Sunday, 5 June 2016

Nigerians tell Buhari: Name, shame looters, mere figures not enough

Several groups and individuals across Nigeria have called on President Muhammadu Buhari to fulfil his promise of naming those who stole from the country’s treasury.
Those who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH in reaction to the list of recovered funds and assets published by the Federal Government on Saturday insisted that the names of those who returned their loot must be published to make the loot recovery process more transparent.



President Buhari had on May 13, 2016, in an interview he granted some journalists before he departed from London where he attended an Anti-Corruption Summit organised by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, promised to disclose to Nigerians the amount his government had so far recovered from those who looted the nation’s treasury and their names on May 29.

The date, being Democracy Day, was when his administration clocked one.

Buhari said, “So far, what has come out; what has been recovered in whatever currency from each ministry, department and individual; I intend on the 29th to speak on these. This is because of all what Nigerians are getting from the mass media; because of the number of people arrested either by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission or Department of State Services. But we want to make a comprehensive report on the 29th.”

When asked whether he would also publish the names of the looters, Buhari replied, “Yes, eventually, it has to be done because we want to successfully prosecute them. But you know you cannot go to the courts unless you have documents for prosecution. People signed for these monies into their personal accounts.”

When the Federal Government released the list on Saturday, it had only the details of funds and assets recovered and those pending locally and internationally. No name of any of those from whom the funds and assets were recovered was mentioned.

The failure to name the looters had generated widespread reactions from members of the public on Saturday.
The Nigerian Bar Association urged the President to keep his promise by releasing the names of looters.

According to the President of the NBA, Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN), the revelation is important for citizens to gain closure.

He said, “For us, it is always important that the promises our leaders make to the people are kept. I believe that if there is any legal impediment that prevents the President, who is a forthright person, from keeping a promise he has made to the Nigerian people, he should let Nigerians know.

“It is also important that we know the quantum of recoveries made from various persons so that it will be something that is known to every Nigerian and there would be no challenge. How did you arrive at the figures that are out there if you don’t put not just names but reasons (to the recovered loots)?

“Tomorrow, you could hear that (after) all the amounts that Mr. ‘A’ or Mr. ‘B’ looted, nothing was done. You could also start to hear that the loot recovery was only targeted at those who weren’t supporting the president.”

Alegeh noted that the only instance where the President could withhold the names was if there was a legal obstacle.

According to him, there are certain transactions with confidentiality clauses, which make it impossible for government to release the names. He said, should the government find itself in such an instance, it should say so clearly.

The Yoruba socio-political organisation, Afenifere, on Saturday also told SUNDAY PUNCH that there was nothing revealing in the information the government published.

The Publicity Secretary of Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, told one of our correspondents that the amount released as recovered loot was less than the total amount of figures bandied about by the Federal Government and its agencies since the anti-corruption campaign began.

He said, “As far as we are concerned, there is nothing new on the list shown to Nigerians. Anybody can just put figures together. Where are the particulars of the recovery? From who were they (the loot) recovered?

“In the last one year, different rumours have been flying about with regard to those who refunded billions of naira and dollars. The figure they have released now is too opaque; it is not transparent and does not lend credence to their claims. Anybody can just write anything and throw it out (to the public).

“We need the particulars; from who were the monies recovered? If they don’t do that, then, they are just wasting our time; they are just making a mockery of the whole process. They talked about naming and shaming, let them release the names. As it is now, there is no revelation yet before Nigerians.”

Also, the Ijaw National Congress on Saturday said the inability of Buhari to mention the names of the country’s treasury looters was an indication that the President had succumbed to pressure from the looters.

The spokesman for the INC, Mr. Victor Burubo, who described the development as an anti-climax, stated that it was not the first time the President would be doing so to Nigerians.

He said, “This is not the first time they are doing this to Nigerians. In the appointment of ministers, the President said he wanted to appoint spectacular people and this took him six months. But he ended up appointing run-of-the-mill ministers.

“On the amount recovered as loot, many figures were mentioned but we have virtually nothing. If the President promised to name the looters and at the end, he could not do so, it means he has succumbed to the pressure from the looters.”

Similarly, the Ohanaeze Youth Council, the youth wing of the Ohanaeze Ndigbo, faulted the government’s failure to disclose the identity of those that the sums were recovered from.

The President of the OYC, Mr. Okechukwu Isiguzoro, demanded full disclosure of the names of looters.

He said, “Nigerians have been anticipating the release of the looters’ list for a while now; it is disappointing that the government only came out with figures. Inasmuch as the people need to know the amount that was recovered, they should also know the identity of persons that stole the money.

“In fact, if the Federal Government is sincerely fighting corruption, it should disclose the identity of those that stole and returned money. It appears that there is a deliberate attempt to shield looters and that is totally unacceptable. Nigerian youths are not impressed.”

In the same vein, a member of the Federal Parliament in the Second Republic and Convener of the Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, Professionals and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, stated that he had a “conflicted attitude towards the funds.”

He said, “I don’t believe what is being said to have been recovered was what was actually recovered. What was stolen was more than what was recovered. If the government is sincere about recovering the remaining money, they have to redouble their efforts in recovering, as much as possible, all that was stolen and is returned to the national treasury.

