By Gbemiga Olakunle
President Muhammed Buhari, before the inauguration of his administration on May 29, 2015, had promised the expectant Nigerian electorate that he would fight corruption to a stand-still in the nation’s public sector.
One of the President’s popular quotes that “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria” is being displayed on the lobby of the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters, Louis Edet House, Abuja. And pronto we started hearing stories of how same former public office holders (especially those who served in former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration were returning the loot they allegedly cornered to themselves in billions of naira. Some arrests were made and some are also reportedly undergoing investigations and prosecutions.
On a regular basis, the public is being fed with stories of how the security agencies especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) were recovering the loot from the alleged public looters in billions of naira and millions of dollars. On two occasions, there were reported cases of how millions of dollars were recovered from certain farm-lands in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. The identities of such suspects were not revealed nor the time of their possible prosecution before the courts of the land made known to the public.
It could be very annoying for most Nigerians who are losing their sanity and even lives under the pangs of hunger when they are constantly being inundated with stories of billions of naira or millions of other foreign currencies that have been recovered so far and which have not been appropriated with a view to lessen/reduce their sufferings.
In the past, the public used to cheer up the government at the hearing or disclosure of such news. But months after, the Nigerian public became weary of such news and seem to be no longer interested since such disclosures do not put food on their tables nor solve any of their basic needs. The public has, in fact, become disoriented. To them, the much publicized fight against corruption may be likened to a storm in a tea cup. After all, there has been slow pace of prosecution of the identified cases with little or no conviction yet.
It was therefore a sign of better things to come when the Minister of Justice and the Attorney-General of the Federation, Justice Abubakar Malami, requested the Investigating Agencies to send the files of the alleged “big time looters” to his office.
And Nigerians are hoping that the Honourable Minister will use his good office to expedite the necessary actions in this direction. Nigerians are not interested in endless prosecution of the suspects. What they are interested in is the recovery of the loots with their prompt appropriation especially to solve their social needs including “stomach infrastructure”. Nigerians do not want to be driven into their untimely graves through hunger and penury while the Government may still be pursing shadows in the name of fighting endless war on corruption.
If the suspects want soft-landing through ‘plea bargaining’ with the government, so be it as long as they are willing to release the big chunk of the loot in their custodies. Dead bodies do not spend money in their graves or graveyard. And so the suffering masses need the recovery of the loot and the judicious use of the money recovered so far in order to improve their standards of living with a view to elongate their life span.
The lawyers and other Nigerian judicial officials in the Temple of Law can continue to use technicalities to delay other cases. But in this particular case of loot – recovery from any person who may have a case to answer, they should please excuse us from such legal technicalities. In fact, we are of the opinion that the government should even commend the so-called looters who offered and voluntarily returned the loot in their custodies so as to encourage others to follow their good gestures.
In the face of dividing nation’s fortunes from the Petroleum Resources as a result of heightened sabotage by the Niger-Delta Militants and their sponsors, another source of ready income that is available to government is this loot already in the government coffers and those that are in the process of being returned either through due-diligent prosecution or ‘plea bargain’. The bottom line is to make money available to government for the good of the common populace and generality of the people. Besides, the price of crude-oil has fallen from $140 to about $40 per barrel in the last one year.
Nevertheless, in spite of these legal technicalities that seem to slow down the pace of the fight against corruption, the current administration of President Muhammed Buhari should be applauded and given a pat on the back for having the courage to even challenge the hydra–headed monster called corruption that has become both systemic and endemic in our socio-economic and political life as a nation.
And whatever effort that the government may need to scale these legal hurdles/technicalities that seem to throw some spanners in the wheel of progress of this fight, the government should not hesitate to put in such efforts in the interest of the Nigerian electorate so that the trust that is reposed in the elected officials especially the President and his team is justified.
Olatunle is General Secretary, National Prayer Movement