Feature Article of Sunday, 26 July 2015
Columnist: Muhammad Ajah
Starting from my concluding note, it is unarguable that those who have looted Nigeria’s treasury know themselves. They may think they are smart by trying all means, including using ‘juju’ to subvert the prevalence of justice in the recovery of Nigeria’s money. They can silently return their loots and be covered/pardoned by Presidential mercy, or they wait until they are met, exposed and prosecuted. It may take time to discover them. But with the kind of President we have today, the eagle eye may soon be discovering them. It should be a continuous process and I think four years is pretty enough to cleanse our beloved country of corruption or at least reduce it to the barest minimum.
“Probe him”, some Nigerians say. “No, probe them all”, some other Nigerians maintain. And the third group pricks sentiments to thwart the rule of law, insinuating ethnicism, regionalism and all sorts of abstractions that have hindered our development as a nation. But for me, I say probing in order to recover our looted funds should have no boundary. Let the process start. Once the probing exercise commences, we can be assured that some looted funds would be traced to the periods before 1999. The probe should be comprehensive, all-inclusive and total. Even if the culprit is dead long ago, the family of the deceased should be asked to return the loot.
Just imagine that people die and leave the wealth of Nigerians in secret places without knowing that the ageless conqueror of the mortal sneaks in mostly when it is unwanted, if at all these looters care. Moreover, I maintain that if the very few undermined our written and divine constitutions and looted for their families’ posterity, then our leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, with dignity and honesty, should probe them for Nigerians’ prosperity.
History is a documentary; you either be good and be commended or be bad and be condemned. Either way, you are remembered for recommendation or reprobation. Successive Nigerian governments have often proclaimed war on corruption, but by the end of their tenures, little or no result is achieved. Rather, some of them collaborated with foreign forces to milk the country through bogus contracts. Just look at the power sector which has consumed billions of dollars while more than three-quarter of Nigerians cannot remember when last there was electric current in their home appliances.
So, let Nigerians calm down and allow the process to begin. Let there be no sentiment because it is unimaginable that a single Nigerian can amass the wealth for his or her many families unborn. Nigerian wealth has been starched in foreign banks by individual Nigerian leaders with unrealistic nomenclatures. In more recent times, it is widely believed that most of these looters have bunkers in deserted houses and secluded structures where looted funds are secretly kept. Some records of transactions have been destroyed.
Well, President Muhammadu Buhari has seen the need to probe the administration of his predecessor for a proper take-off of the government. While interacting with Nigerians in Diaspora at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC, President Buhari revealed that his administration had begun receiving documents to prosecute Jonathan’s ministers and other government officials who stole “mind-boggling” oil funds. The President also appeal to US President Barrack Obama to help Nigeria recover and repatriate about $150 billion allegedly stolen by past government officials.
“Some past government officials were involved in illegal sales and diversion of crude oil funds belonging to the federal government to private accounts abroad. We are now looking for evidence of shipping some of our crude, their destinations and where and which accounts they were paid and in which country. When we get as much as we can get as soon as possible, we will approach those countries to frozen those accounts and go to court, prosecute those people and let the accounts be taken to Nigeria,” he told Nigerians in the US.
“The amount of money is mind- boggling, but we have started getting documents. We have started getting documents where some of the senior people in government, former ministers, some of them plotted as much as five accounts and were moving about one million barrel per day on their own. We have started getting those documents. I assure you that whichever documents we’re able to get and subsequently trace the sale of the crude or transfer of money from Ministries, Departments, Central Bank, we’ll ask the cooperation of those countries to return those monies to federation accounts. And we will use those documents to arrest those people and prosecute them. This, I promise Nigerians”, the President averred.
Never in the history of Nigeria has a President inherited empty treasury. The ministers and unconstitutional offices in the past government wasted Nigeria’s common wealth on trivial matters. Billions of dollars belonging to Nigerians cannot be accounted for by the immediate past government. Most of the states of the nation owe civil servants the paltry minimum wages (N18,000) ranging from three to eleven months. Where are the monies? What did the past governors use the monthly allocations from the Federation Accounts for?
