• Says details of stolen assets to be released before end of this week
By Tobi Soniyi and Senator Iroegbu in Abuja
Following the disappointment expressed by many Nigerians over President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to make public the details of the monies recovered from alleged looters of public funds, their identities, and the efforts to prosecute them, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, has explained that the names of those who purportedly stole public funds could not be divulged for legal reasons.
He however stated that details of the sums recovered from the alleged looters would be made public before the end of this week.
Buhari had repeatedly promised that he would disclose the details of the amounts recovered from alleged looters, their names, and the details of their prosecution during his Democracy Day broadcast to the nation.
However, Nigerians were disappointed when Buhari, during his broadcast yesterday to commemorate his first year in office, failed to deliver on his promise.
Instead, he acknowledged that large amounts had been recovered, but placed the responsibility of giving details and naming and shaming the alleged looters of the nation’s assets to the Ministry of Information and Culture.
He said: “We are also engaged in making recoveries of stolen assets some of which are in different jurisdictions. 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.”
He admitted that his first year in office had been tough, but promised that recovered funds would be ploughed back into the treasury once forfeiture formalities are completed.
“When forfeiture formalities are completed, these monies will be credited to the treasury and be openly and transparently used in funding developmental projects and the public will be informed,” he said.
However, the Minister of Information later clarified that the details on the amounts recovered from alleged treasury looters would be made public soon.
Speaking yesterday evening on Channels television’s special Democracy Day programme tagged, ‘Assessing the Government’, Mohammed when pressed by the programme’s anchor, Ms. Kadaria Ahmed, said information on the amount recovered would be made public soon, before the end of this week.
He was quick to add, however, that the names of the alleged looters would not be made public, explaining that this could not be done for legal reasons.
“Yes he initially said so (naming looters), but he was advised against doing so for legal reasons. Of course, he has a right to reverse himself on that,” Mohammed told his interviewer.
Buhari Warns Niger Delta Militants
Buhari also warned Niger Delta militants to stop further attacks on oil industry facilities in the oil-rich region, stating that his government would arrest the vandals and those sponsoring them.
He said: “The recent spate of attacks by militants disrupting oil and power installations will not distract us from engaging leaders in the region in addressing 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 said his government was fully aware that those vested with 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 added.
He said his government remained committed to implementing the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the Niger Delta.
“We are advancing clean-up operations. I believe the way forward is to take a sustainable approach to address the issues that affect the Delta communities. Re-engineering the amnesty programmes is an example of this,” he said.
On the economy, Buhari repeated what has become the common refrain of his administration, stating that oil dependent countries, Nigeria inclusive, had been struggling since the drop in oil prices.
According to him, many oil rich states have had to take tough decisions similar to that of Nigeria’s.
He said the world, Nigeria inclusive, had been dealing with the effects of three significant and simultaneous global shocks starting in 2014: the 70 per cent drop in oil prices; the global economic slowdown; and the normalisation of monetary policy easing by the United States Federal Reserve.
He said: “Our problems as a government are like that of a farmer who in a good season harvests ten bags of produce. The proceeds enable him to get by for the rest of the year. However, this year he could only manage three bags from his farm, so he must now think of other ways to make ends meet.”
He cautioned that some of the measures his government would adopt to rebuild the country might lead to hardship, adding that the real challenge of his government had been reconstructing the spine of the Nigerian state.
According to him, the last 12 months had been spent collaborating with all arms of government to revive institutions, so that they are more efficient and fit for purpose.
He said: “That means a bureaucracy better able to develop and deliver policies. That means an independent judiciary, above suspicion and able to defend citizens’ rights and dispense justice equitably.
“That means a legislature that actually legislates effectively and above all, that means political parties and politicians committed to serving the Nigerian people rather than themselves.”
He described the measure as the pillars of the state on which democracy could take root and thrive.
“But only if they are strong and incorruptible,” he added.
He said his government was also working very hard to introduce some vital structural reforms in the way government business is done and lay a solid foundation on which enduring change could be built.
“An important first step has been to get our housekeeping right. So we have reduced the extravagant spending of the past. We started boldly with the Treasury Single Account, stopping the leakages in public expenditure.
“We then identified 43,000 ghost workers through the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS). That represents pay packages totalling N4.2 billion stolen every month.
“In addition, we will save N23 billion per annum from official travel and sitting allowances alone,” the president disclosed.
He also said the Efficiency Unit of the Ministry of Finance would cut costs and eliminate duplication in the ministries, departments and agencies of government, noting: “Every little saving helps. The reduction in the number of ministries and work on restructuring and rationalisation of the MDAs is well underway.
“When this work is completed, we will have a leaner, more efficient public service that is fit for the purpose of changing Nigeria for the good and for good.”
On the devaluation of the local currency, the president explained his opposition to the devaluation of the naira, stating that in the past, devaluation had done “dreadful harm to the Nigerian economy”, however, he lent his support to the monetary authority’s decision to ensure an alignment between monetary policy and fiscal policies.
“I would like to directly address you on the very painful but inevitable decisions we had to make in the last few weeks specifically on the pump price of fuel and the more flexible exchange rate policy announced by the central bank.
“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 has done to us and that is why we must fight these ills.
“We shall keep a close look on 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 problems Nigerians have faced over the last year have been many and varied,” he said.
Apart from savings, Buhari said he had changed the way public money is spent, adding that in all his years as a public servant, he had never come across the practice of padding budgets.
“But I am glad to tell you now that we not only have a budget, but more importantly, we have a budget process that is more transparent, more inclusive and more closely tied to our development priorities than in the recent past.
“Thirty per cent of the expenditure in this budget is devoted to capital items. Furthermore, we are projecting non-oil revenues to surpass proceeds from oil.
“Some critics have described the budget exercise as clumsy. Perhaps, but it was an example of consensus building, which is integral to democratic government. In the end, we resolved our differences.
“We have therefore delivered significant milestones on security, corruption and on the economy,” he said.
Lawyer Reacts to Broadcast
Reacting to Buhari’s Democracy Day broadcast yesterday, human rights lawyer, Ms. Carol Ajie, described the president’s speech as “slumbering” that failed to address many critical national issues, especially his failure to publish the recovered loot and looters.
Ajie, in a statement analysing Buhari’s speech, said the president was at most incoherent and inconsistent about his promise to publish the details of the recovered loot and instead shifted the responsibility to the Ministry of Information with no stipulated date.
She said: “Rather than personally speaking on the matter and providing specific details as promised, Mr. Buhari only said he had directed the Ministry of Information to periodically publish details of the assets recovered so far.”
She also listed 12 key areas, which Buhari either failed or deliberately chose to ignore including the galloping inflation arising from Buhari’s refusal to unfold an economic policy in Africa’s most populous country more than a year post-inauguration.
Ajie also said Buhari through his broadcast failed to respect the sanctity of life with too many killings involving the Zaria massacre, Fulani herdsmen slaughtering from Agatu to Enugu, and other extra-judicially killings.
She also warned that the Buhari-led All Progressives Congress (APC) was sending dangerous signals to Nigeria’s democracy, as he refused to address the failure by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to announce the results of elections conducted months after the exercise was concluded in places like Rivers State, “just because his political party APC lost those elections”.
She further reminded the president that “most states have no Resident Electoral Commissioners (RECs), whom he has failed to appoint”.