In this piece, SAMUEL ODAUDU takes a look at the ongoing probe of past government officials by the present administration. What is the scope of the probe? Is it sustainable?
There is disquiet in the country, especially among former top government officials and in political circles as the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has commenced beaming searchlight on their financial transactions.
Media reports are rife that several persons have started returning billions of Naira they brazenly stole from government treasury. According to a report, one person was said to have returned the sum of N5billion into the public coffer.
President Buhari is determined to recover all looted funds from government purse in the previous administration.
In the twilight of the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, there were calls for the then incoming administration of General Muhammadu Buhari to probe the immediate past government accused of massive corruption. One of the leading voices was General T.Y. Danjuma.
One of the issues Danjuma had with the past administration was: how did the country run into so much debt said to be running into $60billion? The statesman spoke to reporters in Takum, Taraba State, while he was commissioning three newly built bridges he personally financed at the cost of over N500million.
The revered general said that “What we are hearing is that the treasury of the country is empty at the federal level. A debt of $60 would be left behind for the incoming government. “I’m calling on the new administration to investigate what happened to our monies as soon as Buhari takes over power on May 29. With that, some of the stolen funds would be recovered”, he said.
This medium had exclusively reported in June that a covert probe of 22 former ministers was currently going on. A reliable source was quoted as saying that, “The new Federal Government is bent on doing things the right way without heating up the polity. So far, the people being investigated are cooperating with the government by making appreciable refunds of stolen funds back to government coffers.”
So far, the probe is said to be yielding positive results as a lot of billions of naira has been recovered and more are on the verge of being recovered. “Can you imagine, within this short period of the investigations, we are getting refunds? Last week, I can tell you that not less than N5billion has been recovered. It is still ongoing. Once the investigating team is satisfied, the former government officials become free to travel anywhere again”, said the source.
The president has told the nation that the country’s treasury was empty. He has however secured commitment from Western countries to assist Nigeria recover laundered money from the public coffers of the federal government of Nigeria. The attention of the anti-graft agency, the Economic Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has also shifted in the direction of former state governors and top government functionaries who allegedly looted their states.
Long before people started calling for probe of his government, Jonathan had a premonition of the looming probe. Beside that, during the valedictory session to mark the last meeting of his administration’s Federal Executive Council, FEC, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Jonathan reacted to the call for probe of his administration.
“People are calling for probe (of my government by the incoming government); however, this should not be limited to my government. Other governments before me must also be probed otherwise, it will be witch-hunting,” he stated. In other words, the governments of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Generals Abdulsalmi Abubakar and Ibrahim Babangida and others should be included.
Jonathan added that “In Nigeria there are a number of things that we will probe, very many things; even debts owed by states and this nation from 1960 up to this time, they say it is Jonathan’s administration that is owing all the debts.
“I believe that anybody calling for probe must ensure that these probes are extended beyond the Jonathan administration; otherwise, to me, it will be witch hunting. If you are very sincere then, it’s not just Jonathan’s administration that should be probed.
“A number of things have gone wrong and we have done our best to fix them. The attorney-general is aware of massive judgement debts; if we aggregate all of them, it is almost going to $1 billion. How did we come to this kind of huge judgement debts?
“These issues should be probed. How do you allocate our oil wells, oil fields, marginal wells and all that? Do we follow our laws? All these should be probed. And I believe all these and many more areas should be looked at”, he said.
However, while many Nigerians are glad with this development, some analysts are expressing mixed feelings about the exercise. For Dr. James Ida, a private medical practitioner, this is a positive sign.
“It is a welcomed development. I only hope that this probe is sustainable and genuine. I said so because in Nigeria, once you start pursuing corruption, corruption will start pursuing you. If Buhari is able to sustain this effort with fairness to all, then the country will definitely improve its governance system”, he said.
But Adeshola does not see it that way. The accountant in a private firm agreed with the position of the former President Jonathan. “The probe is good, but let it be comprehensive. How can we have the EFCC try former governors for ten years and we say that we are fighting corruption? Can the president probe the people who sponsored him during the presidential election? Where did all those state governors get the money they invested in his election from?
“Yes, I believe in the probe, but let it be all-round. In that case it will be more credible. We have confidence in Buhari; he should not let us down because that will be disastrous for him and the country”, he said.
Other observers seem indifferent maintaining that the government of Obasanjo recovered a lot of money from the Abachas. Where is the money? How much was exactly recovered?
Some have also called for open probe so that those who are guilty should be brought to book in order to serve as deterrent tom others. The last may not have been heard about the ongoing probe of past top government functionaries. In the days ahead, there are expectations that more discoveries would be made concerning those involved in this clandestine exercise and how much has been recovered.