There were fresh indications, at the weekend, that President Muhammadu Buhari and his predecessor, Goodluck jonathan may be set for another clash regarding the recovery of stolen funds from the nation’s coffers, Sunday Vanguard can reveal authoritatively.
The source added: “While some of those believed to have been involved have had their accounts frozen, some have lawfully been interrogated while confessions are being extracted. There are enough grounds to believe that the nature of discourse in the political sphere is creating an air of audacity such that the recovery of looted funds is not going at an encouraging pace in the face of overwhelming evidence”.
Sunday Vanguard has been able to establish, through some individuals saddled with the responsibility of ascertaining and verifying some expenditure activities, that there were some contracts merely awarded on paper and for which payments were quickly made without corresponding jobs to show for the contracts.
It was learnt that high levels of fraud were discovered in the Ministry of Petroleum, Works, Nigerian Maritime and Safety Authority, NIMASA and in the procurement of arms and ammunitions for the prosecution of the war against Boko Haram, just to mention a few.
Indeed, members of some of the committees that Buhari has set up to ascertain the level of loss to the nation pointed out that the scale of the stealing of public funds, especially in the last days of the Jonathan administration, was so monumental that those asking for a soft-landing for the former president and his aides would be flabbergasted when confronted with the scale of looting that took place.
And contrary to the earlier denial in some quarters that the American government was in possession of documents indicting most aides of the former President, it was understood that Buhari was, in fact, handed some of the documents relating to such during his visit to the United States of America last month.
It was learnt that the intervention of some individuals, including some African leaders, tended to suggest to Buhari that he needed to give his predecessor soft landing; and indeed, the President had agreed but on the condition that the aides and ministers who looted the treasury must return the funds to the coffers.
It was with a view to avoiding what another source described as a public embarrassment for the erstwhile leader, that Jonathan visited Buhari earlier in the month.
“The President advised Jonathan to prevail on his aides and ministers to return all they looted to enable him have access to funds with which to work. But the President became angry when Jonathan’s men became adamant”.
Continuing, a member of one of the verification committees told Sunday Vanguard: “Most of Jonathan’s men would have been arrested by now, but the President was being mindful of the nation’s democracy and, therefore, decided to pursue the matter in a civil manner. In fact, it was for this reason that the National Economic Council, NEC, decided to set up a special committee to ascertain the areas concerned and deal with it”.
One of Nigeria’s billionaires on the Forbes’ list of wealthy individuals once lamented aloud that “the amount of money that has been stolen from government coffers is too much”. He went on: “The President would need to find very creative means of ensuring that those who stole money return such funds. Yes, some of them are already making useful statements and confessing but the truth is that these people are also connected. In court, they can stall whatever cases are brought against them.
“Therefore, when you heard President Buhari admonishing those in the legal profession not to shield people from the law, it was a veiled reference to the possibility of some people escaping justice using the courts. These people have stolen a lot and having such money in the hands of a few individuals in a country is dangerous. “Whatever the President needs to do, either in consultation or confrontation with his predecessor, the funds must be recovered”.
Initially, Sunday Vanguard learnt, it was not the intention of Buhari to probe the immediate past administration but it was gathered that the President became perplexed upon discovering the level of looting perpetrated by some aides and ministers of the former President, which a source at the Presidency described as monumental.
And in order not to be accused of witch-hunting some perceived political opponents, the Special Committee on looted funds chaired by the governor of Edo State, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, recommended to the NEC to appoint external auditors to thoroughly look at the books and tell Nigerians their findings.
A source at the Presidency informed Sunday Vanguard that any one indicted by the audit report will likely face prosecution and that will be the first signal to the world that the President is determined to fight corruption. According to the source, “and from what we are hearing, many heads will roll, powerful Nigerians may go to jail. After that, every Nigerian will know that any attempt to steal even a pin, in any ministry, will be at your own peril”.
In the meantime, a Presidency source reacted angrily, yesterday, to the suggestion that recent visits by some former presidents to Buhari could dissuade him from pursuing the looters of the nation’s treasury.
The source pointed out that no individual or group could distract the President from his resolve to recover Nigeria’s wealth from plunderers.
“Look, let me make it clear this President is not one that can easily be influenced by anyone to change his mind from doing what he knows will benefit the country,” the source, an official in The Presidency, said.
“Those who insinuate that the visit by two former presidents to Buhari was to persuade him to stop the recovery of looted funds do not seem to understand him.
“No individual or group can stop PMB from recovering the stolen money from whoever is involved, no matter how highly placed.”