On landing in Lagos Airport, my first impressions are lots of queues, plenty of form filling and many military uniforms in evidence. As I arrive at the hotel, a prominent sign behind the reception advises: “Esteemed Guest Money Laundering Activities are prohibited in this Hotel” so a promising start!
I couldn’t help but notice extensive coverage of the 53rd Anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence in the local press and the feeling of a nation trying to assess where it stands in the world. Dozens of full page adverts taken out by local government officials and ministers with their photos emblazoned congratulate President Goodluck Jonathan on the event of Nigeria’s’ independence anniversary celebrations. This shameless self-promotion through use of public funds does not inspire confidence.
With the North East of the country still under emergency law, I am also depressed to read that Boko Haram had carried out another horrific attack on a school the day before I flew in. I am also aware of on-going press coverage of the scale of fraud and corruption in Nigeria. Illegal oil bunkering (where organised groups tap into oil pipes and illegally ship and sell stolen oil) has been estimated to cost Nigeria up to $1 billion a month. This activity is undertaken by organised criminal groups, with the collusion of the military and politicians at high levels. That amount of money flowing into the illicit economy means less money to develop Nigeria’s infrastructure and to provide for its citizens. These huge criminal profits also need to go somewhere, and no doubt are being laundering by those involved.
Talking to a random selection of Nigerians during my stay there is also still a great deal of disillusionment about the level of corruption and inequality and the harm it is doing to what is undoubtedly a dynamic and vibrant country still yet to realise its full potential.
Driving through the streets it’s clear that the infrastructure is struggling to cope. Skyscrapers nestle next to crumbling marketplaces and while motorways criss-cross the city, congestion is a nightmare at peak hours and smaller roads are full of holes and in need of repair.
The briefing session about ICA qualifications that I am here to present goes well with a range of potential delegates from banks, insurance companies and law firms represented.
On a visit to the local shopping mall in Lagos I can tell that there is a vibrant consumer economy and a growing middle class in Nigeria. But the “haves” and the “have-nots” are still apparent. Despite the private jet owning elite and the increasing middle class demographic, there is still a huge group still excluded from Nigeria’s economic growth. Hawkers and street kids line the road leading away from the shopping mall; a bright economic future for these Nigerians seems a long way away.
I then fly on to Abuja, the capital city for the second ICA qualifications briefing session as well as meetings with law enforcement and regulators. Abuja feels much less hectic and is greener yet the infrastructure still has obvious problems. As I land I hear the news that a plane that took off from Lagos shortly after us has crashed with several fatalities.
At the event potential delegates seem engaged with some brilliant and challenging questions coming from the floor- effectively asking why the ICA and ICT are here and whether it can make any difference in Nigeria. My answer is that the ICA works around the world to help raise standards, and we have not come to Nigeria to lecture about the way we do things in the UK, but to share good practice from around the world and help to professionalise those engaged in AML, Financial Crime Prevention and Compliance.
After the briefing session we meet with senior law enforcement and regulators, from the Central Bank, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit. What strikes me is the clear commitment to raising standards, and the need for training content that is appropriate for Nigeria and the unique issues its faces. There is a real understanding of the importance of training in the regulated sector from those whom we meet. The country has huge potential yet faces many challenges but I feel encouraged that by bringing ICA qualifications to the region, we can help set the bar.
As I head back towards the airport, I can’t miss a 10 metre high billboard with faded colours that proclaims: “Let’s Fight Money Laundering”. Here’s hoping.