Prominent Nigerians yesterday disagreed over the failure of President Muhammadu Buhari to “name and shame” looters of the treasury.
While some are of the view that the Federal Government acted well by not reading the names of those who have refunded looted cash, others believe the non-disclosure of their names has robbed negatively on the anti-corruption war.
Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Niyi Akintola yesterday urged President Muhammadu Buhari to declare a state of emergency on corruption and the economy because, according to him, Nigerians are suffering.
He said the President disappointed Nigerians by refusing to disclose the names of looters, whose activities led to the economic adversity and despair in the land.
The lawyer, who spoke with The Nation on phone, advised President Buhari to suspend the rule of law for a season so that he can genuinely fight against corruption with speed and efficiency.
He said the N74 billion recovered from suspected looters fell below expectation, adding that the Federal Government should beam the searchlight on former government officials.
But, to a Lagos politician, Asiwaju Olorunfunmi Basorun, disclosing the names of suspected looters is risky and may be counter-productive.
He said: “The disclosure by the Federal Government that the huge amount has been recovered is excellent. It is the right step in the right direction. But, no name can be mentioned now. If you mention their names, they will not return the rest of the money.. If you mention their names, they will resort to litigation to frustrate the process.”
Akintola, who recalled that he was at the forefront of the clamour for the return of looted funds, maintained that the non-disclosure of suspected looters is a minus to the anti-graft war.
He said: “The refusal to disclose names fell below expectation. We should name them and name them. Who made the refund? from which ministry? Which agency? We want to know from what sector. We are yet to get refund from the oil sector. What about the pension scam; the aviation sector? They claimed to have repaired Yola airport. It has spoilt again. They said they repaired the Murtala Muhammed Airport, but they are using buckets to clear the water there during the raining season.
“What about the SURE-P? There is the allegation that the recruitment of beneficiaries in Yobe is sectional. A minister even told me that they are not even from the state. What about the NNPC?”
In Akintola’s view, it is sad that only N78 billion was recovered in the last one year.
He said the Federal Government should declare a state of emergency on corruption and the economy, stressing that the anti-graft battle will only be fought with speed and vigour, if the country can suspend the rule of law for one year.
The lawyer also advised the Federal Government to expand the personnel for fighting corruption, adding that, apart from expanding and fortifying the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences (ICPC), the State Security Service (SSS), the police and other agencies should be part of the coordinated approach.
He also said the anti-corruption war should be extended to the 36 states by governors, who should investigate the activities of past government officials.
Akintola added: “Attention is not paid to corruption in the states. Governors should look at the states. They take bonds and spend it on elections.”
The lawyer also urged the government to spend the recovered money judiciously by investing in capital projects for the benefit of the people.
He added: “Government should stop being bad economic managers. They should use the money to tackle infrastructural decay. Don’t keep the money in the bank. Inflation will catch up with it. The money will not be productive. Obasanjo left N70 billion in the reserves. The Jonathan administration spent it and left N17 billion when it was leaving. The Bible says the foolish man is keeping money without knowing who will spend it.”
The chairman of United Progressives Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, said looters should be punished to deter others.
He said: “The money recovered so far is mind boggling. The amount, put together, is about N3.5 trillion, an amount more than 2015 budget. President Buhari must be commended for refusing to be blackmailed that the anti corruption fight is one-sided.
“Government should be encouraged to deploy the money toward doing what is good for the people. The government should also map out measures to make public officers account for any money entrusted to them because there will always be a day of reckoning.”
Okorie added that those who were allocated funds and never bothered to find out the source of the money, but refunded the money should be spared.
“Those who used their offices to make this kind of money should not be spared because there is no evidence that they have returned all the money in their care.
“This will serve a lesson to people who are likely to engage in such practices in future, that there is no running away from law.”
Former Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), Chief Felix Fagbohungbe (SAN), Chief Emeka Ngige (SAN) and Prof. Yemi Akinseye-George (SAN) said the government deserved praises for not hiding the returned assets.
But, another former NBA President Rotimi Akeredolu (SAN), said the looters should be “named and shamed” to deter others.
Olanipekun said: “May I first commend those who advised the Federal Government not to publicise the names of the purported or so called looters. Doing so would have resulted in protracted litigation against the government for libel and defamation. I doubt if the recovered sums would have been sufficient to meet or offset the damages which various courts would have awarded against the government by those who believe they’ve been defamed and blasphemed.”
