President Muhammadu Buhari’s war on corruption as commendable as it is, is also receiving knocks from those who feel that his government is selective in tackling the monster more on the pages of newspapers
| By Olu Ojewale | Aug 10, 2015 @ 01:00 GMT |
HE got the job on the basis of his promise to fight corruption. Since he assumed office on May 29, President Muhammadu Buhari has never kept anyone in doubt about his zero tolerance for corruption, which has put Nigeria in bad light over the years. The president appears to be making good his promise to tackle the monster going by the fact that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission seems to have woken from a deep slumber given the number of investigation it is doing at the moment even though no prosecution and conviction have taken place.
Also, in the past few weeks, the media have been awash with monumental figures of how much the nation has lost to corruption, which has derailed development programmes that could benefit the masses over the years.
Little wonder that it was the president himself who first dropped the bombshell when he disclosed that about $150 billion had been stolen from the nation’s coffers in past decade. Buhari told President Barack Obama of the United States during his four-day visit early in July, that some Nigerian past leaders had stolen about $150billion from the nation’s coffers which they stashed in foreign banks in the past 10 years. He, therefore, appealed to Obama to assist his administration in locating and returning the looted funds to Nigeria.
“The fact that I now seek Obama’s assistance in locating and returning $150 billion in funds stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts on behalf of former corrupt officials is testament to how badly Nigeria has been run. This way of conducting our affairs cannot continue,” Buhari said.
Since the inception of Buhari administration and its anti-corruption stance, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State appears to be the chief spokesperson of the government on corruption. He has been bandying different figures allegedly stolen by some officials in the previous administration.
On Monday, July 13, Governor Oshiomhole, accused Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former minister of finance and coordinating minister of economy, of misappropriating $1 billion from the federation account. Oshiomhole alleged that the money was illegally taken to fund the March 28 re-election bid of former President Goodluck Jonathan. Oshiomhole asked the former minister to publicly explain how the ECA was drawn down to $4.1 billion from the peak of $10 billion, when no approval was given by the NEC for any withdrawals.
He said that Okonjo-Iweala would have been declared a pathological liar if she were a witness in court due to the inconsistencies in her statements. He opined that a forensic audit would truly determine how much was illegally spent from the federation account under her watch as minister.
The latest testimony of corruption by Oshiomhole took place on Monday, July 27, when he said that US officials provided President Buhari details of a minister, who served under the former Jonathan administration, who stole $6billion (more than N1.2 trillion) during his visit to the country. Oshiomhole, who was part of the delegation, refused to give the name of the minister.
Perhaps, in trying to justify why the corruption investigation has been centred on the immediate past administration of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Oshiomhole said: “The PDP destroyed the country, I mean from the lips of American officials; senior officials of the state department. They said one minister under the PDP cornered as much as $6 billion, and the man said even by Washington standard that is earth-quaking.”
But the United States State Department has denied the Oshiomhole’s $6 billion story, asking him to name the official who gave him the information, according to a report by the New York-based Republic Reporters.
Nonetheless, Okonjo-Iweala, in a statement issued on Tuesday, July 14, accused Oshiomhole of repeatedly trying to damage her reputation within the last few months by seeking explanations to how monies related to the ECA were spent.
Stating that Oshiomhole’s was suffering from numerical diarrhoea, Okonjo-Iweala through Paul Nwabuikwu, her media consultant said Oshimhole’s statements contained falsehoods which include that she and state finance commissioners approved the spending of $2.1 billion out of the excess crude account, adding that the commissioners had disowned the statement.
She said that her ministry regularly published details of revenue allocations from the ECA in national media, as such, she said Oshiomhole’s calculations were mere political numbers conjured to achieve a political purpose and achieve a personal vendetta.
Okonjo-Iweala said: “FAAC is a long standing national platform for allocating revenues chaired by the minister of state for Finance and the governor’s insistence on pushing this fictional narrative underscores his desperation.”
Apart from Oshiomhole’s allegations, Zainab Shamsuna-Ahmed, executive secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, on Wednesday, July 29, disclosed that between 2009 and 2012, about 160 million barrels of oil valued at $13.7billion was stolen under the watch of the national oil giant, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. Shamsuna-Ahmed, who used the opportunity to call on the federal government to privatise the nation’s refineries, said there was no proof that the $11.631 billion subsidy payment captured from 2005 – 2012, was remitted into the federation account by the corporation.
She said: “Crude product swap of $866million was lost from 2009 to 2011 and $82.43m in 2012. Total amount expended on subsidy payment from 2005 to 2012 as captured, $11.631m have been paid to the NNPC. However, there is no evidence this amount was remitted to the federation account.” The NEITI boss made the disclosure during a courtesy call on Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, at Sir Kashim Ibrahim Government House, Kaduna, on Wednesday.
