The Federal Government has alleged that 55 former government functionaries and top businessmen stole N1.34tn from public treasury in eight years.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made the allegation at a press conference to announce a National Sensitisation Campaign against Corruption in Abuja on Monday.
Although Mohammed did not disclose the authority for the allegation, he categorised the officials involved in the corrupt practices to include former state governors, ex-ministers, former legislators, civil servants, bankers and other businessmen.
Different government agencies, including the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related Offences Commission, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Department of State Services and some ad hoc committees have been intensely involved in one investigation or the other since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015.
Mohammed said, “The situation is dire and the time to act is now. Between 2006 and 2013, just 55 people allegedly stole a total of N1.34tn in Nigeria. That’s more than a quarter of last year’s national budget.
“Out of the stolen funds, 15 former governors allegedly stole N146.84bn; four former ministers allegedly stole N7.05bn; five former legislators allegedly stole N8.35bn; 12 former public servants, both at federal and state levels, allegedly stole over N14.18bn; eight people in the banking industry allegedly stole N524bn; while 11 businessmen allegedly stole N653bn.
“What do these figures translate to in the actual sense? In other words, what is the cost of these stolen funds to Nigerians? Using the World Bank rates and costs, one-third of the stolen funds could have provided 635.18 kilometres of road; built 36 ultra-modern hospitals, that is one ultra-modern hospital per state; built 183 schools; educated 3,974 children from primary to tertiary level at N25.24m per child; and built 20,062 units of two-bedroomed houses.
“This is the money that a few people, just 55 in number, allegedly stole within a period of just eight years. And instead of a national outrage, all we hear are these nonsensical statements that the government is fighting only the opposition or that the government is engaging in vendetta.”
He urged Nigerians to get involved in the war against corruption.
Mohammed said everyone that had been soiled in the pool of corruption would go in for it no matter the party affiliation, adding that Buhari’s war on corruption was neither a one-man show nor a political vendetta.
He said, “Let’s take the latest issue of the $2.1bn arms deal as an example. One thing is clear. Funds meant to fight terrorism were deployed in another fight, the fight to keep the then President Goodluck Jonathan and his party, the PDP, in power at all costs.
“So far, based on what we know, no one, who has been accused of partaking in the sharing of the (arms purchase) funds, has denied receiving money. All we have heard from them are ludicrous reasons why they partook in the sharing of the money.
“One said he collected N4.5bn for spiritual purposes; another said he received N2.1bn for publicity, while yet another said he got N13bn to pay someone else for the Maritime University land.
“Based on these revelations, should we now fold our hands and allow these people to go away with public funds? Is anyone thinking about the innocent soldiers, who lost their lives just because they did not get the necessary weapons to fight the terrorists? What about the families left behind by these soldiers, who were sent to their early graves because of the misappropriation of these funds?.
The minister added, “Talking about the costs of corruption, gentlemen, it is time we brought into perspective what corruption has done to our nation, our people and our international image; how corruption stifles economic growth, hinders the fight against poverty, leads to decay in infrastructure and reduces educational standards, lowers life expectancy, stunts the fight against maternal and infant mortality and impacts negatively on the general livelihood of the citizens.
“Irrespective of your political, religious or tribal leanings, and not minding whether you belong to the APC, PDP, SDP or Labour Party, if you have stolen public funds, you must not go scot-free. Everyone and every arm of government must rise up to be counted in this epic war and defeat is not an option, if our country is to survive.’’
Some Nigerians, however, believed they should not just be informed on the magnitude of the amount looted but demanded that the identities of the looters should be made public while those found to have taken part in the sharing of such money be made to refund the funds stolen, be prosecuted and jailed accordingly.
Lagos-based lawyer, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, said, “These are incredible figures of what has been stolen from our public treasury. We advise, however, that the issue of theft of our collective patrimony is a law enforcement issue, it’s a criminal issue, it’s a prosecution issue, it’s ultimately adjudication issue. In other words, Nigerians are not particularly interested in these figures.
“Nigerians have the right to know and need to know what has gone wrong in the past, what is going wrong now and what may go wrong in the future. But we want a credible prosecution process such that these 55 Nigerians, who stole money, can be brought to trial and those who are undergoing trial can have their trials re-visited urgently under the new Administration of Criminal Justice Act so that those trials can come to an end and the loots recovered and put to good use in the interest of the public.
“The recovered loot should not be re-looted like the funds recovered from Abacha.”
In his reaction, the President of Committee for Defence of Human Rights, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, also advised the government to be more interested in the prosecution of the suspects and the recovery of the loot.
Ugwummadu, a lawyer, said, “He (Lai Mohammed) is not a court of law. He should join forces with law enforcement agencies, which have the exclusive responsibilities of collating credible evidence.
‘‘The idea of running to town with figures of stolen money like a crown crier is not expected of government.’’
An elder statesman, Dr. Tunji Braithwaite, as well as the Executive Director, Civil Liberties Organisation, Ibuchukwu Ezike, said Nigerians were tired of wild allegations without seeing the looters being brought to book.
Braithwaite said, “People are fed up with wild allegations from this government. Not long ago, Buhari came out to announce that he had the list of individual corrupt persons, who had looted the Nigerian treasury. Up untill now, we haven’t seen anything.
“I take the allegation with a pinch of salt until and unless he publishes the names and takes action.’’
Ezike, on his own, stated, “When government makes allegation about corrupt people, we are no longer interested except we begin to see these people being investigated and prosecuted and the money recovered from them made public to the Nigerian people and have this money transparently expended in the interest of Nigerians.”
Executive Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said though the minister was correct, the revelation by him should culminate in the prosecution of the suspects.
He, however, reiterated that Lai Mohammed’s revelation alligned with the belief that only one per cent of Nigerians enjoyed 99 per cent of the nation’s commonwealth.
He said, “Lai Mohammed is correct. Now that this has been published, Nigerians are interested in addressing the issue through the judicial process.
“Nigerians are interested in the case such that even if the suspects escape justice, they are able to ostracise them and shame them.