President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday stood his ground and insisted that nothing will change his administration’s resolve to prosecute those found guilty of stealing the nation’s resources, saying their prosecution will begin in a matter of weeks.
He maintained vehemently that there was no way he would be lenient with treasury looters when his administration was irrevocably committed to doing all within its powers to break the vicious cycle of corruption, unemployment and insecurity in the country.
Buhari was responding to the appeal made by members of the Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar-led National Peace Committee – that the federal government should be guided by the rule of law in prosecuting the war against corruption.
This is coming barely 24 hours after the president had announced the constitution of the presidential advisory committee on the war against corruption headed by Prof Itse Sagay (SAN).
The committee members, who met with the president at the presidential villa yesterday, had, while cautioning about the process in prosecuting the anti-graft war, pointed out that the country was no longer under a military regime.
LEADERSHIP gathered that the meeting may have been necessitated by appeals reportedly made to the committee by some past public officials to intervene and help them in getting a soft landing in the anti-graft war declared by the present administration against persons who may have tinkered with public funds.
But at the meeting, President Buhari told Abdulsalami and members of his committee that there will be no pity for the treasury thieves as the federal government, under his watch, would not only ask for the return of stolen funds that had been stashed in foreign banks, but would also ensure that the culprits are put on trial in Nigeria.
“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.
“Nigeria has to break this vicious cycle before we can make progress,” the senior special adviser on media and publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, quoted the president as saying.
According to Shehu, Buhari added that his administration was diligently getting facts and figures relating to the amount of monies stolen from the nation’s coffers before proceeding with the prosecution of identified culprits.
The president further informed the committee that in the bid to address the plethora of national problems it inherited, his administration was reorganising Nigeria’s revenue generating institutions.
To this end, he said, a single treasury account had been established for all federal revenues in order to ensure greater probity, transparency and accountability in the collection, disbursement and utilisation of the nation’s funds.
The president also lamented that the country’s national institutions, including the armed forces which was renowned for its excellent performance in foreign missions, had been compromised.
Buhari said: “We have really degenerated as a country. Our national institutions, including the military which did wonderfully on foreign missions in the past, have been compromised. But we are doing something about it. The military is now retraining and morale has been resuscitated.
“As petroleum minister under Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1970s, I could not travel abroad until I had taken a memo to the Federal Executive Council asking for estacode; now, everybody does what he wants.That is why, security-wise and economically, we’re in trouble.”
After the meeting with the president, the Bishop of Sokoto Catholic Diocese, Rev. Father Mathew Kukah, who spoke on behalf of the committee, told journalists that the peace committee raised concern about the process being followed in the anti-graft war, by observing that the country was no longer under a military regime.
Kukah, however noted that the war against corruption was not heating up the polity.
“In our conversation with President Jonathan and members of the parties, I don’t think any Nigerian is in favour of corruption or is against the president’s commitment to ensuring that we turn a new leaf,” he said.
“I think what we are concerned about is the process; it is no longer a military regime, and under our existing laws everybody is innocent until proven guilty.
“Again, our own commitment is not to intimidate or fight anybody. The former president’s (Jonathan) commitment and what he did still remains spectacular and I think that President Buhari himself appreciates that. So our effort really is to make sure that the right thing is done.”
On why it had it become necessary for the committee to intervene in the anti-graft war, Kukah denied that the meeting was an intervention, even as he hinted that the president reaffirmed the need for the committee to continue with its work.
He said, “This is not an intervention; it is not a hearing out process. When we had elections, it was like a wedding. Now the reality of government is now the marriage and people need to be encouraged. We need to reaffirm that this is our country and the only thing we can collectively be opposed to is injustice, iniquity and corruption; and in that regard we all had one single conversation.
“The president has also reaffirmed the need for this committee to continue, and the international community has very much welcomed the contributions of the committee. Essentially, we are not policing, but when the need arises, we help to build confidence in the process”.
Asked whether it is true that Jonathan sought the intervention of the committee, the cleric said that while anybody was free to approach the committee on any issue, the former president had not approached it.
He said, “Anybody is free to come to our committee but President Jonathan never, by telephone or another means, talked to the committee. We went to see him, but that was after we had already seen members of the political party, and members of the civil society.
“We planned to see the Speaker because we couldn’t see him yesterday. This is a very planned series of intervention, essentially just to hear out everybody, and I think the good news is that Nigerians are committed to a new nation; they are committed to ensuring that the gains and blessings God has given us come to fruition.”
LEADERSHIP recalls that the National Peace Committee was responsible for facilitating the signing of the truce between Buhari and former President Goodluck Jonathan prior to the March 28 presidential election before it was granted permission by the president to transform to a National Peace Council.
Other members who accompanied Abubakar on the visit are the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III; president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor; Cardinal John Onaiyekan; primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh; Justice Rose Ukeje (retd); Prof Ameze Guobadia; publisher of Vanguard Newspaper, Sam Amuka; Dame Priscilla Kuye; Senator Ben Obi; Dr. Yunusa Tanko and Dr Arthur-Martin Aginam.