President Muhammadu Buhari Thursday in Abuja called on security agencies in Africa, especially the intelligence community, to tighten the loop against illicit financial flows, attributing rising security challenges to sponsorship by those who profit from illegal financial activities.
In a keynote address at the opening session of the 16th Conference of the Committee of Intelligence and Security Services of Africa (CISSA), President Buhari said development and stability on the African continent had been undermined by illicit outflows estimated to be about 60 billion U.S. dollars annually.
"Frankly, we may never know the true extent of the damage. Estimates, however, suggest that African countries lose over 60 billion US dollars annually due to illicit financial outflows, a staggering amount for a continent in dire need of development finance.
"Corroborating this figure, a United Nations Report on 'Illicit Financial Flows and the Problem of Net Resource Transfers from Africa: 1980-2009,' observed that during the period 1980 to 2009 between $1.2 trillion and $1.4 trillion was taken out of Africa. This figure is half of the current Gross Domestic Products of all the countries of Africa," he said.
President Buhari noted that the theme for the conference, "Illicit Financial Outflows from Africa and its impact on National Security and Development," was most timely, urging stakeholders from the intelligence community of the 52 African countries to create a template of risk factors and actionable strategies and give priority to examining the links between crime and instability on our continent.
The president also challenged the conference to put measures in place that will ensure terrorists and criminals were denied access to financial systems.
"Criminals and their collaborators cheat the system through various practices, including trade mis-pricing, trade mis-invoicing, tax abuse and evasion, as well as money laundering. Several unfair commercial agreements and illegal resource extraction by multinational companies, in cahoots with their local collaborators, also create routes for illicit financial outflows.
"As partners in the fight against crime and insecurity, you know that terrorist networks, organized criminal syndicates of drugs, arms and human traffickers and sundry hostile non-state actors are actively undermining the security and stability of our countries," he added.
President Buhari said firm and unwavering action will be required to bring threats under control, noting that "any evasion of rules and regulations in ways that aid corruption in its various manifestations, including illicit financial outflows, must be vigorously fought and defeated."
According to him, "My role as African Union's Anti-Corruption Champion brought me closer to appreciating more the devastating impact of corruption and illicit financial outflows on our continent.
"I am, therefore, pleased that this conference will boost the sense of urgency that we collectively have about this devastation and raise our response capacity at operational levels. In Nigeria, we have risen to the challenge. The fight against corruption remains at the core of our efforts to accelerate national development. We have recorded successes even though the perpetrators are not giving up and are trying to fight back."
President Buhari commended CISSA, which was established in Nigeria in 2004, for its consistency in networking for 15 years, admonishing that the future goals of curbing illicit flows will not be easy, and would require robust efforts and resolute commitment by individual services in order to lay the solid base for the collaborative efforts to address the daunting challenges.
In his remark, Chairman of African Union Commission, Musa Mahamat, said terrorism, radicalisation, sponsored by illicit flows, continuously affect growth on the continent, while ethnicity and religious diversities had been exploited for political gains.
The Chairman, represented by the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Amb. Smail Chergui, said the internet had been used as a valid platform for recruitment of people into criminal activities, noting that terrorists also use sophisticated technology like drones.
Commending President Buhari's integrity and dedication to fighting corruption, the African Union Chairman said some political transitions on the continent, with 14 elections holding next year, pose a challenge to development.
The Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Abubakar, said conservative estimates suggest that, cumulatively, Africa lost well over one trillion US dollars in over five decades, adding that Africa loses more through illicit financial outflows than it gets in aid and Foreign Direct Investment.
Quoting World Bank reports, Mr Abubakar said poverty in sub-Saharan Africa had been on the rise, noting that illicit financial flows weaken the capacity of African states to meet governance expectations, stifle economic growth and infrastructural development and limit investment in education, health care and agriculture.