Last week, President Buhari’s fight against corruption received a major boost when Nigeria and UAE signed some agreements that will facilitate the recovery of stolen funds. JONATHAN NDA -ISAIAH recounts the process and the accolades the president’s effort is receiving globally.
So many Nigerians believe that President Muhammadu Buhari sleeps and breath anti-corruption. The thinking is that since he took over the mantle of the country’s leadership on May 29 last year, corruption has been the cardinal point and the driving force of his administration. The fight against corruption took on a new vigor in the present All Progressive Congress’ (APC) government.
Even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which hitherto had been described by many as a toothless bulldog, especially in the last administration, suddenly woke up from its slumber. The fear of the anti-graft agency has now become the beginning of wisdom. The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina aptly captured the message the development was sending to the Nigerian public: “There is a new sheriff in town”.
Not a few Nigerians are much at home with Buhari’s anti-corruption war. For them, the president came as a messiah to save the country from some prominent Nigerians who in recent past turned the country ‘s treasury to their personal ATM. Tales of how some people plundered the treasury have dominated the media in recent weeks. Prominent among them is the Dasukigate Scandal which seems to have become a soap opera of some sort.
Last week, The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed dropped a bombshell when he revealed that between 2006 and 2013, 55 people allegedly stole a total of N1.34 trillion in the country, an amount that is more than a quarter of the last year’s national budget.
“Out of the stolen funds, 15 former governors allegedly stole N146.84 billion; four former ministers allegedly stole N7 billion; 12 former public servants, both at federaland state levels, allegedly stole over N14 billion; eight people in the banking industry allegedly stole N524 billion; while 11 businessmen allegedly stole N653 billion totalling N1,354,132,400,000.00. This is the money that a few people, just 55 in number, allegedly stole within a period of just eight years”, the minister said.
Nigerians were dismayed by this stunning revelation. The mind boggling sum of money said to have been looted by some persons may also be giving the President sleepless nights. Observers are of the opinion that President Buhari, just like them, might be wishing he was still a military head of state. Some of the treasury looters would have been thrown into jail without recourse to due process. This set of Nigerians canvassing for looters to be thrown straight to jail believe that this rule of law thing may be hindering the fight against corruption.
President Buhari has vowed to bring the treasury looters to book at all cost. This explains the reason for some of the president’s foreign trips. He has been getting assurances of global support from countries like the United States Germany and France. Some critics have questioned his frequent diplomatic tours in the past. But reality is beginning to dawn on them, as the trips are in some way yielding positive fruits in terms of agreements on recovery of stolen funds.
Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign got a boost recently when United State Secretary of State, John Kerry took it to the table at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Kerry in his speech at the forum, made reference to Buhari’s fight against corruption in Nigeria and how individuals pocketed money meant for arms deal. He told the forum that money that was meant for arms to fight the Boko Haram terrorists group was pocketed by generals in the most populous black nation in the world.
Kerry said, “It has been reported that over 50 people including government officials stole over $9billion in Nigeria. Corruption costs global economy more than a trillion dollars a year and complicates every security, diplomatic, social priority. In far too many countries, plain rank corruption has generated such powerful headwinds that local economies just tread water.
“Today, corruption has grown at an alarming pace and threatens global growth, global stability, indeed the global future. There is absolutely nothing more demoralizing, disempowering to any citizen than the belief the system is rigged against them. Corruption is a radicalizer because it destroys faith in legitimate authority”.
In a country suffering from one of its worst economic crisis in years, the 2016 budget is also under threat due to the free fall of crude oil price in the international market. President Buhari had planned to fund part of the budget from funds returned and the sooner the looters begin to return the money the better for the 2016 budget. With that in mind, the president last week attended the energy summit in the United Arab Emirates. The Summit which is now in its ninth year of existence has developed into one of the world’s most influential events dedicated to advancing future energy, energy efficiency and clean technologies.
In a move signalling Nigeria’s reengagement with the Middle-East region, President Buhari led a team of his ministers to bilateral talks with the government of the UAE. From that visit, Nigeria also expects to get more support from the United Arab Emirate (UAE) for its war against terrorism and the recovery of Nigeria’s stolen funds. The President, was accompanied by the ministers of Power, Works and Housing, Petroleum, Environment, Justice, Trade and Investment, Finance and Foreign Affairs, as well as the National Security Adviser.
