Comrade Debo Adeniran is a human rights activist and the chairman, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL). In this interview with TEMITOPE OGUNBANKE, he speaks on the plan of President Muhammadu Buhari to rid the nation of corruption. Excerppts
How do you see the revelation by President Muhammadu Buhari that over $150 billion stolen by past government officials are kept in foreign banks?
To say the least, the figure President Muhammadu Buhari quoted could have been underestimated going by the ferocity with which most Nigerian leaders have been frittering away the resources of this country and also the circumstances we find ourselves since the past 16 years that we have returned to civil rule. If we put it roughly that we produce 2.5 million barrels of fuel in a day and it is sold at an average of $70, we will be having about $175 million per day. You can imagine what the total amount generated from sales of crude oil will amount to in 16 years. Apart from the money realised from the sales of crude oil, the country also generated revenue from other sources like the Apapa Port. We also generate funds from Customs and Excise, airports, taxes and rates. If we look at what we have earned as a country and juxtapose it with what had been put on infrastructure, the development we have in the country does not show that Nigeria has spent up to 10 per cent of annual budgets on the developmental projects, otherwise all indices of good budget practice wouldn’t be as lopsided as we have them. So, much more money would have gone into private pockets than it has been estimated. So the $150 billion estimate is more than conservative. However, it is a good start that the president has decided to trace the looted money to all the countries where they are domiciled and requesting or working with authorities of those countries with a view to repatriating such stolen funds into Nigeria.
How do you think President Buhari and the anti-graft agencies should go about recovering the stolen money?
Buhari should follow the normal channel through mutual legal assistance treaty that Nigeria has with the countries where such monies are stashed, if he really wants the stolen funds repatriated. The president may succeed if he invokes the treaty, but I am not sure Nigeria has such with Switzerland although that country has been voluntarily returning Abacha’s loot to Nigeria. There are several other countries that may not be willing to return the volume of the money that is kept in their banks by the looters except there is international status that Nigeria can invoke to compel them to repatriate the fund. Buhari should also prevail on the governments of the countries where the public funds are stashed to assist Nigeria to expose those behind the practice. Properties acquired in those countries must also be investigated and if it is discovered that the properties are procured through proceeds of corruption, they should be confiscated on behalf of Nigeria, sold and the money repatriated to Nigeria. The anti-corruption institutions also need to be further strengthened with human and material resources that can enable them to deliver on their mandate; that is when the anti graft war would begin to bear good fruits.
How do you see United States promise to help Nigeria to recover the stolen wealth?
It is a good and welcome development and it is a kind of new turn of event and a way by which America appreciates the desired change that we have gotten from the rotten past to the present. Nigerians should see the present regime as the first of its kind since independence. There is no time when progressives have been able to govern this country at the centre. This is the time we are having everything close to that and it means other countries are also watching what is happening and appreciate it that somebody that has the best credibility among all those who contested for the position got it at the end of the day; somebody who has a track record of integrity, somebody who had done it within the limits of his own capacity in the past and everybody can rely on him to apply the national budget as judiciously as possible in power. So United States has good reasons to repose so much confidence in President Buhari and that might have informed their enthusiasm at hosting him in the Blair House that is used for only Head of Government that they could trust which is a conferment of a lifetime award that our credibility rating has soared high.
Will you advise the Buhari administration to probe the looters?
The president should not waste time in probing the looters as long as he knows that they have, at one time or the other, looted the country’s purse. What he should do is to hand them over to anti corruption agencies who will do due diligent investigations on it; prepare quality charges against them that will ensure that they are convicted. The punishment for the convicted looters should go beyond slap-on-the-wrist. It should be deterrent enough that every civil and public servant would be afraid to conspire with anybody to steal state funds and what we are recommending is not actually death penalty but life jail for anybody that stole up to N10 million. All their properties and everything they must have possessed should be deemed to have been acquired through fraudulent practices, corruption, stealing, embezzlement, extortion etc., and should be confiscated by the state and converted into the use of the country.
Do you really have confidence in Buhari and the anti-graft agencies to recover the stolen wealth, considering past failure to bring many corrupt people to book?
It is the past failure of the earlier civilian governments in Nigeria that led to the change that Nigerians clamoured for and the change that they got. The change from corrupt elements recycling themselves had been effected and the change that brought in somebody of high credibility rating and integrity has doused the tension and the doubts that Nigerians cast on their leaders and that is also accentuated by the enthusiasm with which Nigerians received their president in the United States. This is also evident in the ratings that the world leaders have also accorded the new president. So, we have no reason to doubt his capacity to effect the change. The only problem is the other arms and tiers of government because he cannot act alone and that is why we are worried that those who are leading the National Assembly are people of questionable pedigree. Some of them still have baggage of corruption charges they have not discharged them of and those people are not likely to be cooperative when any law is being considered to strengthen the anti-graft agencies or increasing the punishment to be meted out to corruption convicts. President Buhari needs to develop thick skin to mischievous criticism; he needs to become a revolutionary, he needs to acquire serious political will with which he is going to tackle his colleagues in the political class so that nepotism will not be allowed to govern his mind.
If he is a revolutionary radical, he would be able to scale through all the hurdles and the landmines that the National Assembly and other corrupt elements that could find their way into his government would plant on his way. There are a number of things he could do without consulting with the National Assembly especially when it comes to fighting corruption. He doesn’t need approval from the National Assembly to get somebody prosecuted. What he needs is to amend the laws and the laws are there and he could get the cooperation of the judiciary to apply the law to its fullest and this would help in curbing corruption to a large extent. Buhari should determine that this is a revolution that has happened and the revolution must be taken beyond rhetoric. It should be taken up to the level of historical accomplishment that will change Nigeria to the Singapore of our own time. We want Nigeria to turn out to be a Dubai of Africa.
Source: New Telegraph.