19 January 2016, Abuja —The Federal Government has said that 55 well-placed Nigerians stole a whopping N1.34 trillion between 2006 and 2013, an amount that would have been enough to provide significant developmental projects across the country.
Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, gave the figure while addressing a world press conference in Abuja to mark the beginning of the war against corruption in Nigeria.
Out of the stolen funds, the minister said 15 former governors stole N146.84 billion; four former ministers took N7 billion; 12 former public servants both at federal and state levels stole over N14 billion; eight other Nigerians in the banking sector made away with N524 billion , while 11 businessmen cornered N653 billion.
The minister said that using World Bank rates and costs, one-third of the stolen funds could have provided 635.18 kilometres of roads; 36 ultra-modern hospitals per state; 183 schools; educated 3,974 children from primary to tertiary level at 25.24 million per child and built 20,062 units of 2-bedroom houses.
Mohammed said: “This is the money that a few people, just 55 in number, allegedly stole within a period of just eight years. And instead of a national outrage, all we hear are these nonsensical statements that the government is fighting only the opposition, or that the government is engaging in vendetta.”
While maintaining that the Buhari administration would never be biased in the fight against corruption, the minister, however, warned that no person found to have stolen public funds would go unpunished irrespective of their political, religious or tribal leanings.
The minister dismissed the accusation that the federal government’s anti-corruption crusade was lopsided, describing the allegation as nauseating and borne either out of deliberate mischief or sheer ignorance.
He said: “There is the erroneous impression out there that the war against corruption is a vendetta against the opposition, and that indeed it is one-sided. This is not true and indeed very nauseating. We need the media to lead the campaign against corruption.
“All we have heard from them are ludicrous reasons why they partook in sharing of the money. One said he collected N4.5 billion for spiritual purposes, another said he received N2.1 billion for publicity, while yet another said he got N13 billion to pay someone else for the Maritime University land.
“Based on these revelations, should we now fold our hands and allow these people to go away with public funds? Is anyone thinking about the innocent soldiers who lost their lives just because they did not get the necessary weapons to fight the terrorists?
“What about the families left behind by these soldiers who were sent to their early graves because of the misappropriation of these funds? What about those who lost their means of livelihood after the terrorists overran their towns and villages? What of the millions of Nigerians, especially women and children, who are now living in IDP camps?
“Is it not clear that the cruel fate that has befallen these unfortunate people is a direct result of the misuse of the funds meant to fight the terrorists? Are these not the true costs of corruption? he asked.
The minister pleaded with all Nigerians to join hands with the government to tackle corruption so as to plug the loopholes of financial leakages for national development.
“As President Muhammadu Buhari likes to say, if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. There is no better way to say it,” the minister said.
On the missing 2016 budget, the Minister blamed the development on what he called ‘communication gaps” between the two arms of government, saying that the same government that campaigned on the change mantra and transparency could not have engaged in shady budget. He assured that the matter would soon be resolved.
Disobedience to rule of law
The minister said that the President had the highest respect for the rule of law and would never do anything to deviate from it. He, however, said that those yet to be admitted after courts had granted them bail were being held for new offences under investigation.
According to Mohammed, “this government has highest respects for rule of law”, insisting that the action of the EFCC to re-arrest some accused persons granted bail by the court were based on fresh charges.
On why President Buhari has not yet congratulated Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, who was recently re-elected for a second term as was being done by his predecessor, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, Mohammed said that the President has no business congratulating the governor since the loser still had opportunity to upturn the victory at the court.
“I think, this President is not in the business of interfering on election matters. When APC’s Yahaya Bello won in Kogi, he never sent any congratulatory message. The President has no business congratulating Dickson; after all he didn’t congratulate the Kogi governor-elect. If he congratulates him, what if they go to court and the court upturns the victory? he asked.
Plan to invite Jonathan on arms scam
The Minister said it was not the responsibility of the President to invite former President Jonathan to clarify the alleged arms deal but the EFCC, which has the statutory mandate to do so. He said Buhari would not dictate or micro-manage the anti-corruption agencies in the discharge of their duties.