Loot Recovery: How Far Can Buhari Government Go?
FOLLOWING his emergence as the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari did not hide his disdain for corruption.
A practice that has permeated the entire gamut of the society, and today seems to be synonymous with an average Nigerian. During the electioneering campaign, Buhari had always expressed his determination and readiness to tackle corruption headlong if elected president of the country.
It is indisputable that Buhari’s perceived anti-corruption posture contributed immensely to his victory in the poll. Since Buhari assumed office, it has become obvious that a new Sherif is now in town.
Fears, uncertainties, paradigm shift in leadership approach, and gradual changes have pervaded the land. Already, many people, especially the alleged looters of treasury during the immediate past administration of President Goodluck Jonathan are rattled by Buhari’s revelations, and moves to commence probe of the looting spree that characterised the government.
In the last two months, there have been unconfirmed reports that some of the aides of President Jonathan have on their own returned some looted funds to Buhari’s government to avoid being prosecuted.
The government has not officially confirmed or denied the reports. Some inkling from government circle closer to such confirmation or denial was a recent statement by President Buhari that his government is compiling the list of the alleged looters, which will soon be released for onward prosecution.
In the same vein, mixed reactions have continued to trail Buhari government’s decision to concentrate the probe on his predecessor’s government.
Many especially members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have described the move as selective, vindictive and mere witch-hunt of Jonathan’s former aides.
They have challenged the government to extend its dragnet to other past leaders and members of the APC, especially the bigwigs that sponsored his election.
Buhari has assured that nobody will be protected or shielded from the probe. But the question is how will Buhari’s government handle some of his party faithful, if found to be corrupt.
Presently, some of them have been alleged to be corrupt, but the government had asked for evidence. Meanwhile, recent visits to the Villa in quick succession by Buhari’s predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, followed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, and members of the General Abdulsalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee for 2015 election seems to be raising questions and concerns over how far Buhari government can go about the probe.
This is considering the fact that the visits took place days after it was alleged that former president, Goodluck Jonathan had complained to the members of the Peace Committee that Buhari is going contrary to the agreement they had before he handed power over to him.
Besides, Nigerians’ pessimism about the move may not be unconnected with the experiences of the past, whereby such probe ended as a wild goose chase.
But it appeared that such skepticisms might have been erased by President Buhari’s vow on Tuesday that the prosecution of persons who stole national resources will begin in a matter of weeks.
Speaking at a meeting with members of the National Peace Committee led by Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd) in the Presidential Villa on Tuesday, Buhari declared that his administration was irrevocably committed to doing all within its powers to break the vicious cycle of corruption, unemployment and insecurity in Nigeria. “Nigeria has to break this vicious cycle before we can make progress,” Femi Adesina, special adviser on media and publicity, quoted the President as saying.
He added that his administration was diligently getting facts and figures pertaining to the nation’s stolen funds, before proceeding to the prosecution of identified culprits.
President Buhari told General Abdulsalami and members of his committee that the Federal Government, under his leadership, would not only ask for the return of stolen funds stashed in foreign banks, but will also ensure that those who stole the funds are put on trial in Nigeria. “That is why security-wise and economically, we’re in trouble,” President Buhari told his guests, adding that those who have stolen the national wealth “will be in court in a matter of weeks and Nigerians will know those who have short-changed them.”
General Abubakar and members of his committee urged the Federal Government to be guided by the rule of law in its fight against corruption.
The admonition of the Committee members for Buhari government to adhere to the rule of law in the probe is as germane as the probe itself.
Many believe that this is where the expertise of the advisory committee on corruption headed by renowned lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay will come to fore.
This may ensure that extra-legal and unconstitutional approaches that may impugn the whole exercise are avoided. It would be recalled that since the return of the present democratic system, more than a decade ago, most of the corruption cases preferred against some past public office holders, especially ex-governors are still pending in courts across the country.
It has been more of motion without movement. The country’s judiciary, the anti-graft agencies, and lawyers have been accused of complicity in the delay of trials.
The irony of the situation is that some of the persons standing trials are still occupying elective and appointive positions in the country today. Since then till today, nothing much has changed in the judiciary or anti-graft agencies.
The only change is that the All Progressives Congress (APC) is the ruling party and Muhammadu Buhari is the president of the country with different approach to governance.
Nigerians cannot wait for long to see how Buhari’s government will conduct the probe without ruffling feathers or engaging in impunity. This seems to be the first litmus test for the government.
It is obvious that the task ahead of the government in this direction might be enormous and daunting. But speaking to The Guardian on the planned probe, former president general of Trade Union Congress (TUC) Comrade Peter Esele, said he was optimistic that something meaningful would come out of the exercise.
He said: “What the president needs from Nigerians is massive support and prayers. The president needs to have enough evidence and fact, so that the exercise will not end up in futility.
He needs to be courageous enough to deal with his party men that are found wanting in the exercise.’ On the statements by some people that the probe is a distraction, the former labour leader disagreed, stressing that no probe is a distraction. “It is just to look at what has been done, how it was done and to avoid such being done badly in the future.
Whether you are for Buhari or against him, one thing that is certain now is that it is no longer and can never be business as usual in the corridors of power.”
Also commenting on the issue, National Chairman of United Peoples Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie said what President Buhari wants to do is to recover looted funds, not to probe per se. “I refuse to accept that he wants to probe because probe is a much wide and bitter exercise.
The president wants to recover looted funds which is simpler and more straight.’ “If there is incontrovertible evidence of fund that cannot be accounted for by a former public office holder, it should be confiscated by the government and returned to public treasury.
It is a good omen for the country and no can downplay the importance of the move. “As long as the exercise follows due process, it will not be a distraction to the government.
President Buhari will not be directly involved in the exercise because there are government agencies that will execute it,” Okorie said. To former vice-chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Zaria, Prof. Ango Abdullahi, the probe is a necessity now more than ever before. “It is part of governance and not a distraction.
How can a government official earning less than N250,000 per month own 100 houses in Abuja with billions of Naira in different bank accounts.
President Buhari should recover all the looted funds. It will serve as a deterrent to serving and incoming government officials.” But a Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Alfred Odigie told The Guardian that instead of wasting fund and time in probing the alleged looted funds, Buhari government should concentrate effort in strengthening the country’s judiciary to ensure that public office looters will not escape justice.
Odigie said: “Our judiciary system is so porous and compromised. Our criminal laws are neither here nor there. These are loopholes criminals latch on to escape justice. There is need for urgent reforms, before any probe, unless the present government wants to engage in fanfare and media trial as usual.”