By Babajide Komolafe & Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
ABUJA — Massive looting of public funds during the administrations of former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo, late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan came to the fore again, yesterday, as top government officials and businessmen were said to have illicitly enriched themselves with public funds to the tune of over N1.35 trillion.
Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAC, Professor Itse Sagay, disclosed this at a conference on Promoting International Co-operation in Combating Illicit Financial Flows and Enhancing Asset Recovery to Foster Sustainable Development, in Abuja, citing a study which limited the looting to only six years (2006- 2013).
The revelation came on a day the Debt Management Office, DMO, put the nation’s total debt at N19.2 trillion as at the first quarter of this year.
Sagay said the funds looted during the period under review to 2015 was much more when fuel subsidy scams, billion-dollar arms purchase scams, hundreds of millions of dollars taken from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, by a former minister to bribe election officials in 2015, were taken into consideration.
Banks aiding illicit financial flows to be sanctioned—Osinbajo
In his address, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, said the Federal Government will sanction local and foreign banks aiding illicit financial flows from the country.
According to him, it would not have been possible to divert the volume of funds in question from public organisations without the involvement of banks.
He said: “There is no way the transfer of these assets can happen without a handshake between the countries to which they are transferred and the international banking institutions in the countries in which they are transferred. There is no way it will happen without some form of connivance.
“We have to look at, somehow, de-legitimising those kind of financial institutions and criminalizing them so that banks and financial institutions that actually engage in this can be called out and made to face the consequences of engaging in criminal practices. If that isn’t done, we are not likely to go very far.
“For there to be collaboration, there must first be connivance. In the agreement and conventions we will be signing, we must find a way to ensure that financial institutions are not given a free rein and held accountable.”
Says looters accusing FG of media trial
According to the acting president, those accusing the current administration of media trial in its fight against corruption are actually the treasury looters who are fighting back but the Federal Government will not relent.
He said: “If you look at the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria, there is a major fight back in the media. There is a media war between people fighting corruption and those behind the stolen funds. It is called media trial, I don’t know what that means.
“In Nigeria, for instance, where corruption fights back so eloquently, government itself can be overwhelmed, if it is not careful.
“If you discover, for instance, large sums of money in an air-conditioned room, there is nowhere it will not make news anywhere in the world
“So this whole idea of trying to legitimize corruption is definitely being fuelled and sponsored by those who have these resources, who have stolen funds.”
Implementation of recommendations of Thabo Mbeki panel
The chairman, International Anti-Corruption Conference Council, former Vice-Chair, Transparency International, TI, and member, African Union High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Transfers, Akere Muna, called for the implementation of the recommendations of the Thabo Mbeki Panel which called for the creation of escrow accounts within the Development Banks for transfer of illicit funds until all legal issues around them were cleared.
He said: “Frozen money should not stay with the complicit bank, but in an escrow account with a third party, pending the courts’ or competent authorities’ determination as to the rightful owners of the funds.”
FG’s debt stock hits N19.16trn
Meanwhile, in apparent reflection of the increasing dependence of the three tiers of government on borrowing to finance their fiscal activities, Nigeria’s total debt rose by 6.4 per cent to 19.16 trillion in the first quarter of the year from N18 trillion in 2016.
This is even as the Federal Government paid N474 billion as interest on its domestic debt in the first quarter of the year.
The Debt Management Office, DMO, disclosed this yesterday in its first quarter report of the nation’s debt stock.
The report showed that the total foreign debt of the Federal Government and the 36 states rose to $13.8 billion in the first quarter from $11.41 billion in 2016, indicating increase of $2.39 billion or 21 per cent.
The domestic debt of the Federal Government rose slightly to N11.97 trillion in March from N11.06 trillion in December 2016, indicating increase of N910 billion.
According to the DMO, the domestic debt of the Federal Government comprise N8.17 trillion worth of FGN Bonds, representing 68.31 per cent of the total debt; N3.6 trillion worth of Treasury Bills, representing 30 per cent of the total debt; N190.99 billion worth of Nigeria Treasury Bonds, representing 1.6 per cent of the total debt, and N2.1 billion worth of FGN Savings Bonds, representing 0.02 per cent.
The DMO report also revealed that the federal government paid N474 billion as interest on its N11.97 trillion domestic debt from January to March. This implies average monthly interest payment of N158 billion.
A breakdown of the interest payment during the three months revealed that the federal government paid N102 billion interest on its Treasury bill debt, while it paid N346.5 billion interest on its FGN Bond debts. On the Treasury Bond debts, the federal government paid interest of N2.17 billion and also repaid the principal of N25 billion during the period.