Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN), on September 5, 2019, while speaking at the 20th Bishop Mike Okonkwo Annual Lecture to celebrate the 74th birthday of the presiding Bishop of the Redeemed Evangelical Mission (TREM), in Lagos, demanded the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration to declare how much stolen funds it had recovered since 1999.
The legal luminary said the Federal Government through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had recovered over N1 trillion Naira from the treasuries helped by its whistleblower policy.
“The Federal Government has recovered huge sums of money from looters. One of the policies of government, the whistleblowing policy, has fetched the country N605 billion as of three months ago,” he stated.
While lamenting that the Federal Government has been adamant in stating categorically what it had used the funds for, he noted that the Federal Government should have used the funds to empower Local Government Areas in order to checkmate unemployment and curb the embarrassing security challenges in the country.
“I am therefore suggesting that the billions recovered by the EFCC, let the Federal Government allocate at least N1 billion to every local government for job creation for our young men and women,” he said.
This was not the first time Falana would make a statement on recovered funds.
The Buhari government itself has never ceased to mouth the humongous recoveries allegedly made from looters. The Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, Femi Adesina, on his verified Twitter account, on May 15, 2018, tweeted: “We have recovered and are still recovering trillions of naira that were stolen in the past few years by people without conscience –President Buhari.”
Tales of EFCC’s recovered funds
The Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, disclosed that his agency made back-to-back recoveries after Buhari’s whistleblowing policy which came to force in late 2016. In 2017, the EFFC claimed it recovered as much as N500 billion alone while recoveries in two years ending November 2017 amounted to N739 billion. These figures have been a subject of disputation by the Ministry and Department saddled with administering the recoveries.
But, then, on May 28, 2018, the EFCC announced that 603 convictions had been made since President Buhari’s inauguration in 2015.
Moreover, towards the end of 2018, Magu noted that he had set a new record in asset recovery and conviction of corrupt elements in the country since the coming of President Buhari in 2015. He claimed that under his Chairmanship of the EFCC, the agency recovered N794 billion
“In the three years that I have been in charge of EFCC, we have secured 703 convictions. The breakdown is as follows: 103 convictions in 2015, 194 convictions in 2016; 189 in 2017 and 217 from January 2018 till date.
“Over N794 billion recovered. Over $261 million has been recovered. The Pounds Sterling recovered stands at 1,115,930.47 Pounds. The Euros recovered in the period is 8,168,871.13 Euros. There is also the sum of 86,500 CFA,” he revealed.
Magu went ahead to allege on December 5, 2018, during an interactive session with journalists in Abuja, that 60 per cent of the looted funds is still hidden in Nigeria.
Prominent among the public officers being prosecuted for alleged financial mismanagement, by the EFCC, is the former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki, who was arrested in 2015 for $2.1 billion arms deal scandal.
The money was allegedly meant for purchase of arms and ammunition for the Nigerian Army fighting insurgency in the Northeastern zone of the country.
The Federal Government on May 1, 2019, included the name of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chairman, Uche Secondus and other members of the party in the amended charge against the former National Security Adviser. The government indicated that the then ruling party, PDP, through some of its members got about N14 billion. The government indicated that Dasuki gave N850 million of the allegedly diverted fund to Secondus.
Other alleged beneficiaries include: the Publisher of ThisDay newspapers, Nduka Obaigbena, who allegedly received N650 million; Olisah Metuh, N400 million; a former Senator, Iyorchia Ayu, who was allegedly given N350 million and founder of DAAR Communications PLC, Raymond Dokpesi, who allegedly got N2.1 billion. Metuh and Dokpesi are currently facing trials. Others have not been arraigned.
Where are the funds?
The specifics of recovered funds and what they have been used for remain a closely guarded secret. President Buhari, however, in April 2018, said the recovered loots were being paid into dedicated accounts with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He revealed that his administration had been spending the recovered money lost to graft on infrastructural structures.
“We are attacking corruption head-on. With international support, we are recovering Nigerian stolen assets and applying them to infrastructural developments,” he said. What the President did not reveal is the particular infrastructural developments that his administration is using the funds for. Thus, raising curiosity in search of where the funds recovered so far have been injected.
Critics continue to argue that the Federal government, going by its claims of recovering trillions in stolen assets, should not go a-borrowing, noting that the recovered funds, so far, were enough to tackle the challenges that prompted the government to solicit for funds.
This position was once strengthened in 2018, when a report made the rounds that President Buhari had reached out to China to borrow money only days after a $321 million General Sani Abacha loot was recovered.
Should government continue to lend credence to the likes of Falana who, while speaking during the Human Environment Development Agenda (HEDA) conference tagged “Agenda Setting for Citizens’ Interaction with Stolen Assets Recovery: Abacha Loot Recovery and Utilization as a Case Study,” on July 3, 2019, in Abuja queried basis for going cap-in-hands to beg for loans?
“If you recover these funds either criminally diverted or illegally not remitted to the Federation Account, this government or Nigerians will have no basis going all over the world cap in hand asking for loan. We have enough money to take care of the problems confronting the country,” he had averred.
With trust in significant deficit, the Buhari administration can not afford to keep mum in the face of several queries thrown at the government with respect to recovery of resources stolen from the state.
Indeed, the second tenure of the ruling All Progressives Congress provides even a bigger opportunity for Buhari to pursue his famed anti-corruption war to a logical conclusion.
He should be reminded, though, that every war prosecuted must be done within the arm-bit of the law.
By John Chukwu…
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