President Muhammadu Buhari has said that assets seized from officials who could not explain how they got them will not be returned but rather sold and the proceeds will be put in the Treasury Single Account.
The President explained that in the past assets seized from officials would later be returned to them when the government is changed, vowing that such occurrence will not happen anymore.
Recalling experience of the past, in which assets were seized from officials who couldn’t explain how they got them, “only for those assets to be returned to them when government was changed,” President Buhari vowed that such would not recur, as he had given instructions that all forfeited assets be sold, “and the money put in the Treasury Single Account.”
“Let’s see who will now take back the money from the treasury, and give back to those people, as was done in the past,” the President added.
He stated this on Thursday when members of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) visited him at State House, Abuja, promising to beam the searchlight on the cost of governance, and weed out possible corruption that exists anywhere.
The President appreciated members of the committee for the “major sacrifice “they’ve made in accepting the assignment to serve the country,” noting, “Some of the elite won’t trust you, and you will be alienated, no matter how close you are to them.”
Chairman of PACAC, Professor Itse Sagay, who led the delegation, said Nigeria was lucky more than ever to have a person of President Buhari’s credentials as leader of government.
“We congratulate you for being a star of the anti-corruption struggle in Africa. You attach a lot of importance to the fight against corruption, and we have tried to achieve the aims you had in mind when you established PACAC,” Prof Sagay added.
He said the committee trains, build the capacity of anti-corruption agencies, and has helped to develop a programme of non-conviction assets recovery, which is recording great successes.
PACAC made some recommendations to the President, in order to move the anti-corruption war many steps forward. They include, reestablishment of the jury system for criminal cases in the country; setting up of a judicial commission on corruption in the judiciary, to be headed by retired judges under the auspices of National Judicial Council (NJC); passage of Proceeds of Crime Act by the National Assembly; the setting up of a Presidential Truth and Restitution Task Force; and a closer look at the cost of governance to weed out all vestiges of corruption.
President Buhari pledged that the government would take a dispassionate look into all the requests.
The Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay, during an appearance on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics, spoke about the scandal in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption war and his problem with leaders of the All Progressives Congress, among other things.
Are you alarmed by the allegations in the NNPC?
Well, I’m not particularly alarmed. There is no organisation that does not have its internal problems and I think it will be resolved with time.
Do you think this is just an ordinary problem?
I think we really have to wait until we hear the other side. We have read what one side, the accusing side, has said. Then we have to wait, patiently, to hear the response from the other side before we can make very rational judgement in this matter. I don’t think one should rush into any conclusion.
You have spoken so much about the corruption in the NNPC. You advise the President on this kind of issues and you had said corruption in the NNPC is one of the things that your committee would focus on. How are you shining light on the NNPC right now?
I think I need to explain the way we operate. We are not an anti-corruption agency; we are not an executive body. We are more of a think-tank. So, we advise the government on various issues that come to our knowledge. We make proposals for reform and improvement of the administration of criminal justice and we also provide support for the anti-corruption agencies to make them more effective. We also do a lot of workshops and dialogues and seminars for the judiciary, the anti-corruption agencies and various other bodies that are relevant in the fight against corruption. So, I cannot tell you, for example, that I am investigating the NNPC. We don’t have that mandate.
What would you advise the President to do about these kinds of allegations around the NNPC?
Well, my advice is an obvious one that any reasonable person with any knowledge of law and legal practice would make and that is to hear both sides. And then, having heard both sides, then make an effective decision that will solve the problem.
Mr Femi Falana (SAN) is asking the President to relinquish his position as Minister of Petroleum. Also, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources shares that position. Do you think that the President should relinquish that position?
Not necessarily so. I think what we are really interested in is the effectiveness of that ministry. If the Minister of State (for Petroleum Resources) is invested with sufficient authority, he can do the job effectively and report to the President at regular intervals. I think that is where we should focus our attention on. That is, investing the Minister of State with all the requisite powers and authority so that all the parastatals under the ministry will recognise his authority and respect it and make the Minister the medium through which messages and activities will be channelled to the President. And there should be strict observance of the various regulations and procedures of those agencies, NNPC included. So, I think the Minister of State can effectively do the job of the Minister because, of course, the President has so many other things in his hands that we don’t expect him to give full attention to any specific ministry. But he can retain the position, and the ministry can still be run effectively if the Minister of State is given sufficient powers if power is delegated effectively to him.
They say that sometimes perception is everything. With the current state of things regarding the report on the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr Babachir Lawal, and also the report on the suspended DG of the National Intelligence Agency, Mr Ayodele Oke, it looks like Nigerians are expecting so much of the President. What can you say about the kind of urgency that the government should be putting in such, which of course, affect how Nigerians perceive this government?
I have no doubt in my mind, that the present government is actually fighting corruption, in accordance with its mandate and its promises. There is no question about that. But on the specific issue of the suspended Secretary to the Federal Government and the Director of the NIA, I would agree that action has been much too slow and there should be immediate decision on this matter so that we can put it to rest and move on. I agree with that but I certainly disagree absolutely with anyone who suggests that is government is not fighting corruption with all its might and resources.