According to him, Nigerians should be careful at labelling every person who returns money to government as a looter without weighing the peculiar circumstances and the contingencies compelling the return.
For instance, he said a citizen who was awarded a contract by the past administration and who received advance payment cannot be fairly described as a looter if the present administration compels him to make a refund, using coercive powers of state to back up the demand.
“Another citizen who, on his own volition goes to the government to make a refund or return of money transferred or lodged into his account by a serving government functionary who wanted to use him as a front cannot, in good conscience, be described as a looter.
“Rather, he should be commended. It’s also fluid whether we can stigmatise any citizen as a looter without a court pronouncement adjudging that person as such,” Olanipekun said.
He urged the government to lay more emphasis on preventing corruption and wanton looting of the treasury rather than always crying over spilt milk and entertaining Nigerians with stories of looting.
“Why is the treasury so porous? Why is government the easiest way of making money without working? Why do political office holders see political appointments as a payback time by their appointors? Why is the race and struggle to become ministers or commissioners or board members still a question of do or die?
“Why is politics the most lucrative profession and enterprise in Nigeria? Why do we have so much excesses at the federal level to the disadvantage of the so-called federating states , and to the extent that a federal assistant director is more powerful than a governor? Why are we afraid and scared at restructuring our warped and fake federalism and diluting the awesome powers and riches at the centre? More questions than answers?
“For now, I advise the government to divert all the funds claimed to have been recovered into revamping our decaying infrastructure, particularly our educational sector at the tertiary level and all the federal roads which are caving in , if they’ve not already totally caved in.
“Before then, the government must let us have details of the accounts where the recoverd funds are lodged without necessarily revealing the names of the payees. This is very important as higher figures had been released and or bandied in the past as coming from recovered loot.
“We should be very transparent on this matter. If any money has been recovered on behalf of any state , the federal government should return it to the state concerned immediately , and should not convert it to federal property,” Olanipekun said.
But, Akeredolu said looters should have been named. His words: “We commend the government for its efforts so far in the recovery of these sums.
“I hold the view that releasing the names of those from whom the monies were recovered would send a clearer message of the government’s determination to rid the country of this cankerworm called corruption, which has eaten too deep into the fabric of our society.”
Former governor of old Anambra State Chief Jim Nwobodo commended the Buhari administration for making public details of recovered looted funds. He said: “It is a plus for President Muhammadu Buhari and his government. It is a good thing that the government was able to recover such huge amount within one year.
“The recovered fund will assist the government in executing projects contained in the 2016 budget. Those criticising the president’s fight against corruption should have a re-think. The anti-graft war is yielding positive result.
“I support the president in its efforts to get rid of corruption in the system. He should not relent until every kobo looted from the public treasury are recovered. Now we have a leader that Nigerians can trust.”
To Fagbohungbe, naming names could result in needless litigation, and may defeat the purpose.
“If their names are published, those who still want to return stolen money may become reluctant and scared. If they are charged to court, the matter will be prolonged.
“Technically, what they have done is plea bargaining. We should not forget that government needs the money to execute a lot of programmes. The government should go ahead and direct its attention to recovering more of the stolen moneyý. Litigation will only impede recovery,” Fagbohungbe said.
But, Prof Ajayi said except there was an agreement, the government should name the circumstances in which the assets were returned.
“There is no law that says you cannot disclose. It is neither in the Constitution nor in any law. I do not know of any except there is an agreement not to do so,” he said.
To Ngige, there is no point naming suspected looters when they have not been tried and convicted by a court of law.
“The government’s decision is right and proper. This will encourage other looters to return their loot or part of it. The government deserves commendation for its act of transparency in informing the nation on the details of the recovered loot,” he said.
Prof Akinseye-George said it would be improper to name those who returned looted assets, especially if there was a promise by the government not to do so, as any government which does not keep its promise would be seen as not trustworthy and lacking in integrity.
“Breaking the promise not to mention their names would be a disincentive to others. They will go into the trenches and use the ill-gotten money to fight the government, using the rule of law. That’s why the lawyers are there to protect all, including suspected looters. All the cases so far being prosecuted have not yielded as much as those plea bargained in terms of assets recovery. All the negative publicity in the papers are meaningless without convictions.
