EFCC, CBN, ministry silent on figures
Barely four days after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said its anti-graft campaign could recover N1.5 trillion of ‘looted funds’ for the country, there is pressure on the presidency to publish an update of its recovery efforts. The Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a civil society organ, in an exclusive interview with The Guardian at the weekend, demanded an immediate publication of the amount so far returned by those who looted Nigeria’s treasury in the immediate past administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The call, according to the Lead Director of the centre, Mr. Eze Onykpere, was necessary to dispel suspicion of ‘‘possible re-looting of the recovered loot by government officials who have continued to keep sealed lips on the matter.’’
Since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office on May 29, 2015, there have been reports about recovery of funds from looters, some of who were incarcerated and later released by the anti-graft agency as they surrendered parts of their proceeds of corruption.
The president had, at many local and international events also declared that some culpable Nigerians had, of their own volition, been returning public funds as part of measures to stave off arrest and prosecution.
Apart from savings engendered by the blocking of financial leakages through the Treasury Single Account (TSA), the Federal Government also hinted that recovery of looted funds would form part of the revenue sources to finance the N3 trillion deficit in the N6.7 trillion 2016 budget.
Checks at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the banker of the Federal Government, yesterday could not yield results; the same with that of the Federal Ministry of Finance and at the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF).
Most disturbing equally was the outcome of enquiries at the EFCC, an agency directly linked with the recovery of looted funds. A top official at the anti-graft agency confided in The Guardian that the amount so collected remained a top secret and was not within the reach of every official.
An EFCC official, speaking under the condition of anonymity because the matter was not within his brief, said: “That’s an impossible task that you are giving me. Even if there is a figure of recovered loot, it is not within my reach and let me not deceive you, very few people have knowledge of the amount recovered so far.”
But Onykpere, said: “ The recovery is something everyone wants to know because Nigerians are entitled to it. Without further delay, the Buhari Administration should immediately- and thereafter on a monthly basis – publish how much the officials have returned, including the identities of those returning what. The excuse that revealing the identities of official returning looted funds would jeopardise investigation and recovery does not hold water.
“This has also become necessary because the government is celebrating these recovery and prosecution things in the media, including the demand for the return of legitimate fees earned by very senior counsel who represented some accused officials in the Halliburton scam.
“I wonder how legal fees legitimately earned have also become an issue of graft. We are waiting to see how they will fly with these persecutions. It is believed that he who is seeking equity must come with clean hands. That is why the government needs to come clean on how much she has collected and from whom,” insisted Onykpere who is a lawyer and public finance analyst.
This is coming barely one month after the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, declared that about $2 trillion has so far been recovered by the EFCC from looted funds in 12 years. He didn’t break down the figure to isolate the sum recovered under the current administration where several former top government functionaries have been arrested, including business tycoons on allegation of colluding with government officials to steal public funds.
Malami who spoke at the ‘First Annual Conference on Financial Fraud, Cyber-Crime & Other Cross-border Crimes’ further stated that the Buhari administration had promised ‘to recover the fortunes that criminals had made illegally by returning every penny that belongs to the Nigerian public.
However, some experts and eminent Nigerians have expressed disbelief about the claim of such a recovery wondering why no one is in jail for looting the national patrimony if the claim is true.
They argue that since Nigeria started generating revenue from crude oil in 1958, the country has earned just about N98.293 trillion. And since oil, over the years, has accounted for about 80 per cent of the country’s federal revenue and most of the states depend on federal allocation for survival, the total revenues generated from oil and non-oil sources since independence in 1960 is estimated to be about N140 trillion.
They also maintained that between 1958 and 2007 (CBN Annual Report and Statement of Account, 2008), Nigeria earned N29.8 trillion from petroleum resources. And between 2008 and 2011, the country generated N20.895 trillion.
For the period 2012 to July 2015, the figure stood at N47.542 trillion, wondering therefore where such huge amount of funds could have been stolen.
When President Buhari finally disengaged then National Security Adviser (NSA) Sambo Dasuki, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Alex Badeh, Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Kenneth Minimah, Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) Uman Jubril and Chief of Air Staff (CAS) Adesola Amosu on July 13, barely two months into office, though expected, it was apparent that he had gathered reasonable information from them and got them to clear some of the ‘dirt’ they would have left behind, if they were disengaged earlier.
This assertion became more manifest when the president directed the new NSA in August to convene an investigative committee on the procurement of hardware and munitions in the Armed Forces from 2007 to 2016, with a mandate to identify irregularities and further make recommendations from streamlining the procurement processes in the entire Armed Forces. With retired Air Vice Marshal J.O Ode as chairman and Brigadier General Y. Shalagwa as Secretary, among other Generals in the Armed Force and the current Chairman of the EFCC.
“The establishment of the investigative committee is in keeping with President Buhari’s determination to stamp out corruption and irregularities in Nigeria’s public service. It comes against the background of the myriad of challenges that the Nigerian Armed Forces have faced in the course of ongoing counter-insurgency operations in the Northeast, including the apparent deficit in military platforms with its attendant negative effects of troops’ morale.
“The committee will specifically investigate allegations of non-adherence to correct equipment procurement procedures and the exclusion of relevant logistics branches from arms procurement under past administrations, which, very often resulted in the acquisition of sub-standard and unserviceable equipment.” the presidential spokesman Femi Adesina had explained.
Findings of the committee have since formed the nucleus of the anti-corruption drive of the present government, though the president was quoted to have said it was only a tip of the iceberg.
Just few days after he was removed from office as the NSA, Sambo Dasuki, a retired military Colonel was arrested and had his houses in Asokoro and Sokoto searched, by operatives of the State Secret Service (SSS).
Consequent to the findings of the committee that identified breaches which include non-specification of procurement costs, absence of contract agreements, award of contracts beyond authorised thresholds, transfer of public funds for unidentified purposes and general non-adherence to provisions of the Public Procurement Act, the president in January 2016 instructed the EFCC to proceed with the investigation of Dasuki and 17 named officers who had headed the Services.
But according to Dr. Anthony Igyuve of the Nassarawa State University, the process would have been clearer if certain indices were put in place. “The EFCC has not given us any specific explanation regarding who did what; they pile up a bagful of allegations against one person, without properly investigating the allegations. In some cases the prosecution fails to carry out due diligence in investigating the crime, hence the process is stalled.