we must advance our technologies to catch up with them because as you move towards apprehending them, they develop smarter techniques. With that they rubbish extant regulations.