BY GARBA SHEHU
Nigeria’s widespread corruption, which has been eating the eco-system like termites, met on audacious response from President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday afternoon with the signing of a new Executive Order No.6 on preservation of assets connected with corruption. President Buhari holds the view that after three years in office it was another good time to further review the achievements of the administration and set goals in a key policy area, the anti-corruption war.
On the basis of the re-appraisals made, the President said that it had become “necessary to re-kit and re-tool our arsenal to be able to affectively tackle corruption’s perilous counter-attack against the Nigerian State.” As a result, the Federal Government of Nigeria had “declared a national emergency to deal with that crisis.” President Buhari came into power in 2015 vowing to fight corruption which had been undermining the country’s economy, politics, governance and entire society.
The government is of the understanding that corruption is one of Nigeria’s major challenges; one that had obstructed the country’s drive to realise its full potentials. Most citizens believe that corruption is holding the country by the jugular and must be tackled if we are to make progress and make meaning of our lives. Since the war against corruption unleashed by President Buhari took hold, significant strides had been achieved. Vehicles of fraud and embezzlement have been stopped dead in their tracks; enabled with the implementation of the Bank Verification Number policy and signing the Open Government Partnership and rebuilding the anti-corruption institutions, and generally the country’s highly improved corporate governance.
Fifty thousand ghost workers were deleted from monthly payroll, saving an annual N200 billion in payments; ghost pensioners have in their thousands been fished out and with vigour and precision, millions of bank accounts with suspicious cash deposits are being investigated. A large number of senior public officials are being investigated and a huge sum of money including buildings, estates, ships and automobiles have been seized. Former Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha’s money, USD326 million was recovered and will be distributed to the poor.
The Buhari administration has so far investigated and jailed ex-governors, ministers, generals and a large number of public officials. All of these efforts are building up to an ecosystem that is pro-poor, people oriented, clean, transparent and one that doesn’t tolerate corruption. Based on all these, Nigeria’s anti-corruption war under President Buhari, striking and visible as it is, has aroused interests both locally and internationally. The President is currently serving as the Champion of Anti-corruption for the entire continent, selected by his peers in the African Union.
It is an established fact that, all over the world, deep-rooted corruption is always difficult to deal with. It is mostly hidden. It is hard to detect, and as we have seen in dealing with the world’s economic powers, they love, cherish and nurture it in countries like ours by holding onto stolen assets against all efforts to retrieve them. But there are signs that things are changing.
Every day, harsh words against the government are all that the President gets from Wadata House, the Head Office of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, because their leaders, as do some other Nigerians are already feeling the heat. To say the truth, I am not sure if there are many of our citizens who expected any PDP support for the President in his war against corruption.
In spite of all the achievements recorded, you still hear complaints that the anti-corruption isn’t as dramatic as Nigerians wished it to be. Some want the country to do it the Chinese way. Others say the government is not arresting the powerful people.
For the Buhari administration, concern lies in the fact that corruption has become a big problem because investigation, prosecution and trial in courts are made harder by persons accused of crimes relating to it. They are using the enormous resources in their possession to thwart the system. The President’s view is that, it is only a clean Nigeria that can attract foreign investment, free money for more of the capital projects the administration is executing and creating jobs for our teeming population of young men and women.
The President says in the interest of justice and the welfare of the Nigerian state, persons accused of crimes relating to corruption must be prevented from utilizing the proceeds and dissipating such assets suspected to be proceeds of corruption (or associated with corruption) pending final determination of any investigation or legal actions related to such assets or owners thereof.
In signing the new Executive Order, he said: “I’m bound to restrict dealings in suspicious assets…to preserve same in accordance with the rule of law and with guarantee and safeguard of fundamental human rights.” A person who feels that his rights are infringed is free to go to a high court. To understand the threat posed to our democracy and economy by unchecked access to stolen or illicit funds, the President cited the large volume of cash government is fight to retrieve through the legal system.
The aggregate value of those funds involved in some of the on-going prosecution of high profile corruption cases is N595,409,838,452.25k. This amount is more than what has been budgeted this year for the all-important Ministry of Power, Works and Housing (N344 billion) and social Investment (N500b), intended for millions of Nigerians through programs such as the N-Power Graduate Employment Scheme, the Conditional Cash Transfer, CCT to the poorest of the power and GEEP (Government Economic Empowerment Programme).
The 2018 budget which has made the highest appropriation ever in the sum of N344 billion to the Ministry of Works is to be spent on the following roads:
- Lagos-Shagamu-Ibadan Dual Carriageway
Enugu-Port-Harcourt Dual Carriageway
Sokoto-Tambuwal -Jega-Kontagora-Mokwa Road
Dualization of Ojabana to Benin Road
Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriageway
Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Dual Carriageway
Benin-Ofosu-Ore-Ajebandele-Sagamu expressway phase III
The amount of money voted this year for these roads therefore translates to about 57% of the monies recovered by the on-going high-profile corruption cases. The defendants in these cases have unrestricted access to these funds using it as a war chest. They have used it to stall administrative and judicial processes. No gainsaying that it is impossible to achieve any meaningful progress in the fight against corruption where there is no effective law enforcement and prosecution of offenders via an effective justice system. In simple terms, the idea of the new Executive Order is to ensure that criminal elements are prevented from using their illicit resources to “allure, pervert and/or intimidate the investigative and judicial process.”
The purpose of the Executive Order is not to forfeit peoples properties but rather temporarily deny access which can be used to corrupt or interfere with the investigative and judicial processes. Equally, it is not intended to, and cannot take over the powers and functions of statutory agencies with prosecutorial powers or create new ones. Rather, this is designed to activate existing provisions of the law on freezing of assets and to establish a system of coordination under the office of the Attorney-General, who has constitutional powers over all prosecutions.
Henceforth, it will be a criminal offence to violate the Executive Order. Prosecution authorities will, in all future prosecutions, file application to freeze the assets implicated before, or alongside the charge information sheet. For cases that are on-going, such application shall be filed within seven days of this Executive Order.
As provided by the law and the constitution, the President is empowered to “abolish all corrupt practices and abuse of power”. It is in his determination to fully execute this function that he declared a national emergency to deal with the threat posed by corruption. While it will definitely take a while for the President Buhari war against corruption to penetrate the lower rungs of government and society, a pervasive canker that had been a part of daily working life of the nation for so long, there is no doubt that the daring response through this Executive Order will go a long way in fast tracking that process.
Finally, then, is to state that a win for President Buhari in 2019 in next year’s general elections is the best way to provide a good and stable leadership for tackling the problems of corruption in Nigeria.
Garba Shehu is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity.
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