Reflections on recovered billions
The anti-corruption crusade in Nigeria is getting “curiouser and curiouser” by the day as combined efforts of anti-corruption and intelligence agencies have in recent months yielded incredible spectacles of hundreds of billions recovered from serving and former public officials. While it is indeed gratifying to note that all the cases of recovered monies are being taken to court for adjudication, the development is, to say the least, outrageous at a time when the country is facing serious economic challenges. It has become crystal clear to all citizens of Nigeria, that the only trouble with their country is leadership. There is indeed nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character, land or climate or water or air or anything else. Indeed, the country’s main problem has been the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the challenge of managing resources honestly to develop the country and enrich its citizens.
Nigeria’s leaders have consistently and progressively failed the nation in the areas of building strong institutions to fight corruption in the public sector. That is why it is still shameful that even after 18 years of democracy, some leaders past and present are still facing investigations into their alleged corrupt practices. The current Chairman of the joint session of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate and his deputy, the Speaker of the House of Representatives for instance, are still facing various corruption charges. While the President of the Senate is before the Code of Conduct Tribunal over allegation of corruption as governor of Kwara State, the Speaker is facing charges by his colleagues that the country’s 2016 budget had been corrupted. What is worse, in October last year, the country’s secret police, the Department of State Services (DSS) shocked the nation when it announced a raid on the official quarters of some justices of even the Supreme Court and disclosed that huge amounts of money were recovered from their premises.
The operations leading to the arrest of the judges were informed by allegations of corruption and other acts of professional misconduct by a few of the suspected judges, who were alleged to be living ostentatiously.
The DSS revealed then: “…we have been monitoring the expensive and luxurious lifestyle of some of the judges as well as complaints from the concerned members of the public over judgment obtained fraudulently and on the basis of amounts of money paid.”
The searches, the intelligence service further said, uncovered huge amounts of raw cash in various denominations as well as in local and foreign currencies. The judges, DSS also alleged, own several millions of Naira worth of real estate.
While citizens were still smarting from the traumatic implications of the raid on judges on February 9, this year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) announced that it had recovered a whopping $9.8 million cash from a private safe in one of the houses belonging to Andrew Yakubu, former Group Managing Director of the country’s oil corporation.
The former boss of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), has since admitted ownership of the recovered money, claiming it came in tranches as gift to him.
As though 2017 would be a year of sordid revelations about primitive accumulation by people in power, another big haul was reported the other day when the DSS said it had arrested the former governor of Benue State, Mr. Gabriel Suswam for alleged illegal possession of firearms, following the raid on an Abuja property.
Apart from some pistols, other items recovered from his residence, according to the DSS, included a Mini-Uzi with two magazines containing 10 rounds and four rounds respectively; 42 extra rounds of ammunition in a pack; one AK-47; 21 Certificates of Occupancy (C of Os) of plots of land and one offer of statutory right of occupancy; 23 luxury watches; and 45 keys to various cars. He, of course, is not yet proven as having done anything wrong.
These, certainly are not ordinary times in the annals of Nigeria’s search for transparency in public service. But without prejudice to the outcome of investigations or litigations over these recoveries, it is curious to find idle billions of Naira in the residence of former office holders.
Even as we lament the huge volume of money that these public officers possess and could not deposit properly in safe financial institutions, it is pertinent to question the country’s public service system that enables officers access to so much cash. How can an officer whose annual salary cannot be more than N5 million have access to N10 billion at the end of a two-year tenure in office? How can the wife of a former president declare publicly that she had deposited millions of dollars worth of gifts, received while her husband was in office? Also, a wife of another former president would report to the police in Nigeria that a house maid had made away with N90 million cash from her bedroom? What on earth has been going on in Nigeria’s public offices? Why has it been so easy for leaders and managers to dip their hands into the public till in the country? It is a systemic problem which the current administration should deal with decisively so that safety of public funds will be guaranteed at all times. That, of course, should not foreclose diligent prosecution of cases already investigated. In the same vein, the Central Bank of Nigeria cannot be an innocent bystander in this regard. There should be thorough examination of how highly placed politically exposed people can have access to huge sums of foreign exchange in the country. All told, the Financial Intelligence Bill that has been curiously stalled in the federal legislature should be passed into law to assist in acquiring legal teeth to help financial intelligence and follow the money trail in the country. The most critical assignment before the present government is how to institutionalise the war on corruption through public sector finance reforms.