Monday 30 May 2016

President Buhari under fire for failure to reveal details of looters and recovered assets

President Buhari
Nigerian social critics and legal practitioners on Monday expressed disappointment over President Muhammadu Buhari’s failure to make good on his promise to reveal details of stolen assets recovered from corrupt officials.

Mr. Buhari had on May 14 said in London that he would personally provide specific details of all recovered stolen public funds and individuals who plundered the country’s resources because he believed that what Nigerians were fed by the media was not detailed enough.
“So far, what has come out, what has been recovered in whatever currency from each ministries, departments and individuals, I intend on the 29th to speak on this because all Nigerians are getting from the mass media because of the number of people arrested either by the EFCC, DSS. But we want to make a comprehensive report on the 29th,” Mr. Buhari said while attending the anti-corruption summit in London.
But during his nationwide broadcast on Sunday morning, the president only repeated previous claims that his administration was grappling with bureaucratic hurdles that make it difficult for stolen assets to be recovered from foreign jurisdictions.
“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,” he said.
Rather than personally speak on the matter and provide specific details as promised, Mr. Buhari only said he had directed the Ministry of Information to periodically publish details on the assets recovered so far.
“Full details of the status and categories of the assets will now be published by the Ministry of Information and updated periodically. 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,” Mr. Buhari said.
Based on the President’s May 14 promise, millions of Nigerians had on Sunday morning stayed glued to their radio and TV for the Democracy Day speech.

Hours after the president’s speech on Sunday evening, the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed, said the president reneged on his promises for “legal reasons.”
“Yes, he initially said so (that he’ll give specific details about recovered loot), but he was advised against doing so for legal reasons,” Mr. Mohammed said during an interview on Channels Television.
But in separate interviews, the commentators said the administration’s excuse was untenable, adding that Mr. Buhari missed another opportunity to show Nigerians that his words were his bond.

“The president is a retired general, and a soldier’s word is supposed to be his bond,” one of the respondents, Yinka Odumakin, said. “For this reason alone, I find his ‘legal issues’ excuse highly untenable.”

Mr. Odumakin, a pro-democracy campaigner, said the president should have carried out extensive deliberation over what it entails to name those who have returned stolen assets before going to the public to enunciate it.

“Now before you come out as a president and say I’m going to name looters, you must have gone through the whole process,” Mr. Odumakin said. “Now that you’re supposed to redeem that promise, you’re silent about it. Instead of you to say fellow Nigerians for this so so and so reasons I cannot fulfil my promise.

Mr. Odumakin chided Mr. Buhari for allowing his goodwill, which he enjoyed as a result of his perceived integrity, to erode within his first year in office.

“The only asset the president brought to the Nigerian people is his integrity. He’s not an orator. He’s not an economic wizard or anything. The only thing he said he had was integrity. Now Nigerian people are beginning to wonder where the integrity is and the goodwill he’d been enjoying from it is now waning,” Mr. Odumakin said.

“This is a man who denied most of his campaign promises. Some he said he never made and others he said they were made on his behalf by his campaign and he won’t be responsible for them,” Mr. Odumakin said.

Mr. Odumakin said such gaffes as the one Mr. Buhari made with this matter was why citizens were becoming disillusioned with the anti-corruption war.

“I can boldly tell you that more than 90% of those currently being tried will walk free after all these noises simply because of all the errors the president is committing. If he’s not careful, even the one he committed yesterday will also make Nigerians become more embittered about the anti-corruption war.”

Japheth Omojuwa, blogger and activist, told Premium Times he was more concerned about the weight of the president’s words than the excuses.

He said Mr. Buhari’s failure to explain why he won’t be able to fulfil his promise left him and other Nigerians “disappointed.”

“For me, it’s not about the tenability of the issue –because I personally, intuitively asked myself: ‘why would he not release the list after he’d already said he would?'” Mr. Omojuwa said. “One thing I know for sure is that there are many Nigerians who are as desperate and as angry, to deal with this corruption issue as the president himself.”

Mr. Omojuwa said Mr. Buhari should have explained why he decided against releasing the names, saying the president was “very, very wrong” to have pretended like he didn’t make such promise during his speech.

“I think the president was wrong not to have explained to us. Because there are two things when you make a promise, you either execute that commitment or you say why you won’t be able to execute it,” Mr. Omojuwa said. “When you keep silent about it and pretend like you didn’t make any promise at all, again, it’s very, very wrong and condemnable.”

Mr. Omojuwa said Mr. Buhari made “an error of judgement” when he said he would release the names on national television, saying it would have triggered widespread recrimination amongst Nigerians.

“I think it was an error of judgement for the president to have committed to such a thing in the first place. If the president had released those names, yes maybe we would have had a lot of rancour here and there with people saying why did he put this one and not that one,” Mr. Omojuwa said.

In her reaction, Victoria Ohaeri, a lawyer and executive director of the non profit, Spaces for Change, said Mr. Buhari’s action was in tandem with his antecedents which included his failure to publish details of his assets, a clear departure from his campaign promises.

“If you remember that he has not disclosed his assets, then I don’t think a lot of people are surprised,” Ms. Ohaeri said. “He said he would set an example that would go a long way with other political office holders with his assets declaration, but he quickly abandoned that promise when he got power.”

Ms. Ohaeri warned Mr. Buhari to desist from publishing names of alleged looters, saying corrupt cases were better left to the agencies that were established for such purposes.

“It’s not the duty of the executive to publish names of criminals,” the lawyer said. “Let the law courts and investigative agencies do their work.”

Ms. Ohaeri further stated that Mr. Buhari should pay more attention to deterrence than to the severity of corruption cases.

“The president may be fighting corrupt people but he’s not fighting corruption. Are there more stringent procedures for taking money from government, including the Office of the National Security Adviser?” Ms. Ohaeri queried.

Debo Adeniran, the chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), said, although the reasons adduced by Mr. Mohammed is untenable, Mr. Buhari may have had a genuine intention of releasing the details, but was prevented by “vested interests” within his cabinet.

“Mr. Mohammed’s excuse is not acceptable under any guise,” Mr. Adeniran said. “Once the president makes a promise he should be able to fulfil it.”

“But I think the president genuinely intended to say the truth on television but for political expediency he was dissuaded by vested interests in his cabinet from doing so.”

Mr. Adeniran, therefore, urged Mr. Buhari to be more circumspect in his utterances as president going forward.

“I think the lesson for the president here is that he now know he must be careful before he says anything from now on,” Mr. Adeniran said.

Lagos-based lawyer, Liborous Oshoma said the president had no ground to use legal implications as an excuse for not publishing the details of looters and the assets recovered from them.

“Forget the legal issues reason they’re bandying about, the president is not publishing because he has no capacity to do so,” Mr. Oshoma said.

“If you remember, they told the whole world when Jafaru Isa, a friend to the president, was arrested and refunded money. They told us how much he refunded and in what instalment. Did they not know there were legal issues then?”

“I can understand the cases that are already in court, but those that have refunded money to government should be of public knowledge,” Mr. Oshoma said. “Unless the president didn’t recover anything or recovered too little and now feel too awkward to release details after all the noises he’d made about recovering billions.”

Credit: Premium Times

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