Day NCC Boss, Aminu Maida, Turns Show-Stopper in Lagos, by Ken Ugbechie
Penultimate Tuesday, an ensemble of experts and stakeholders gathered in Lagos. The show was the 11th anniversary lecture of RealNews Online Magazine. Theme was the threat of Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) to the African Economy. Dr. Aminu Maida, the Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) was one of the speakers.
Though, not the main speaker but he turned out the real show-stopper. He spoke on the role of ICT in curbing financial crimes.
A broad focus was on IFF and there were speakers from the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Inter-governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON), and Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). A rich cast of relevant stakeholders. In the Nigerian and West African context, these are agencies that should know all the whys and wherefores of the illicit movement of funds across nations within the sub-region, across the continent and to the rest of the world and vice versa.
For Nigeria, the issue of checking IFF is critical to the actualization of the Renewed Hope vision of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. All reports, bar none, on IFF in Africa point to a bleeding continent. It is said that about $90 billion is lost annually to IFF in Africa. Out of this, Nigeria, which expectedly takes the lion’s share in everything out of Africa on account of her bulging population and potential, commands a chunky $18 billion. Put simply, Nigeria loses about $18 billion every 365 days to IFF. Let’s do the math. This comes to a loss of $49.3 million every day. Now, you know why Nigeria has become financially anemic. She has lost so much money over the years to IFF and now she can’t afford to finance critical infrastructure projects, and on some occasions, can’t even pay something as basic as public sector wages and emoluments. Like a man broke and broken and in dire need of a financial fix, Nigeria is shopping from a shark-infested global market looking for lenders. But lenders are no charities. They lend to gain, never to lose. From World Bank, IMF to Asian and European lenders, not forgetting the now smarter and richer Arab nations, no financial bloc lends to lose. And in global economics of lending and borrowing, the borrower is always subservient to the lender.
But Nigeria short-changed herself on the matter of IFF. The inability of successive governments to name and shame, arrest and prosecute abusers of the national till through illicit movement of money to tax havens like the Isle of Man, Belize Island, Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Switzerland, Bahamas, Luxembourg, among others, is the chief reason why IFF is still thriving in the country.
From available records, both from Nigerian agencies and international watchdogs, these illicit finances are funds creamed off over-invoicing of contracts, drugs, outright stealing from public purses, bribes, and private sector corruption. They are captured under a wide range of offences such as insider abuse, money laundering, terrorism financing, proliferation financing, embezzlement, fraud (e-fraud, banking, securities, corporate, intellectual property, among others). Nigeria ranks high on the global index of countries with high velocity of IFF.
Thus, when a conference focuses on IFF, you should expect high tide enthusiasm and huge public participation. And it was so for the RealNews lecture. However, among the battery of speakers and discussants, NCC’s Maida emerged the unassailable show-stopper with his back-to-back knowledge of the matter, capping it with profoundly succinct roadmap on how Nigeria and indeed Africa can leverage ICT to stem the runaway tide of IFF.
Represented by one of the best corporate communicators and perception management strategists in the nation’s public sector space, Reuben Muoka, the Director of Public Affairs at the Commission, Maida raised a banner of hope in his brilliant intervention. In detailing how tech can help mitigate financial crimes, Maida noted that “a variety of legacy technologies have been used to combat crime; however, in more recent times, novel computer softwares and hardwares are being utilized to monitor individual transactions and communications for suspicious activity. For instance, anti-money laundering (AML) software uses algorithms to detect anomalous patterns in financial transactions that could suggest money laundering or other illegal activity. Law enforcement agencies are increasingly employing communication monitoring softwares to follow and analyze digital communications, such as emails, social media interactions, and instant messaging, in order to discover potential threats or illegal behaviour. These technologies improve the ability to detect and prevent illegal digital activity.”
He added: “Nigeria’s telecoms sector has grown significantly, resulting in massive amounts of data being generated on a daily basis. The advent of advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) provides a gateway to identify suspicious digital patterns indicative of crime. Through partnerships with financial institutions data can be filtered to identify these suspicious patterns and nip them in the bud. These technologies provide real-time transaction monitoring, allowing for a proactive approach to crime prevention.”
With just a few months on his new beat as the NCC gaffer, Maida has shown a strong whiff of Midas touch. And it showed in his unbundling of the rubrics of financial crimes and how emerging technologies are helping to prevent, investigate and counter such crimes. His submissions resonated with the audience and drew the loudest ovation. It was understandable. While speaker after speaker regaled the audience with causes and cases of IFF-related crimes, Maida offered workable and easy-to-implement solutions. His presentation bore the imprimatur of a man primed for his job. Little wonder his appointment as the EVC of Africa’s most efficient and largest telecom regulator was hailed as both fitting and befitting and one of the best appointments by President Bola Tinubu as he rallies his team to actualize his Renewed Hope vision for the country. Coming from the private sector with a rich cabinet of tech experience in the financial services ecosystem, Maida came to his new duty post fully prepared.
His submissions on how to deploy tech to tame financial crimes deserves to be further understudied by critical agencies in the fight against IFF. Agencies like the EFCC, ICPC, NFIU, the Police and other allied organisations need to enhance their partnerships with NCC. Such synergy will not only help to prevent and expose the masquerades behind IFF, it will in the long run attract international respect and support for Nigeria in tracking the stolen billions and movement of laundered funds intended to stoke the embers of terrorism and ossify the web of financial profligacy that has entangled the nation and other African countries.
So much of the nation’s funds are still trapped offshore. At the moment, only funds looted by the late General Sani Abacha are being repatriated. And that’s only because the man died. Funds stolen by other members of the criminal gang of the nation’s elite are still cooling in the vaults of Swiss banks and other safe havens notorious for money laundering. These funds should be tracked and repatriated with dispatch especially at this time when the nation is dead broke. To achieve this, the critical players should borrow from the model and template presented by Maida.