“I am not a lawyer, so I wouldn’t want to venture into a legal opinion of the status of those who have stolen the money. But if the law makes it difficult to disclose the names of those who stole the money, their identities and their names will be endangering the case itself. But, please, let the names be disclosed.”

Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, dismissed the amount the government said it had recovered as far less than the true amount.

He said, “Let me tell you this: That list is not correct. I know that the EFCC has recovered about $3.1bn. I think this is just the report from a department; it is not a comprehensive one.

“The figure announced has not taken cognizance of the totality of the fund that has been recovered by all the anti-graft agencies. From the information at my disposal, the figure announced by the information minister is a fraction of what the EFCC has recovered and deposited in the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

The Senior Advocate of Nigeria noted that in order not to discourage more looters from returning stolen funds, the Federal Government might not want to name the looters yet.

“In fact, some of the looters who have stolen the bulk of the missing money, who are on the run, are being pursued in different jurisdictions in the world,” Falana added.

In his submission, the Executive Chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, told SUNDAY PUNCH that those who had returned stolen money or from whom assets were recovered should be named, shamed and prosecuted.

Adeniran asked, “Is there any attempt to cover up their atrocities? If we fight these looters and do not name them, we are allowing them to go away with the dignity they falsely acquired. They can still carry on with their lives as if nothing has ever happened to indicate that they are corrupt. People will still accord them respect. That is not fair; it does not augur well for honest, hard-working Nigerians.

“Anybody trying to cover up on this matter should be brought to book. Confessing to a crime is a first step in anti-corruption crusade; those involved should be named, shamed and prosecuted. Failure to do this will mean the government is conspiring against the society.”

Similarly, the National Association of Nigerian Students described the non-disclosure of looters’ names as a failure on the President’s part.

The President of NANS, Mr. Tijani Usman, said, “He (Buhari) has failed in his promise because he must be a man of his word and we are looking up to him as a leader that Nigerian students should emulate. If he has given us his word that on May 29, Democracy Day, he would bring out the list of looters and he has failed to do that, then where is his integrity?

“We have heard about his promise and Nigerian students are not happy with that. We are urging him to live up to his word and release the names of those looters who had stolen our country’s money.”

The presidential candidate of the KOWA Party in the 2015 election, Prof. Remi Sonaiya, also asked why the Federal Government should protect the identities of those who returned stolen funds and assets.

According to her, if the identities of suspected beneficiaries of slush funds from the Office of the National Security Adviser under Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.) were not shielded, those whose loot has been recovered should not be shielded.

She said, “Just releasing a list is not sufficient, considering the suffering the entire nation has gone through. We demand more from the government. Making a list of recovered loot and stolen assets is not sufficient as a deterrent for criminals.”

A former Vice-President of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Mr. Issa Aremu, described the release of the list by the Federal Government as significant and commendable.

But he said, “It is desirable to know who the looters that have returned stolen money and assets are. It will also be interesting to know those foreign government officials who aided looters to stash stolen money abroad so that Nigerians can march in protest at their embassies.”

On the list published by the Federal Government on Saturday, the administration said it had recovered a total of N115.7bn cash, while assets worth over N1.9tn had been frozen in one year.

In a statement by the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr. Lai Mohammed, the government said the recoveries were made between May 29, 2015 and May 25, 2016.

The government gave the breakdown of the loot as N78,325,354,631.82; $185,119,584.61; £3,508,355.46 and €11, 250.

A conversion of the funds using the official exchange rate of the Central Bank of Nigeria, showed that the amount adds up to N115,792,760,499.

The statement read in part, “The Federal Government made cash recoveries totalling N78,325,354,631.82; $185,119,584.61; £3,508,355.46 and €11,250 from May 29, 2015 to May 25, 2016.”

The monies were said to have been recovered by the EFCC, the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the DSS.

The Muhammadu Buhari-led government added that a separate amount of cash and assets worth over N1.9tn had also been seized. However, the properties and cash are under legal contention.

The assets and cash seized under interim forfeiture totalled $9bn; N126bn; £2.4m and €303,399.

A conversion of the worth of assets and cash seized based on the official CBN exchange rate totalled: N1,918,113,864,063.
It added, “Recoveries under Interim Forfeiture (cash and assets) during the period totalled N126,563,481,095.43; $9,090,243,920.15; £2,484,447.55 and €303,399.17.”

The government added that funds awaiting return from foreign jurisdictions totalled $321,316,726.1; £6,900,000 and €11,826.11.

The statement added that 239 non-cash recoveries such as farmlands, plots of land, uncompleted buildings, completed buildings, vehicles and maritime vessels were also seized during the period.

Meanwhile, the Socio-Economic Right Accountability Project on Saturday said the Buhari-led administration should expedite legal action against all looters in a bid to make their identities known.

The Executive Director of SERAP, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, noted that the government should prosecute those who had been investigated and found to have looted the nation’s treasury, in order to avoid political witch-hunting.

He said, “Investigations should have been concluded now. You cannot say you recovered money and since then, you have not done any investigation, such that their (looters’) arraignment in court will then be delayed. I don’t think that would be justice.

“What the President should do is direct the Attorney General to hasten the process for the looters to be prosecuted. It is when we start seeing convictions from the court that we know that they’ve actually committed the offence; that is what the Nigerian constitution demands.”





Punch

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