A senior member of the APC did say that when it comes to fighting corruption in other agencies and arms of government aside from the executive, the Presidency uses insecticide but when it comes to fighting corruption its own atmosphere it does use deodorant.
Well, that is the perception of that particular gentleman, but I don’t agree with that. I think there is an even-handed approach to the issue of fighting corruption. Everybody who is suspected of corruption of the commission of the Economic and Financial Crimes would be investigated and the EFCC and the ICPC, who are the bodies who are invested with the authority to act in such matters, will act in accordance with their own priority. You know, I think we should make it clear. We cannot handle all corruption cases at the same time. As you know, in this country, that the cases of corruption go right from the top and permeate to the lowest level. There are hundreds of thousands of corruption cases. So it makes sense for the agencies involved to choose what to pick and what to drop or what to suspend.
From your standpoint, you say that the government is fighting corruption, but the citizens and the voters who voted for President Muhammadu Buhari are asking for evidence of the success of the anti-corruption war.
The evidence is staring every Nigerian in the face. Only a person acting in extreme bad faith that or who is a beneficiary of corruption will question that evidence. We have had an accumulation of recovered assets. There is no day that passes without some assets being recovered. And we are counting now towards a trillion naira, if not more, of recovered assets. We see that all the time, that is number one. We also know that the petroleum subsidy scam has been brought to a permanent halt. Under the former administration, N380billion, the government was being defrauded of N380billion every year, all that has ended. And there are so numerous other things that have been done. We have the whistle-blower policy, which is effectively bringing out so many cases of corruption and hidden Nigerian assets, we have mutual agreements with various countries all over the world through which the recovery of assets are being facilitated. So, I think people who criticise this government are thinking only of conviction of high-profile persons. That, of course, has had some hiccups. But let us wait and see on the long run, how things are going to develop because I know a lot of efforts is being made in that direction. In fact, only two days ago, former DG of the IITA, was convicted of corruption, and sentenced to, I believe, 40 years imprisonment, of course, five years running concurrently over so many charges. So, as I said, anyone who says this government is not successfully tacking corruption is putting on blinkers of bad faith or is totally ignorant or is a beneficiary of corruption, and is part of corruption fighting back.
When you say there are hiccups in the convictions of high-profile cases, a lot of Nigerians would want to know. What are these hiccups?
Well, you know that before the administration of Criminal Justice Act was passed, a lot of things were going on. Senior advocates will automatically file preliminary objection contesting the jurisdiction of the court over a corruption case whilst knowing definitely that there is no doubt about jurisdiction. And then the whole case would be stalled, concentration will be put on the preliminary objection. Then, after two or three years, once ruling is given, of course, with the court confirming its jurisdiction, there is an appeal to the Court of Appeal; the same process is gone through all over again. And with the same result, the matter goes again to the Supreme Court. After five years, it is confirmed that the court has jurisdiction and then we are back to the High Court for the trial which ought to have been completed 10 years earlier. Of course, in the interval, witnesses might have died or disappeared, the trial personnel might have become judges, and the prosecutor might have become a judge. So many things would have happened. A lot of political interference would have occurred and of course, prosecution fatigue would have set in. So, this was what it was but all that has ended now with the passing of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act. That is why I expect that in the coming year, we are going to see a lot more convictions and this position has been strengthened by the decision of the Chief Justice of Nigeria, directing all High Courts in the country to designate specific courts in their jurisdictions as Anti-Corruption courts and then, of course, establishing a committee that will monitor all corruption cases in the country. Personally, I think the personnel of the monitoring committee, those constituting the committee, there is the need for a rethink, particularly with regards to the former President of the NBA, and I think the appointment of Justice Salami is perfect, it is the best choice possible. Supporting him should be people who have not been involved in corruption cases, defending high profile cases of corruption and I think the former Presidents of the NBA have been very much involved in this and their orientation is to defend those charged with corruption and some who actually still have cases going on, which will result in conflict of interests. So, I think there is a need for a rethinking in that area.
You have been on a collision course with some powers that be within the ruling APC. What has really happened? Are you frustrated recently by that?
Let me try and put it in a very simple way without mentioning names. If you have within a party, which has a specific mandate to fight corruption and at least reduce it drastically, to a level that it will not stall our development and our future. If you have such a mandate, and then you have within that party, people who are actively promoting corruption, who, in fact, are themselves major subjects of corruption charges who are themselves promoters of corruption, and they are defying the party on major issues that would have assisted the government in eradicating corruption, my view is that it is better to totally remove people of that nature and have a smaller party in which everybody has confidence in themselves, rather than to have a large party in which people are doing things that are absolutely contrary to what the programme of the party stands for. And my view was that the party leadership (the party hierarchy), I am not talking about the government. I am talking about those elected as the Chairmen, Secretary and so on of the party, are condoning the situation I am talking about. They are appeasing those who are guilty of all these things I am saying and therefore setting a stage for the party to have a serious problem when there is need to convince the nation that it is entitled to have another term or more terms in government because ‘show me your friend and I will tell you who you are’.
