Catching the thieves By Emeka Omeihe


To match Interview NIGERIA-BUHARI/The tempo of the much orchestrated war against corruption was upped last week when President Buhari gave assurance that those fingered to have looted the funds of this nation would be arraigned at the courts in a matter of weeks. He told the National Peace Committee that his government had been compiling facts and figures pertaining to the nation’s stolen funds and names of those implicated in such odious deals will be known by Nigerians when they are charged to court.

In the words of the president “those who have stolen the national wealth will be in court in a matter of weeks and Nigerians will know those who have short-changed them”

For those impatient with the pace of the government especially in the fight against corruption, the president’s statement would strike as a soothing relief. This is so given the plethora of allegations of corruption we have been inundated with since the coming into being of the present administration.

As things stand, everybody is waiting very anxiously to catch a glimpse of those alleged to be thieving the wealth of this country. It is not clear whether the scores of former governors and sundry public functionaries who have been standing trial for sundry financial infractions would fit into this list. But indications are that a new set of the alleged thieves will be unmasked when the trials start. One is led to this conclusion by two reasons. The first is that Buhari had told the nation times without number that he had secured the commitment of some powerful countries to help him track Nigeria’s looted funds hidden away in vaults abroad. There is the possibility given the way the president spoke that some success might have been recorded in this area.

Secondly, the president seemed to have even said that much when he told his audience that his government has been compiling facts and figures on the funds stolen and those connected with them. There is everything to expect that new insights must have been thrown into the issue for the president to speak with the air of finality that marked his interaction with the peace committee.

Whatever the case, it is good a thing some progress is being made in identifying avenues for the looting of the nation’s resources by rampaging and gluttonous elite. It is equally no less heart-warming that in identifying these avenues, those connected with them are going to be unmasked. Nigerians will be waiting anxiously to see this set of alleged thieves brought to book. But more importantly, we are interested in knowing the time frame and which administrations were covered. This interest is elicited by the fact that corruption has been with this nation for quite some time now. It cuts across governments. And the ground rules for this ignoble act must have been laid by successive governments both civilian and military.

Given this fact, it is to be expected that in compiling facts and figures from both local and foreign sources, revelations are most likely to cut across regimes. Before now, so much had been recovered from the Abacha regime. But Abacha is not alone in it. There is nothing on earth to indicate that those before or after him are saints. The fight will get more meaningful if we are able to catch all those who had in the past through the same drain pipe looted our treasury. This nation is anxious to know the source of the stupendous wealth being paraded by former leaders both military and civilian.

Former president Goodluck Jonathan gave a hint of this in the dying days of his regime when he said he is open to probe but added a caveat that it should go further to unravel how oil wells and marginal oil fields were awarded in the past. He would want such inquisition to focus on whether due process was followed. It will be rewarding if Buhari is able to unravel how the culture of theft in public life was implanted. The course of the war on corruption will also be better served if we are able to show that the tracks for looting which today’s leaders are following were actually laid by yesteryear leaders. That should be a more serious and rewarding approach to the matter. That is why the argument that the probe be limited to the immediate past regime is self-defeating. That plank of the argument does not make sense because it seems to be motivated by fear that some other interests are bound to suffer should the probe proceed further. It is nothing but an attempt to cover up the shoddy tracks of some people. Why should it be so if we are seriously committed to the war? What such positions imply in real terms is that if Buhari’s facts and figures regarding those implicated in the looting of the nation’s wealth indict other former leaders, he should shut his eyes to them and only arraign those connected with the immediate past regime. How justifiable it is remains to be imagined. How it will serve the course of the war against corruption would remain largely curious.

There is a school of thought that subscribes to a more radical and holistic approach to the war. For this school, the war must get deeper down and must be more fundamental for it to make the desired impact. They believe that some of those who have benefited disproportionately from this theft must be made to forfeit them to the Nigerian state. And they are many.

If information at Buhari’s disposal exposes such people, he would have made a mockery of the war if he turns a blind eye on them. These are some of the contradictions that arise in the attempt to put a time frame for curing a debilitating malaise. The right thing is to bring to book all those implicated by the information and facts available to the government.  If the Buhari administration is honest with the war on corruption, there is no way it will not stumble on huge facts that cut across regimes. If it decides to ignore these only to arraign those associated with the last regime, it would have laid itself bare to the accusation by Jonathan before he left office that he and his ministers were going to be persecuted because of the hard decisions they took while in office. It is not surprising that speculations to that effect have arisen. That may account for the advice of the committee to Buhari to follow due process in the prosecution of the war and that we are no longer in a military regime.

If Jonathan and some of his ministers are implicated for financial impropriety, they should face the music. By the same logic, if Obasanjo, Yar’Adua or any former military leader and their ministers are involved in such deals, nobody should spare them. We must proceed beyond the immediate past as the case of Abacha has proven that military regimes were not insulated against corruption. The war is something the nation direly needs and confidence in it, is emboldened by the personality of Buhari more than any other thing else. He must proceed cautiously avoiding anything that will convey the remotest impression that he is on a voyage of witch-hunt.

From the interactions with the peace committee, it would seem some mistakes are already being made in the way those suspected to have stolen funds are being handled. That is my interpretation of the committees’ advice to President Buhari that we are no longer in a military regime and a suspect is innocent until proven guilty. It was more of an indictment for the committee to have told the president that we are no longer in a military regime. Buhari is a civilian president and he knows that. To have reminded him of that reality meant there must have been dispositions and actions that suggest to the contrary. Such dispositions may be impatient with the delays in the disposition of cases by our regular courts. That is another issue that can make or mar the overall success of the campaign.

All the same, the peace committee must be commended for the good work they have been doing. One is not certain how that committee of eminent and patriotic Nigerians was floated. But the success the nation is celebrating on the outcome of the last elections would not have been possible without the tiring efforts of the committee in preaching and ensuring peace before, during and after the elections. They should not relent.