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SERAP’s timely suit on recovered loot

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The Muhammadu Buhari administration has been praising itself as an epitome of integrity and has been advertising anti-corruption fight as a fundamental objective and directive principle of state policy.

According to President Buhari himself, even before he assumed office in 2015, “if Nigeria does not kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria.” At the time this cliché was declared, it sounded like an echo of a messiah eager to salvage his nation from the throes of destruction orchestrated by stealing, nepotism, improprieties and unbridled corruption. However, events since 2015 have made many to question the credibility of this government’s anti-corruption posture given the many curious manifestations, in this regard. The figures and rankings from the Transparency International and other stakeholders indeed show that Nigeria’s case with corruption actually worsened since Buhari came into power. Hence, many have had a rethink on whether the country is, in fact, headed in the right direction in the fight. This development has been raising a series of queries on the prosecution of the fight, the application of the rule of law, the management of the proceeds of the fight and the deployment of these (proceeds) in the betterment of life of the ordinary Nigerians.

And so a recent legal query by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) on the management of some recovered loot can be situated in this regard.

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In showcasing its success in the fight against corruption, Buhari, in his Democracy Day speech on June 12, 2020 stated that, “the government has recovered looted funds in excess of N800 billion. He went further to state that, “these monies are being ploughed into development and infrastructural projects.” In following up with the government on this, SERAP recently sued the government seeking for “an order for leave to apply for judicial review and an order of mandamus to direct and/or compel President Buhari to publish a comprehensive list of people from whom N800 billion in looted funds have been recovered, the details of spending of the money, and the specific dates of the recovery…” The main message here is the suspicion that the whole fight against corruption is shrouded in secrecy, which in itself is corruption.

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One would expect the government to take up the challenge posed by SERAP and come clean on the issue of recovered looted funds and their use, if any. This is considered very important because the media is rife with allegations that the recovered loots have actually been re-looted by some authorities. The current trial of the suspended Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu on the allegation of “looting the loot” is quite instructive in this regard. Many stakeholders have been demanding accountability and responsibility on this, from the leadership. Since 2017, there have been clamours for details of recovered loot and government has been seemingly dilly-dallying on this. In fact, there was a judicial pronouncement, which compelled the EFCC to give details of recovered loot. Different figures on the amount of the recovered loot are being bandied around by the EFCC, the Presidential Spokespersons, and the Attorney-General of the Federation, among others. If the government has been recording successes in the fight against corruption, the fruits of the success should be transparently handled and ploughed back into the economy to enhance the common good. This has not been so. The whole process appears opaque just like the ordinary man would say, “the more you look, the less you see.” This lack of transparency is what has created the room for suspicion of a possible re-looting of the loot. It also feeds into a narrative that the fight against corruption by the Buhari administration is merely a fight against the enemies of government as most of the indictments and arrests and minor convictions are those of members of the opposition to government. Allegations against members of the ruling party like that of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal are almost kept in the cooler while he is frolicking with the powers that be. Is it any wonder that the past Chairman of the ruling party, Adams Oshiomhole said to the effect that, “if you decamp to the ruling party, your sins would be forgiven?’’ It thus shows that the whole noise is more of grandstanding and not really in the building of the Nigerian society. There have been court pronouncements on the issue of recovered loots, that the EFCC should give details. That hasn’t happened till the present. So much has been recovered from Abacha, about $5 billion more than what the Democratic Republic of Congo once discovered about Mobutu Sese Seko. Now that the EFCC boss is facing judicial inquiry on the same loot recovery issue, among others, does that not indicate that something is wrong somewhere? There are allegations that the loot recovered is being re-looted. Where do we go from there?

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Therefore, this newspaper believes that the effort of SERAP should be commended. If N800 billion of the recovered loot has been ploughed into projects, what and where are the projects? Government should note that many Nigerians are currently getting disillusioned with the current administration and regretting giving it a chance to come to power in 2015. Aside from the fight against corruption, their dissatisfaction spreads to security and the management of the economy, the two other major focal points of the administration. Insecurity across the country has worsened and the economy is virtually a shambles with unemployment and inflation rising ceaselessly in addition to the burgeoning of the public debt. The least the government can do is to show transparency and sincerity in the conduct of its affairs to at least win the confidence of those still hopeful that the country will recover from its present state of anomie.

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