Sale of recovered assets
President Muhammadu Buhari’s proclamation the other day in Daura, his hometown, that national assets recovered from looters would be sold off with the proceeds paid into the treasury for the benefit of the country is interesting but provokes a number of questions.
According to a statement by the President’s Senior Special Assistant, Garba Shehu, the President reiterated his commitment to the recovered assets’ sale when he received representatives of social groups in Daura Emirate recently. It is, of course, curious that the president disclosed such a sensitive information only to a small set of groups and to his media aide who then issued a statement.
Garba claimed in his statement that President Buhari promised that his administration would continue to pursue a robust, effective and legitimate anti-corruption campaign that safeguards the treasury and commonwealth of all Nigerians. The declaration on corruption also included that the president would not allow a repeat of what happened in the 1980s when buildings and other ill-gotten property seized by his military administration were returned to the same corrupt officials after he was ousted as head of state.
The groups represented at the meeting were the Daura Emirate Coalition of Associations; the Amalgamation of Daura Emirate Political Associations; the Buhari Group; the Daura Emirate Development Forum; Women in Politics in Daura Emirate and the Daura Emirate Consultative Forum.
While the president is at liberty to meet and discuss with all groups, however parochial their vision, this meeting in Daura was with politically exposed groups in the president’s hometown and could not be excused of selfishness as well as poor judgment.Certainly, it was not right for the leader of a complex nation like Nigeria with many nations within it to address a few of his kinsmen on serious nationally-sensitive political issues.
The message on the fate of assets recovery should have been delivered to the generality of Nigerians at a more appropriate forum. So much for symbolisms.President Muhammadu Buhari had in 2016 set up an inter-agency Presidential Committee on Asset Recovery as part of the efforts to strengthen the ongoing fight against corruption with the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as the head of the Committee. The PCAR, which was set up on the recommendation of the Presidential Advisory Council Against Corruption, is to oversee the anti-corruption agenda and coordinate asset recovery process.
The PCAR was coordinating the collation and categorization of recovered assets from 2015-2016; verifying the records and status of physical assets such as buildings recovered under previous administrations and setting up the framework for the management of recovered stolen assets to avoid re-looting and mismanagement of such assets as experienced in the past.
Accordingly, a register was created for recovered stolen assets and other government holdings to avoid a situation where former or even serving public officers cart away moveable assets like vehicles, computers and so on, sometimes in multiples. The idea of sale of recovered assets and depositing proceeds into the federation account is not new and previous governments have tried their hands on same with a measure of success. There are, however, weightier matters of governance here: One is transparency and accountability in this regard. Specifically, the EFCC has not been totally forthcoming with details of how much has been recovered so far. Even at the Senate screening of the Acting Chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Magu, last year, the question of data on assets and even amount of money recovered so far was hardly fully answered.
Now that the president has reiterated government’s determination to sell recovered property, he should not relent in asking institutions and agencies concerned to obey a court order that the details of owners and quantum of assets recovered should be published. What is more, the citizens should not be ignored, as they have been clamouring for publication of details of those looters and worth of the assets so far recovered from them. It is in the people’s interest to make full disclosure so that conspiracy theories about re-looting of same assets would be discountenanced. That is the only way to instil confidence in the process.
Meanwhile, President Buhari who has been accused several times of disclosing policy issues to foreign media first before telling his own constituents anything about same should note that the idea of choosing to talk to only a Daura audience about sale of recovered national assets was not the best. The medium, it is said, is the message. The other day, while on a hospital bed in the United Kingdom, the President sent a religious festival message to only people in the North West and North East in Hausa language. This was grossly insensitive and cast the leader of Africa’s giant in very bad light.
Buhari is Nigeria’s president and he should be aware of the signals appropriate for governance in a country where transparency is key.
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