The reactions trailing this development are quite revealing. The divides amongst Nigerians over the scope and selection of those to be probed is of concern. Those who want the probe to be limited to Jonathan’s administration believe it was President Buhari’s pledge during his campaign which should not be definite. Those who call for the extension of the exercise to all past governments claim that it will tantamount to witch-hunt if only the immediate past government it targeted. Either way, it is widely accepted by Nigerians that the past government was the worst that Nigeria has ever witnessed in terms of promotion of corruption, executive lawlessness and unimaginable highhandedness. More money accrued to Nigeria from the sale of crude oil but little was achieved. There were also calls that the probe should be extensive, thorough, transparent and devoid of witch-hunt.
Ijaw leader and former Information Minister, Chief Edwin Clark threw his weight behind President Buhari’s anti-corruption war. “Corruption has become systemic and endemic and has slowed down the progress of the country over the years. The culprits if not severally dealt with will sink the country”, he recently opined in a 6-page letter to Mr. President. Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed believes that without probing the past government President Buhari would not be able to move the country forward. “During the electioneering campaigns, Buhari said he will not probe past governments but now that he has seen the quantum of money that was looted by several ministers and former aides of Jonathan, he has no option than change his attitude and stance on the probe. He has since realized he could not do anything without money and when revelations of the billions they stole started filtering in, there is no way he will not probe especially when some states were owing eight to 11months salary. I support President Buhari on the probe 100 percent and I am glad he has turned down borrowing money instead he is ensuring people that stole this country dry are returning it,” he said.
Constitutional lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, observed that the planned probe is an avenue to recover the nation’s stolen wealth from those who pilfered the country’s treasury. “Buhari administration met a virtually empty treasury. The treasury has been looted in various guises, the NNPC has been a source of massive looting. It is an attempt to recover Nigeria’s stolen wealth so that the administration can work. I truly support it”, Sagay noted, adding, “In the process of trying to recover the stolen money, if he has to probe any government, present or past, let him probe, but the money has to be recovered. People should not come into government and now suffer from some sort of amnesia and think that state funds belong to them personally while the country is living in pains and poverty as we are now. Salaries cannot be paid in so many states, so Buhari is right in his struggle to recover our stolen wealth.” But National President of the Arewa Youths Consultative, Alhaji Yerima Usman Shettima argues, “Nobody is opposed to probing anybody that is found wanting but the probe should not be lopsided. We are all aware that if Buhari wants to probe, he will be totally committed. The probe should not be a witch-hunt, it must be all inclusive. There are some people, who are close to him, they should also be probed, it should be a fight against corruption and not a selected few”,
Nonetheless, the national leadership of the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP) supports the probe but insists that it must be done without malice or the intention to witch-hunt some persons who worked under Dr. Jonathan. Party’s National Publicity Secretary, Chief Olisa Metuh, said the investigation must be within the ambit of the law and respect for fundamental human rights of citizens. Also reacting, National Secretary of the Labour Party (LP) Dr. Kayode Ajulo, calls for transparency in the anti-corruption crusade. “I can understand that the war against corruption has started, the president should be transparent about it…They should also follow the law in their corruption war.”
However, the immediate past President Dr. Jonathan seems ready for the probe, but he wants President Buhari not to focus only on his administration, because according to him, it would amount to a witch-hunt. Jonathan believes that there are a lot of things that should be probed in Nigeria. “Very many things, even debts owed by states and debts owed by this country from 1960 up to this time. They say it is Jonathan’s administration that owed these debts… I believe that anybody that is coming for probe must also ensure that this probe is extended beyond the Jonathan administration. Otherwise, to me, it will be witch-hunt. If we are very sincere, it is not only the Jonathan administration that should be probed”, he postulated.
In a twist notwithstanding, we can recall a statement by Jonathan’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, that his boss was not afraid of any investigation after leaving office on May 29. “Investigations will not be out of place since Jonathan’s administration also reviewed the actions of previous governments on assumption of office.”
And for APC leader, Asuwoju Ahmad Bola Tinubu who describes the APC as Armoured Personnel Carrier that represents the diversity of Nigeria, APC did not campaign to be fire-fighters, but planners and very meticulous ones.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of the rule of law and good governance based in Abuja E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org