The chances of Nigeria recovering stolen oil funds brightened recently as President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed that his administration had identified countries, banks and other financial institutions where payments for the stolen monies were deposited. The president, who spoke while receiving visiting United States (US) Congressmen in Abuja, acknowledged the support and cooperation his administration was getting from the international community in gathering intelligence required for the tracing and recovery of the stolen funds. This is a good step forward in the effort to recover stolen oil revenue and should be encouraged and sustained until the funds are recovered.
During his recent US visit, Buhari urged President Barack Obama to assist Nigeria recover about $150 billion oil money looted and stashed abroad by Nigerian government officials. Obama reportedly graciously agreed to do this. It has also been reported that $6 billion was traced to the account of an unnamed ex-minister.
While we welcome the moves by the Buhari administration to recover looted funds, we think the current piecemeal release of information on the matter is not in the nation’s best interest. The undue publicity given to the government’s early findings in the efforts to recover the funds is premature. Such sensitive information would have been better kept secret until investigations are completed, the looted funds are traced to specific accounts and countries, and the government is set to lay formal charges against specific suspects.
Already, Buhari’s statement that he would limit his probe to former president, Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure, appears not to be helpful to his anti-corruption crusade. That stance has been greeted with criticism, with some describing it as a witch-hunt.
President Buhari’s resolve to recover stolen oil funds is good, but the investigation of the theft must be thorough, discreet and in accordance with due process. His administration must get unassailable facts and be ready to bring the culprits to justice before making a public show of its findings.
Making thinly-veiled accusations against unnamed officials of the immediate past administration suggests that they are guilty of certain offences, without providing any facts to support the insinuations. Government should beware of accusations by innuendoes, as they do not help the people’s faith in the anti-corruption war. Suspected persons should be presumed innocent until facts are provided to the contrary. Our extant laws support this position, so we must strive to avoid media trial of suspects.
Our anti-graft agencies also tend to engage in this unfair imputation of guilt by the way they arrest suspects. Let the government and its agencies resist the urge to publicise their findings in corruption investigations until the entire process is completed and suspects are charged to court. Conviction of suspects can only be achieved through clinical investigations and diligent prosecution, not media blitz.
Since the government claims to know those who stole oil funds and where the money is located, it should employ the due process of the law to go after them and recover the loot. The public only needs to be apprised of the details of such thefts when the suspects are charged to court, and when the funds are eventually recovered.
In doing this, there should be no sacred cows. All those implicated in corruption investigations must be prosecuted, and the stolen funds recovered.
Corruption investigations should be all-encompassing and not discriminatory. They should not be done in a way to suggest that any particular person is a target of a witch-hunt, or that anyone is being shielded from investigation.
Good enough, Buhari has given assurance that the ongoing probes will be fair and non-discriminatory. We commend his efforts to recover stolen oil funds and urge the countries which have pledged to assist Nigeria in this regard to fulfill their promise.