The hue and cry over a looters’ list


When President Muhammadu Buhari took his oath of office on May 29, 2015, he pointedly told Nigerians that he was going to fight corruption head-on and had a benchmark of the immediate past administration of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by Dr.Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. He did not mince words when he made the declaration.

The reason for this is obvious. Given the gargantuan nature of corruption in Nigeria since independence, it would be near impossible and highly diversionary for him to commence his probe from 1960 till date. So as a government that knows what it can achieve within four years, it decided to concentrate on the immediate past administration.

This explains why in June 2016 the All Progressives Congress led Federal Government released details of recovered loot to Nigerians. First, it was the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, who revealed that the federal government had recovered looted funds to the tune of $151 million and N8 billion from three sources through whistle-blowers. He also clarified at that time that the amount did not include $9.8 million cash recovered from a former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Andrew Yakubu, also through the whistle-blower policy.

Thereafter, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, SAN, while defending the 2017 budget of his ministry before the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters said the federal government has recovered N57.9 billion and $666.676 million from fines on disobedient corporate organisations, looted funds, and voluntary return of illicitly acquired assets.

Later on, the government through the Minister of Information Mr Lai Muhammed updated the figure and expectedly opposition tongues went wagging and calling on the government to release the names of those behind the figures. Government felt that it would be most appropriate to conclude all investigations and trial of suspects before coming up with the names of those who looted the nation mindlessly in the immediate past administration.

The bashing of the federal government did not end with the opposition political parties. Even the NGOs were vociferous in calling the government names and were also at the fore front calling on government to publish the names. In fact, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP, dragged the federal government to court and named Lai Mohammed and the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice as defendants in the suit.

In July last year, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, ordered the Federal Government to “immediately release to Nigerians information about the names of high ranking public officials from whom public funds were recovered and the circumstances under which funds were recovered, as well as the exact amount of funds recovered from each public official.”

The Trial judge, Justice Hadiza Shagari gave the order following a Freedom of Information suit by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, SERAP.

In her judgment, Justice Shagari agreed with SERAP that Federal Government has a legally binding obligation to tell Nigerians the names of all suspected looters of the public treasury past and present.”

Once the order was given, the APC-led Federal Government, through the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr.Abubakar Malami(SAN), agreed it would obey court order by publishing the names of treasury looters as ordered by the court so Nigerians can see.

In compliance with the court order and in keeping with its promise for the enthronement of the rule of law, the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed who was a defendant in the suit released the names of the alleged looters. Two batches of such names have so far been released.

But surprisingly, the same opposition party, the PDP that challenged the government to publish the list was the first to shout hoarse that the names of their party men and women made the list. Who looted the treasury of the nation before the coming on board of the APC government? Is it not those who held sway for 16 years of return to democratic rule, the PDP? Why should we now go and put names of people who did not loot in the list as being demanded by the PDP?

Most shocking is the reaction of SERAP, the NGO that dragged the federal government to court demanding the release of the names of the looters. SERAP that appears to be abusing its freedom of expression, in its reaction shocked Nigerians when it called on the government to withdraw the list it published. The organisation has been threatening brimstone and fire and you may want to wonder what does SERAP want and on whose behalf it is working in the country.

The PDP chieftains whose names appeared on the list have been criticising government for releasing their names, even those who surrendered money willingly. Many Nigerians are wondering why the much ado about the list. The list is in exhaustive and anybody that loots the treasury can find his or her name there any time any day. Even those in government today, may find their names in the list tomorrow if they loot the treasury. So, the list is not what anybody should make any noise or issue about. If anyone feels strongly about his or her name in the list, such a person or group is free to seek redress in court. There is just no need for the much noise being generated.

What appears very obvious is the fact that as we approach the next general election, the opposition PDP is already jittery and wants to make issue out of every move of the government in power.

The list is out, if you know you are innocent of the accusation, go to court and clear yourself, it is as simple as that.

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