‘Recovered Funds Should Be Applied To Specific Projects’
Frank Agbedo, a lawyer and President of Global Centre for Defence of Human Rights, Lagos, says recovered funds should be safeguarded and applied to specific projects that will benefit Nigerians.
The country has had past experiences where stolen funds were recovered and re-looted. How do you think the administration can avoid such a scenario in the current crusade against corruption?
There is no doubt that the current war against corruption under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration has gained remarkable momentum. Therefore, I commend the administration on that score. However, Nigerians will be more appreciative of the efforts of the administration if the scope of this war against corruption is made more inclusive and less selective so that it will be devoid of political or religious colouration.
The essence of the war against corruption is to recover funds that were looted from the public treasury so that the funds could be applied to the benefit of the generality of the people. So, for that war to be worth its calling, the recovered funds must be applied judiciously to meet the yearnings and the needs of the masses of this country. That is the only way that battle can be meaningful. Anything short of that would make the battle a hollow ritual because if recovered funds from corrupt public officials are not applied to meet the needs of Nigerians, who are the victims of the corrupt activities of such corrupt public officials, then what is the essence of the war against corruption. As you rightly pointed out, we have had a situation in the past when recovered looted funds were also re-looted by also corrupt public officials.
Therefore, my recommendation is that such recovered funds should be tied to specific projects that will alleviate the sufferings of Nigerians and move the country forward. The funds should not just be put into infrastructure or omnibus programmes; the funds should be tied to specific projects to which their use could be traced. The public should be informed of the amount recovered in each case and which project or projects it was used to execute.
For instance, it could be spent on projects that affect the masses like some important road networks and basic things like electricity. The money could be used for the metering of houses to enthrone sanity in the electricity sector because it is not rational to increase tariff when electricity distribution companies rely on estimated billing.
If you say that it should be applied to the infrastructural needs of the country, what is the essence of the budget? The budget is made to address both capital and recurrent expenditure. Capital projects include infrastructure. So, if you say that the recovered funds should be applied to infrastructure, it means that you are creating an avenue for the re-looting of the recovered funds.
However, I wish to advise that the war against corruption is a war that is not fought in the media or public space but in the court. So, my advise to the anti-graft agencies is that they should not play to the gallery. They should not satiate their vainglorious sentiments by always wishing to be applauded by the public through sensational arrests and publication of their activities in the media. They should concentrate more on due diligent investigations, prosecution and possible conviction of the alleged looters. By so doing, the result would be better felt.
Given that these funds were not captured in the budget because they were more or less unforeseen incomes, how do you think they can be properly safeguarded to ensure that they are not re-looted before government decides on how to use them?
A special provision should be made where such fund should be domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) because they are outside the appropriated funds. Such funds should be tied to specific projects and should not be applied to run the budget as appropriated because budget appropriations had already been provided for. So, the funds should be placed in dedicated accounts in the CBN and safeguarded for specific projects. And the executive should be made to account for them.
Is there any role the National Assembly can play to ensure proper usage of the recovered funds?
The National Assembly has to perform oversight functions to ensure that funds so recovered are not applied to purposes outside specific needs of the masses of this country. The National Assembly also has to ensure that the recovered funds are not re-looted. In fact, a Private Members Bill can also be initiated to make a law that will address any loophole and regulate the use of such funds.
You remember that the Dasukigate we talk about today is a product of recovered funds from the Abacha loot. When the fund came, it was left in a dedicated account and the then minister of finance with the approval of the president released part of the money to Dasuki and it was that money that was allegedly re-looted by politicians. The money was not used to advance the cause of ordinary Nigerians. So, the National Assembly has to play its oversight functions well.
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