Some legal practitioners and economists have expressed support for the refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to unveil the names of looters and the amount of looted assets so far recovered.
The President, had, in an interview in London, while attending the anti-corruption summit organised by British Prime Minister, David Cameron, recently, promised to disclose the figure in his Democracy Day address to the nation.
Buhari, however, on Sunday, dashed the hopes of millions of Nigerians who were waiting to be told how much his administration had so far recovered from individuals and firms accused of looting the nation’s treasury.
In his nationwide address to mark his one year in office on Sunday, Buhari failed to disclose the figure as promised.
Rather, the President promised Nigerians that the Ministry of Information and Culture would be publishing the details which he said would be updated periodically.
He simply said “significant amount of assets” had been recovered.
Buhari promised that when forfeiture formalities were completed, the money would be put in the nation’s treasury and be spent transparently to fund developmental projects.
The President said, “The processes of recovery can be tedious and time-consuming, but today, I can confirm that thus far, significant amount of assets have been recovered. A considerable portion of these are at different stages of recovery.
“Full details of the status and categories of the assets will now be published by the Ministry of Information and updated periodically.”
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, and Lagos-based lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said on Sunday that Buhari’s directive to the Minister of Information to release details of the looted funds periodically, was in order.
In separate telephone interviews with one of our correspondents, the human rights lawyers believed the President’s directive the ministry was the best approach.
“That is the correct approach because it is an ongoing process,” Falana said.
But the Executive Secretary of Anti-corruption Network, Ebenezer Oyetakin, said Buhari’s speech did not meet the expectations of most Nigerians, who expected him to name the corrupt elements as he promised.
Oyetakin stated that the people also expected some shake-up in the structure of government, adding that disappointment occurred because people thought that Buhari would never say what he would not do.
He added, “He must embrace immediately a single policy that is capable of disarming the moneybags, who uses their stolen wealth to sponsor destabilisation projects. He must as a matter of urgency and courage deflates such people immediately before they rocked his government.”
Ogunye said he would not have expected the President “to be reeling out names of looters in his Democracy Day speech”.
He said, “The President cannot be reeling out the names of looters in his speech because there is no way he will give details of the recovered loot without giving the names of the looters or from whom what amount was recovered.
“It is the duty of the Minister of Information to speak for the government. The strategy adopted by the President is the best.”
Falana however said the Buhari administration had yet to address “some inbuilt leakages” in government’s funds.
He argued that the government needed to mobilise other anti-corruption agencies in the country in the fight against graft, contending that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was already overwhelmed by the huge number of cases it was contending with.
He said, “The other anti-graft agencies ought to be reorganised. More importantly, the government should mobilise the Nigerian people to own and take over the fight against corruption.”
Falana stated that the Buhari administration’s fire brigade approach would not solve the current economic crisis in the country.
He said, “The economy cannot be fixed through the fire brigade approach of the government. Why should the Central Bank of Nigeria be wasting the country’s scarce foreign reserves on the importation of consumer goods for our pampered elite?
“The goods produced by companies funded by the bank are not patronised because imported ones are cheaper.
“Why has the CBN not increased duties on imported goods, which can be produced locally? In some of our neighbouring countries, public officers wear locally produced dresses. Can’t the government lead by example?”
Also, the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer, Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, said, “He is not going to mention it (list of looters) in a broadcast. The President said ‘the government’; he didn’t say he would mention it himself.
“So, the government will still mention it.”
On the plan to keep the Naira exchange rate steady, Rewane stated, “It is a national wish. Every government strives for currency stability. But the markets are the ones that determine the value. So, I think the President is coming to terms with the fact that markets work in a modern-day economy, and what the government can do is to strive to make sure that it is stable within the parameters of market forces.”
On his part, Prof. Sheriffdeen Tella of the Department of Economics, Olabisi Onabanjo University, said, “About the three or four days ago, the EFCC chairman was asked and he said they were still compiling the list and that some money was just coming in, which has not been properly recorded. So, that could be responsible for the delay.’’
Tella, who described the President’s speech as inspiring, said, “He knew that he has not done much, and he couldn’t have done much within the given time, considering the magnitude of what he met on the ground.
“My only concern is that you put money into the economy and you find that all the things you are going to buy are imported. If they are leading to improvement in local production, I think it will be good for us.’’
Tella stressed the need for a national plan to drive the growth and development of the economy.
Buhari again read the Riot Act to the Niger Delta Avengers, who have been vandalising pipelines in the Niger Delta, saying the perpetrators and their sponsors would be apprehended and brought to justice.
He said his administration was committed to implementing the United Nations Environment Programme report and was advancing clean-up operations.
“The recent spate of attacks by militants disrupting oil and power installations will not distract us from engaging leaders in the region in addressing the Niger Delta problems.
“If the militants and vandals are testing our resolve, they are much mistaken. We shall apprehend the perpetrators and their sponsors and bring them to justice,” the President vowed.
Buhari described his one year in office as “a year of triumph, consolidation, pains and achievements.”
He accused the previous government of not saving for a rainy day when there was oil boom and leaving critical infrastructure in decrepit state.
“We campaigned and won the election on the platform of restoring security, tackling corruption and restructuring the economy.
“On our arrival, the oil price had collapsed to as low as $30 per barrel and we found nothing had been kept for a rainy day. Oil prices have been declining since 2014 but due to the neglect of the past, the country was not equipped to halt the economy from declining.”
The President said the measures to be taken might lead to hardships.
Buhari added, “We resolve to keep the Naira steady, as in the past, devaluation had done dreadful harm to the Nigerian economy. Furthermore, I supported the monetary authorities’ decision to ensure alignment between monetary policy and fiscal policy.
“We shall keep a close look at how the recent measures affect the Naira and the economy. But we cannot get away from the fact that a strong currency is predicated on a strong economy.
“And a strong economy pre-supposes an industrial productive base and a steady export market. The measures we must take, may lead to hardships.”
The President stated that his administration identified 43,000 ‘ghost’ workers, therefore saving the government N4.2bn in salaries.
Apart from making savings, Buhari said his administration had changed the way public money was spent.
The President explained the rationale behind the recent increase in fuel price to N145 per litre, describing the decision as painful.
Buhari added, “It is even more painful for me that a major producer of crude oil with four refineries that once exported refined products is today having to import all of its domestic needs. This is what corruption and mismanagement have done to us and that is why we must fight these ills.”
He said the policy measures and actions taken so far by his administration should not be seen as some experiment in governance, stressing that he was fully aware that the vested interests, who had held Nigeria back for so long, would not give up without a fight.
“They will sow divisions, sponsor vile press criticisms at home and abroad, incite the public in an effort to create chaos rather than relinquish the vice-like grip they have held on Nigeria,” he said.
The President said the economic misfortune the nation was experiencing in the shape of very low oil prices had provided his government with an opportunity to restructure the economy and diversify.
He said his administration was in the process of promoting agriculture, livestock, exploiting solid mineral resources and expanding industrial and manufacturing base.
Culled: Punch Newspaper