El-Rufai is one of the four governors appointed by the National Economic Council, NEC, to scrutinise the accounts of the NNPC and the excess crude account managed by the administration of Jonathan. Part of the mandate of the committee of four governors, including those of Akwa-Ibom, Edo and Gombe states, is to unravel the whereabouts of the N3.8 trillion not remitted to the Federation Account by the NNPC between 2012 and May 2015 as well as the $2.1bn said to have been deducted from the ECA without proper authorisation by the federal accounts allocation committee, FAAC.
El-Rufai told his guests that “NNPC has become a monster and too powerful. I will continue to fight NNPC till it dies for Nigeria to survive. It is either Nigerians kill NNPC or NNPC will kill Nigeria. Since I called for the death of NNPC, the corporation sponsored articles to attack me. But, I am telling the NNPC that my skin is thicker than an elephant. The NNPC can’t bribe us (the four governors).”
So far, it seems oil theft and mismanagement of oil funds have been the only one providing salacious information on alleged corrupt practices rocking the country. This appears so because Nigeria relies solely on oil exploration and exploitation for its revenue.
The president recently alleged that some ministers in the cabinet of former President Jonathan were stealing as much as 250,000 barrels of Nigeria’s crude daily. Speaking on Good Morning Nigeria, on a NTA, Abuja, programme on Monday, July 27, Buhari also said that his administration was close to ending the sharp practices in the oil and gas sector and that the perpetrators of oil theft would be named.
He said oil was still being illegally exported by July 3. He, however, assured that the federal government was working assiduously to expose those behind the reported under-dealings in the oil sector, promising to update Nigerians on the government’s investigation into the matter.
According to him, shipping documents are being compiled for onward submission to countries of destination of stolen crude oil from Nigeria. “We are going to make sure that those who perpetrated this theft against Nigeria are faced with facts very soon and are taken to our courts. We’ve got the cooperation of some of the countries of the destinations of our crude (oil) and we are discussing with them.
“We have to maintain high confidentiality so that we don’t risk some of the loyal Nigerians that are helping us to trace the destinations of this stolen crude and then the accounts into which the monies are being paid instead of the Federal Governments account,” he said.
According to the president, it is the issue of corruption that has been delaying him from picking credible persons to his cabinet. He said: “It is as though everybody seems to be working for himself on how much they could get away with as soon as possible. We have to look for technocrats and politicians. We have to look out for decent people in this class to give them the responsibility of being in charge of ministries and important parastatals.
“It is taking so much time (to appoint ministers) because a number of knowledgeable people have been compromised…. We cannot rush to give this responsibility to people that have unfortunately been compromised…. If you appoint compromised people, then we will be back to square one and Nigeria will be the loser.”
There is no doubt that Nigerians want the corruption and impunity that have dogged the nation over the years to end. But the way the war is being waged on the pages of newspapers is eliciting different reactions from the people depending on the camp one belongs.
For the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, the probe is in the right direction. The party in a statement issued on Tuesday, July 28, said it supported the probe of the Jonathan administration by Buhari in the light of mind-boggling corruption that had been uncovered by the federal government.
“Some people have insinuated that the Buhari administration should ignore the massive looting of our patrimony and move on. We say no responsible government can afford to do that, because it will amount to endorsing corruption and impunity,’’ Lai Mohammed, national publicity secretary, said in a statement issued in Abuja.
The APC alleged that billions of dollars had been skimmed off by “pathologically-corrupt public officials” in the oil sector alone, wondering how the government of the day could meet its obligations to the citizens if it refused to recover the huge stolen funds.
The APC statement’s read in part: ‘‘It is an irony that those who are suggesting that the Buhari administration should turn a blind eye to the incomprehensible looting are the same ones accusing the government of not doing anything… Where does one start from? Is it the fact that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation failed to remit N3.8tn to the Federation Account or the mind-blowing stealing of 250,000 barrels of crude oil per day?
“Is it the fact that the NNPC itself does not know how many bank accounts it had or into which ones the payments for Nigerian crude are made? Could anyone have imagined that a government minister would steal the unprecedentedly-huge amount of US $6bn of public funds as being alleged?
‘‘How does any sane person rationalise the fact that $1bn was unilaterally and illegally withdrawn from the Excess Crude Account just because, as the immediate past minister of Finance has disclosed, the president ordered the withdrawal? What about the billions of naira waivers recklessly approved to dubious importers by the Jonathan administration?”
It said that the stealing and the profligacy as well as the fall in oil price had drastically reduced the monthly allocation from the federation account from about N800bn to about N400bn, thus, pauperising Nigerians.
“Against the background of the stunning revelations, what message will any government be sending to its citizens and indeed the global community by looking the other way, when it could still recover some of the looted funds for the benefit of the people?
The ruling party said it was clear that the Jonathan administration had deliberately delayed giving the then incoming Buhari government the handover notes so as to avoid being asked critical questions pertaining to the looting under its watch.
