Fight against corruption, the media and matters arising
Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed recently called the attention of the public to what he alleged to be sponsored news stories aimed at disparaging the Federal Government’s fight against corruption.
At a meeting with some media men in Abuja, he said the government was aware that in fighting corruption, corrupt elements in the society would find a way to fight back.
“These elements have newspapers, radio and television stations as well as online platforms, and an army of supporters, to continuously deride the government’s war against corruption.
“Talks have started making the rounds in the electronic media, deriding the fight against corruption.
“They have been creating distractions by sponsoring articles in both local and international media to scoff the administration’s policies generally.
“They even write off the 2016 budget. We know that the sole purpose of these attacks is to distract attention from the war on corruption,’’ he said.
In spite of this, the minister urged Nigerians not to get worried by the effects of the sponsored write-ups against anti-graft war.
“We have no doubt that Nigerians are clever enough to know the truth; this administration will neither be distracted nor intimidated by anyone.
“No amount of media or other attacks will stop the fight, the pseudo-analysts and hack writers will labour in vain in their quest to stop the anti-corruption fight,’’ he said.
Mohammed insisted that the sole purpose of the attacks was to undermine the war on corruption.
He, therefore, urged the media to lead the campaign to sensitise Nigerians to the antics of some unscrupulous elements in the country who worked to truncate the war.
The minister alleged that between 2006 and 2013, 55 Nigerians stole N1.34 trillion, observing that the amount was more than a quarter of last year’s national budget.
He said 15 former governors and five former ministers allegedly stole N146.84 billion and N7 billion respectively out of the amount.
“When the money meant to construct roads is looted, the end result is that the roads are not built and the people suffer and even die in avoidable road accidents.
“When the money meant to provide electricity is looted, we all are perpetually sentenced to darkness.
“When the money meant for healthcare is pocketed by a few, we are unable to reduce maternal and infant mortality; these are the costs of corruption,’’ he said.
The minister insisted that the 2.1 billion-dollar arms scandal was a clear indication of corrupt practices among some leaders.
“So far, based on what we know, no one who has been accused of partaking in the sharing of the funds has denied receiving money; all we have heard from them are reasons why they took part in sharing of the money.
“One said he collected 4.5 billion naira for spiritual purposes, another said he received 2.1 billion naira for publicity, while yet another said he got 13 billion naira 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?
What about those who lost their means of livelihood after the terrorists overran their towns and villages?
“What of the millions of Nigerians, especially women and children, who are now living in IDPs camps?
“Is it not clear that the cruel fate that has befallen these unfortunate people is a direct result of the misuse of the funds meant to fight the terrorists? Are these not the true costs of corruption?’’ the minister said.
The minister said no matter what it would involve, corruption must be tackled decisively for Nigerians to feel the impact of governance.
In view of the minister’s opinion, some clerics on the platform of Catholic Bishops, suggested that those genuinely identified to have either stolen or recklessly used the nation’s wealth must be compelled to make comprehensive restitution.
At the recent Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria, the clerics, in a communiqué issued by Most Rev. Ignatius, the president of the conference, urged Nigerians to eschew personal interests, political vendetta and bitterness in the fight against graft.
“We affirm that the war against corruption is not just a battle for virtue and righteousness in our land but a fight for the soul and substance of our nation.
“This is a collective responsibility that requires our collective efforts. All Nigerians should be part of this struggle, which ought to be carried out at all levels, in order that we may recover our wasted opportunities.
“Those with the mandate to facilitate this process should be guided by a true sense of justice and act in accordance with the rule of law,’’ the conference said.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Debo Adeniran, Executive Chairman of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, said there was the need to strengthen the nation’s institutions and improve budgeting and budget control to tackle corruption.
He said lack of finance and manpower had weakened the operations of the anti-graft agencies and called for the independence of the local council and the abolition of the State/Local Council Joint Account system.
Also, Rev. Collins Edebiri, the National Chairman, Democratic Progressive Movement, a non-governmental organisation, urged the Federal Government to establish special courts to guarantee speedy prosecution of corruption cases.
He observed that the fight against corruption would be more successful when special courts were established and new laws enacted to ensure accelerated hearing of corruption-related cases.
“We need to begin to think about laws that will set up special courts to deal with corruption cases.
“We are also calling on the National Assembly, as a matter of urgency, to enact law for the establishment of special anti-corruption courts.
“When you have special courts with special laws, then you will deal with these matters expeditiously,’’ he said.
The chairman also called for the imposition of sanctions barring corrupt government officials from holding public office for the remaining part of their life.
He urged the government to recover all stolen funds and ensure that they were judiciously used for the development of those sectors that have direct impact on the masses.
“The first step is to recover our money from the culprits, give them the appropriate sentences and then ban them from holding public offices for life.
Edebiri, nevertheless, commended the anti-corruption drive of the present administration and urged Nigerians to support the government to achieve meaningful development.
He, nonetheless, cautioned the government to ensure that the war against corruption did not deny Nigerians the right to lawful freedom of expression.