The high point of the visit was the last day of the Summit when Nigeria and the UAE signed six agreements to enhance bilateral relations between them. The signing of the agreements on trade, finance and judicial matters was witnessed by President Muhammadu Buhari and the Crown Prince of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun and the UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs, Obaid Attayar signed the Avoidance of Double Taxation Agreement, while the Minister of Trade and Investment, Mr Okechukwu Enelamah signed the Agreement on Trade Promotion and Protection with the UAE Minister of State for Financial Affairs.
Then came the big one, which many Nigerians believe would assist greatly to tackle corruption. The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami and his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, Sultan Bin Saeed Albadi signed the Judicial Agreements on Extradition, Transfer of Sentenced Persons, Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters, and the Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal and Commercial Matters, which includes the recovery and repatriation of stolen wealth.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu described the agreement on criminal matters to facilitate the widest measure of Mutual Legal Assistance as the one that immediately caught public attention. He said this will “improve the effectiveness of both countries in the investigation and prosecution of crime, and the confiscation of criminal proceeds”.
In an article he wrote soon after the president returned from the trip, Shehu explained: “Under this agreement, proceeds of crime were defined to include “any assets derived or realized, directly and indirectly, by any person as a result of criminal conduct or the value of any asset, “asset” itself defined as “money and all kinds of moveable or immovable or tangible or intangible property, and include any interest on such property.”
“With this milestone agreement, it is expected that stolen assets such as the ones by a high-profile banker who was jailed by the EFCC a few years ago, estimated in billions of Naira in real estate and shares held in Dubai may be returned to Nigeria. Now, there is a legal basis to ask for the return of such assets”.
He further noted that the second MLA on criminal matters, which is equally expected to bolster President Buhari’s war against corruption is the agreement on extradition between the two states. The presidential spokesman said, “By this, each of the states has agreed to ‘extradite to the other,” upon request and subject to the provisions of the agreement “any person who is found in the territory of the Requested Party(say UAE) and is wanted in the Requesting Party (say Nigeria) for any prosecution or trial or execution of a sentence in respect of an extraditable offense committed within the jurisdiction of the Requesting Party.
“The agreement defines extraditable offenses as those that are punishable under the laws of both countries by a term of imprisonment of not less than two years “or by a more severe penalty. The third MLA is to facilitate the rehabilitation and reintegration of sentenced persons into society through giving them the opportunity to serve their sentence in their own countries”.
At a reception after the signing of the agreements, President Buhari reiterated his commitment to fighting corruption and restoring Nigeria’s dignity in the comity of nations. The President also urged all Islamic countries to support the fight against terrorism in Nigeria and denounce the atrocities of Boko Haram as un-Islamic and against the teachings of the Holy Prophet. In his remarks, Crown Prince Zayed Al Nahyan said that the relationship between Nigeria and the UAE will be strengthened by President Buhari’s visit and the signing of the agreement.
At a meeting with the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki Moon on the sidelines of the World Future Energy Summit, President Buhari received commendation for his anti-corruption stance. This was after he to Ki Moon that in collaboration with the Multinational Joint Task Force, the Nigerian Armed Forces have driven the terrorist group from Nigerian territory into “fall-back positions. “They are currently not holding any territory today as we speak, “ the President said.
President Buhari also told the United Nations Secretary-General that Nigeria will persistently pursue global action to reverse the drying up of Lake Chad and save the lives of those who depend on it for survival.
“With all due respect to our neighbours, Nigeria has been worst hit by the drying up of the Lake Chad and we are hoping that the global community will support the process of halting the drying up of the lake, “ President Buhari said.
Mr. Ban Ki Moon commended the President for his courage in fighting terrorism and corruption. The UN Secretary-General said that Nigeria has made amazing progress against terrorism since President Buhari assumed office, while the President’s war against corruption has boosted global confidence in the Nigerian economy. He urged President Buhari to integrate the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals into Nigeria’s economic and environmental vision.
With the signing of the agreements, President Buhari has taken a significant step in the recovery of stolen funds. The UAE will no longer be a safe haven for Nigerian looters who stash stolen monies in banks in Dubai or buy choice properties in the Gulf country.