On its part, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, said it was not against the fight against corruption, but that due process must be followed.
The PDP, in a statement by Olisa Metuh, its national publicity secretary, in Abuja on Tuesday, July 28, said in as much as it welcomed the current’s administration fight against corruption it must not be used to victimise innocent citizens.
The PDP statement said in part: “Furthermore, we make bold to state that he who comes to equity must come with clean hands. In that regard, therefore, we advise members of the APC blowing the horn ahead of the cart to keep quiet because many of them have been major beneficiaries of corruption and sleaze associated with themselves and their allies, especially one of them who as a disguised errand boy of a well-known APC leader is a major beneficiary of the largesse of perpetrators of corruption.
“Apart from Mr. President, who for now, is not associated with any sleaze or corrupt activity in this democracy, most APC leaders are still those who as governors, ministers and labour leaders have been the worst corrupt set of Nigerians ever to bestride the political landscape of the country.
“It is a great miscarriage of perception therefore for the APC leaders who are perpetrators of sleaze and corrupt acts to attempt to deceive Nigerians with imaginary holiness in this anti-corruption war by the president.”
In any case, Buhari has assured the whole world that those found culpable would not go scot-free. The president affirmed that he would not cover up any act of corruption even amongst his party members. In an exclusive interview with Christiane Amanpour, the Cable News Network international correspondent, on Tuesday, July 21, Buhari said: “If any of my associates or party member is indicted of corruption, they cannot escape justice. There is not going to be any APC (All Progressives Congress) member or any close personality found guilty that would escape justice.”
Despite his assurances, there are those of who believe that the probe into the Jonathan administration is wrong and that if there should be any probe it should be extended to other past regimes as well. They argue that it would appear as if Buhari is on expedition of witch-hunting.
One of those in this school of thought is Ikedi Ikechuwu, a lawyer and public policy analyst. Ikechukwu said: “I think it is a good idea to probe, but it is wrong to limit it to the President Jonathan administration. I think we should go back as far we can see corrupt allegations. If you look at the Abdulsalami Abubakar regime, there were corrupt practices. There were allegations of kickback when you go back to the former President (Olusegun) Obasanjo regime between 1999 and 2007; there were lots of corrupt practices. It was then that the former VP was caught in the web of corruption and linked to a US legislator who was caught with hard cash in his freezer. That case has not been investigated properly. There were many cases during that time. What has Nigeria done with Halliburton? Nothing! So, what I am saying is that coming out to say Jonathan’s administration is the only one to probe gives impression that government is being selective and this is not good enough. Equity must be seen to have been done.”
The lawyer said President Buhari would earn more respect if he should start from corrupt elements in his party and start to prosecute them. “He should look inward because there are many corrupt former governors and legislators who moved to the APC that surround him now. Let him start with them, then we shall know that he is serious about fighting corruption,” Ikechukwu said.
In any case, there are those who believe that the current probe should be allowed to serve as platform for wider probes where necessary. They argue that since there are glaring evidences of looting of public funds in certain areas, government should not ignore them. Speaking in an interview, Onyekachi Ubani, lawyer and human rights activist, said he was in support of the current investigation embarked upon by the Buhari administration to retrieve stolen funds. Ubani said it would serve as a warning to do those might want to believe that it would be business as usual to beware.
He argued: “Inherent in good leadership is the issue of accountability. For any government to still maintain goodwill, especially of supporters, it is important when you come into governance you look into the books of the previous government especially where you have a mountain of mind-boggling allegations of corruption or evidences are clear. It is inevitable and imperative for you to look into the previous books of the administration in order to ensure that you satisfy the yearning of those who have voted you in. And I think the present administration while campaigning, making promises of ensuring that corruption is nipped in the bud. If you want to nip corruption in the bud, you must start with certain persons accused of corruption.”
Ubani said he was aware that the president had assured everyone that he would not limit the investigation to the Jonathan administration alone and that if there were allegations against other persons, he would probe. “But I must warn that this government has only four years and should not bog itself down with probes. That is why I think starting from the immediate past administration is in the direct direction. That is that the government that gave it hand over note. This administration did not get handover notes from Obasanjo or Abdulsalami Abubakar or General Sani Abacha, so it has to limit itself to records given to it. In the cause of investigation, if other things come up you cannot turn blind eye to it. you must look into it. But never waste four years looking into books of all previous governments because you may be bogged down. This is not a military regime, this is a civilian government. So, you must have a time limit and give people performance,” Ubani said.
In carrying out its probe, everyone agreed that the government must follow the rule of law and that it should avoid politicising the trial of those found culpable. A valid admonition, no doubt, but left to be seen, according to some analysts is whether the countries holding the alleged $150 billion would cooperate to release the money to the Buhari administration if indeed, the money is their countries? Only time will tell.