The Federal Government has raised alarm over an orchestrated plot to frustrate its efforts in the fight against corruption.
The government also expressed worry over an alleged plot to discredit the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC), led by its Chairman, Professor Itse Sagay.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Mr Lai Mohammed, said in a statement on Tuesday that the PACAC’s letter head and stamp as well as the signature of its Chairman were being forged and used to con people within and outside the country.
According to him, a letter purportedly signed by the PACAC Chairman, entitled “Presidential Investigation on Outstanding Federal Government External Contract Debts”, and a form to be filled for that purpose, were being used to extort money from unsuspecting persons and to portray Nigeria’s highest advisory committee against corruption in a bad light.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the President (Muhammadu Buhari) has not mandated PACAC to investigate and recommend for payment of some outstanding contract debts, as contained in the letter in question, neither has the Federal Government approved the disbursement of $850 million in the 2017 budget for payment of the so-called external contract debt.
“We are therefore using this medium to inform Nigerians and foreigners alike to disregard such letters,” the minister said.
He noted that Professor Sagay and all the members of PACAC Committee are men and women of proven integrity.
Mr Mohammed added that they will never allow the committee to be used for any activity that is not within its mandate, or that is capable of weakening the anti-corruption fight of the present administration.
The Presidency has commenced efforts to strengthen the mechanism of the Whistle-blower Policy, following breakthroughs recorded in the war against corruption and unaccounted wealth.
According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, the enthusiastic response of Nigerians to the Whistle-blower Policy has boosted the tempo of the anti-corruption crusade of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
He told State House correspondents on Wednesday that the government is considering ways of enhancing the structural capacity of the whistle-blower mechanism.
Mr Shehu noted that government is also considering empowering the mechanism by either bringing it under the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), or some other body to imbue the process with a strategic national purpose.
“In a word, government thinks that the whistle-blower mechanism is too important to be left without a strategic, national direction,” he observed.
Worst Betrayal Of Voters’ Mandate
The President’s spokesman commended the zeal and patriotism of Nigerians for responding positively to the whistle-blower incentive policy, aimed at exposing hidden looted funds across Nigeria.
According to him, “no public policy can succeed or go far enough without public support and participation”, and “when the citizens realise they are victims of corruption, they may feel encouraged to join the efforts to expose looted funds”.
Mr Shehu explained that the recovery of huge amounts of looted funds through the efforts of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and whistle-blowers “is a revelation about the mindless, callous and reckless scale on which Nigeria had been robbed by unpatriotic and egregiously selfish public officials”.
He said President Buhari’s election in 2015 was “a divine intervention in response to the desperate cries of Nigerians for urgent change”, adding that “stealing by officials under a democratic government at the expense of people’s welfare is worst betrayal of voters’ mandate”.
PresenceOf Illegal Weapons
The President’s spokesman also disclosed that government was getting suggestions to bring the issue of illegal weapons in the hands of citizens that are used to fuel intra and inter-communal violence under the purview of the Whistle-blower Policy.
“Yes, it is true, the Presidency has received suggestions that call for the Whistle-blower Policy to be extended to the possession of illegal weapons by powerful individuals in the country.
“The government will look at all that and make a pronouncement. Nigerians would be encouraged to expose the presence of illegal weapons in the homes of powerful politicians and other public figures who may use those deadly arms for sinister political agenda,” he said.
Shehu stressed that those exposing looted funds deserve all the encouragement and protection to sustain their enthusiasm, with a view to encouraging more citizens to participate in what he called the “major aspect of the anti-corruption crusade”.
Commending Nigerians for their support, the Buhari administration assured the citizens that all recovered funds would be applied to their welfare and happiness, adding that no country can achieve progress with corruption.
One year after its inauguration, the report of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, has come out with its recommendations.
In its report from August 2015 to July 2016, the Executive Secretary, Bolaji Owasanoye, highlighted areas of concentration.
Amongst are the things that the committee maps out as sentencing guidelines for high profile cases where huge monies are trapped.
He decried the amount of monies that the Nigerian government has lost to such cases and its effect on the economy.
“If we do simple arithmetic of all those high profile cases, just add the sums and see how much you will come up with, it will be far above two trillion and because the state has not recovered the money, we will see the effect on the economy,” he said.
The chairman of the committee, Professor Itse Sagay, also added that Nigeria needs an upright judiciary without which the nation’s democracy would collapse.
The sudden raid of the houses of some judges by the DSS and the subsequent arrest of the judicial officers drew a plethora of reactions recently.
But Professor Sagay described the anti-corruption campaign of the President as right, while describing the criticism from Nigerians as totally wrong and shocking.
“We need the judiciary but we need an upright judiciary. Without that, one arm of government will collapse and democracy will collapse.
“Let us think of the implication of what is going on. If we don’t put the judiciary right or have a judiciary in which we have confidence, with integrity and honour, with moral authority, then we have no government and we have no democracy,” he said.