By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor
ABUJA — The Federal Government declared, yesterday, that it was more interested in recovering to the last kobo, all public funds stolen and stashed away by top politicians and their cronies under the guise of arms purchase.
The government said such plea bargain allows looters to go away with stolen public assets.
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, (SAN) disclosed this in an exclusive interview with Vanguard last night.
According to Malami, the era of allowing smart persons to loot public funds and pay back a pittance under the guise of plea bargain is over.
The minister made it clear that all those who are implicated by the arms probe and other scams that have cost the nation hundreds of billions of Naira, would be made to cough out the money and still pay the price for breaching public trust.
The reaction of the government came on the heels of the reported willingness of some top politicians to refund over N650 million which they claimed to have collected from the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, for campaign purposes.
According to a media report on yesterday, the top politicians, who had acknowledged collecting the money for the mobilization of their supporters in the six geo-political zones of the country, were making moves to quietly return the money to the government.
However, the Attorney General made it clear that while the option of plea bargain was being weighed, the government would first of all take necessary steps to recover the money.
Malami said: ”Let me just make it clear to all that under the present administration, it is no longer business-as-usual. As at today, a lot of measures are being put in place to recover the loot which a few privileged Nigerians stole and stashed away.
“It is an article of obligation under the law of the Federal Government of Nigeria to convict the looters and recover the amount traced to each of them to show the disdain that this government has for corruption and to serve as a warning signal that nobody is authorised to steal the commonwealth of Nigerians under any guise.”
Malami said that the laws of Nigeria were adequate to deal with those who carted away the nation’s resources and are now living larger than their income.
He said that the Fifth Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution has pushed the burden of proof from the government to those who looted the funds to prove their source of wealth and why they should not be jailed.
According to him, the law allows the government to convict the accused persons and also take steps to recover their assets.
Article 11 of the 5th Schedule of the Constitution says: “Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, every public officer shall within three months after coming into force of this Code of Conduct or immediately after taking office, and thereafter, (a) at the end of every four years and (b) at the end of his terms of office, submit to the Code of Conduct Bureau, a written declaration of all his properties, assets and liabilities and those of his unmarried children under the age of 18 years.
“Any statement in such declaration that is found to be false by any authority or person authorised in that behalf to verify it shall be deemed to be in breach of this Code.
“Any property or assets acquired by a public officer after any declaration required under this constitution and which is not fairly attributable to income, gift, or loan approved by this code, shall be deemed to have been acquired in breach of this code unless the contrary is proved”.
Meanwhile, there were indications that no fewer than 10 top PDP leaders who have been named as beneficiaries of the arms funds might be summoned within the week to explain their roles in the scam.
A top operative in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, told Vanguard that the individuals needed to be invited to clear the air on the probe before further steps were taken against them.
“As their names keep popping up in the course of our investigation, we need to give them the opportunity to speak up before we take the next step,” the source said last night.