“Stealing from the country was condoned by past Governments and many Nigerians were involved. Politicians needed huge sums of money to win elections. Delegates to primary elections and voters in general elections were bribed openly by political ‘money bags’. Where did all the money come from? No genuine business man would spend his hard-earned money the way politicians spent looted assets,” he said.
According to Akinseye-George, while asset recovery is welcome, government ought to pay attention to the root causes of corruption.
The first major cause, he said, is the excessive use of money to influence the outcome of party primaries and general elections. This, he believes, calls for a fundamental overhaul of the electoral system because it creates an unhealthy rivalry amongst political office holders who often feel pressured to abuse their offices in order to gather funds to compete in future elections.
“The former administration entrenched corruption. The present administration is merely treating the symptoms of corruption. We need to begin to address the root causes. This is the greatest change Nigeria needs.
“If this Government does not make it impossible for corrupt people to manipulate elections, they will use their money and influence to block the change intended by this government. It is a great shame that former PDP governors and some incumbents are already regrouping to take over the government when they should be behind bars. Government must not treat the issue of corruption with kid gloves,” he said.
A member of the Ogun State Judiciary Commission, Abayomi Omoyinmi, said the looters should have been named.
“ýI feel the government should have named such persons, not necessarily that it will amount to shaming such persons, but at least for the people of Nigeria to know people or persons that have looted our treasury.
“In any case those that are charged to court are known already. I say this because some of these people do not care about shame,” he said.
Former Minister of Works and Housing Chief Ebenezer Babatope said the government should have done more than releasing the figures.
“They are just talking about corruption without getting to the root. What message and lesson is the government impacting? Government said it had recovered money, but no name is written against the money recovered. You cannot publish amount without giving us names of those who took the money. That is not how to fight corruption; the names of those who took the money should appear beside the amount they returned.”
To Lagos lawyer Mr. Festus Keyamo, the returned money indicate that a lot of stealing took place in the past.
“The money was not picked from the dustbin, human beings were responsible for that. It only goes a long a way to confirm what has been going on in the country. My own concern is that people are still bringing partisanship into the issue.
“This is our common patrimony, and I thought that we are on the course of recovering our common patrimony; therefore, we should put partisanship aside in order to recover the looted funds.
“It is just like the case of an armed robber who stole money and someone pursues the robber and recoveres the money, but another person is saying ‘why did you fight the robber so hard to collect the money?’ Some are saying that the federal government is recovering money without regard to the rule of law; I think that is not fair enough on the government. We must encourage the government to recover looted funds.
“The last time we had something like this was during the regime of General Murtala Mohammed; we had such aggressiveness in fighting corruption. We also had this in the first coming of Buhari and incidentally he is the one that is doing the same thing again. I think everybody should support him in the fight against corruption,” Keyamo said.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) said the government should publish the names of high-ranking public officials from whom the public funds were recovered.
It also advised the government to spend the recovered funds in a transparent manner so as to remove opportunities for re-looting of the recovered loot.
In a statement issued yesterday by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, the organisation described the publication of the recovered stolen funds as a positive development towards entrenching a culture of transparency and accountability in government.
The organisation advised: “The recovered funds must be spent to directly benefit Nigeria’s most vulnerable populations, particularly to improve their access to quality education, healthcare including for children, women and the elderly, and regular and uninterrupted electricity supply. It will be a double jeopardy for victims of corruption if recovered funds are re-looted, as it was the case with Sani Abacha recovered loot.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. John Olushola Bayeshea yesterday the release of the list of recovered funds by the Federal Government has vindicated President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to transparency.
He said the government should also involve Nigerians on how the loot will be used for the nation’s development.
Bayeshea, who with our correspondent, said: “I think it is a very transparent and honest information frpm the government. We don’t have this kind of transparency often. This is the first time I will see the Federal Government being transparent. That is vintage Buhari.
“I am saying so because when ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration recovered some funds from the Abachas and others, we never knew the value of the amount. And under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, the situation got worse. The $2.1billion arms procurement cash was part of the Abacha loot but it was re-looted.
“I hope the money will be well utilized and the government should publish what they will use the recovered funds for. Nigerians should be carried along.”