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The attorney general and $60b loot

By Editorial Board
30 June 2021   |   3:08 am
The campaign against corruption, a cardinal programme of the Muhammadu Buhari administration is certainly reeling from a major setback, going by revelations that recently came out

[FILES] Looting

The campaign against corruption, a cardinal programme of the Muhammadu Buhari administration is certainly reeling from a major setback, going by revelations that recently came out at the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on the Investigation of Recovered Looted Funds and Assets of Government.

Unless the government moves to quickly allay the serious doubts thus cast on the seeming compromise of efforts to recover huge stolen public funds, then the authenticity of the campaign cannot be guaranteed to Nigerians. That will be a big blow to probity in the public space.

The testimony of the Prosecutor of the Special Presidential Panel on Asset Recovery (SPPAR), Tosin Ojaomo that a whopping $60 billion of public funds are currently stashed away in the United States of America is disturbing. Even more worrisome is Ojaomo’s testimony in further highlighting the ignoble role, the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, is allegedly playing in frustrating the recovery of these funds back to the country by retrieving the case file and keeping it away from the Special Presidential Panel. The AGF reportedly took other questionable steps in the recovery of looted funds that many now wonder what really is going on concerning this fight against corruption, which is one of the cardinal programmes of the administration. These alleged acts are quite disturbing and make many wonders whether the loud official hype about the fight against corruption is genuine

The Special Presidential Panel on Asset Recovery (SPPAR) in its report indicates that most of the cases being investigated have been frustrated by the AGF who often requests for the case files and never returns them. Mr Ojaomo’s testimony also, among others indicate that for instance, the AGF withdrew N10 billion in two tranches from the coffers of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) and prevents investigation on the transaction by withholding the case file using his powers as AGF to frustrate the further investigation.

Malami would also need to provide explanations to the discerning public on other related issues. First, why is the reported missing €5 billion from the recovered assets of the Federal Government yet to be accounted for? Second, allegations are also rife that the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) is yet to gain access to various sums of forfeited funds for its use. This includes $311 million from the United States of America, £4.2 million from the United Kingdom and €5.5 million from the government of Ireland. The AGF definitely needs to satisfy the curiosity of Nigerians in all these.

The monies involved in the above allegations are quite huge. Nigeria is currently borrowing heavily to finance its development. In recent times, under this administration, government assets are being stripped and sold off to finance annual budgets. In actual fact, the 2021 annual budget is highly leveraged such that one wonders how future budgets can be successfully implemented. Currently, the debt service payments constitute over 70 per cent of total revenues and monies left to service the economy is quite paltry. In spite of that, the government has not restrained itself from further borrowings despite the public outcry in this regard. If the economy must generate enough resources to finance its development, all hands should be on deck to enhance the recovery of looted funds for seamless deployment to the growth of the economy.

These allegations are quite weighty and the honourable minister would of necessity need to make explanations, else the average Nigerian would see the fight against corruption as a ploy to hoodwink the undiscerning public, and to go away with the perception that the fight is selective; merely a tool used to fight the perceived enemies of the Buhari administration. The AGF needs to assure Nigerians that the allegations of re-looting of looted funds that are linked to his office and specifically to his person are unfounded. What explanation does the AGF have for his allegedly obstructing the work of the anti-graft panel? Is this not a direct slap on the anti-corruption stance of the Buhari administration? The “war against corruption” under this administration, as things stand presently appears to have the face of “the more you look, the less you see.” Is the campaign against corruption not turning into comics?

There is the need for a thorough investigation and follow up action publicly. Anyone found complicit should be dealt with appropriately. In another vein, it would be proper to ask where the EFCC is in relation to all these allegations. With all these uncertainties, the curious spate of decamping from the opposition parties to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) has become quite suspicious. Could it be linked to the allegation that the fight against corruption is used to haunt the opposition? Nigerians may be inclined to believe so except the process is made transparent and the AGF rising to the occasion and ensuring that efforts towards the recovery of looted funds are not frustrated.