By Soni Daniel, Northern Region Editor, Clifford Ndujihe, Dapo Akinrefon, Charles Kumolu, Vincent Ujumadu & Gbenga Oke
•Adds: ‘We didn’t know corruption during our time’
•It’s a lie, your govt also guilty – Sagay, Musa, Fasehun, Okurounmu
•We need solution, not blame games — Adebanjo
•$320m Abacha loot to go to poor Nigerians — Buhari
ABUJA—IF succeeding regimes had checked corruption as his government did, Nigeria would not be swimming in graft with the attendant socio-economic and developmental problems, former Military Head State, General Yakubu Gowon, retd, has said.
This came as President Muhammadu Buhari said the $320 million Abacha loot from Switzerland would go to poor Nigerians.
Gowon, who said the condition he found himself after his ouster from office in 1975 might have changed the attitude of Nigerian leaders to corruption by deciding to “prepare for the future”, added that he and his officers did not indulge in corruption.
There were, however, mixed reactions from some elder statesmen to Gowon’s claims. While former Anambra State governor, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, agreed with the former Head of State, Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay; founder of Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Dr. Frederick Fasehun; former governor of Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and Senator Femi Okurounmu, among others, disagreed.
Speaking at the Eight Annual General Meeting and Conference for Heads of Anti-corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa, in Abuja, Gowon joked that he “did not prepare for the future,” because “it was some of my staff who attended the OAU meeting with me (when he was overthrown) that contributed their estacode to let me have something to live on.”
Gowon’s claims elicited a deluge of comments from Nigerian elder statesmen, yesterday, most of who disagreed with him, countering that corruption started under his stewardship.
We didn’t know anything called corruption — Gowon
General Gowon was removed from office on July 29, 1975, while attending a meeting of defunct Organisation of African Unity, OAU, now African Union, AU.
Recalling the events of that Monday morning of July 29, 1975, Gowon said he had nothing apart from his salaries as of the time he left office.
His said: “Everything we had in the country belonged to the nation, belonged to the people and we must not touch anything. We made sure nothing like that (graft) happened, especially in the civil service.” He decried the actions of some past leaders which have given all former Nigerian leaders “a very bad name and image.”
While condemning the generalisation of corruption accusations on past leaders, he said he feels sad anytime media reports lump up all Nigerian leaders on the issue of corruption.
Gowon said: “It is sad to read reports that all former Heads of State are thieves.
“During our time, we did not know anything like corruption. Some of my ministers were accused of corruption but we did not allow it go into the public service. After I left office, apart from my salary, it was the staff that worked with me that contributed their estacode so that I have something to live on. During our time, we did not know that thing (corruption). We were afraid of being exposed.”
While advising heads of anti-corruption agencies to find a way of making those in leadership not to be tempted, Gowon hoped that recovered assets will be used for the good of Nigerians.
Elder statesmen react
Speaking, yesterday, former governor of Anambra State, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, agreed with Gowon, saying: “What Gowon said was true. During his regime as Head of State, there was no corruption. There could be a few things here and there but not corruption. Like he said, it was after he was overthrown that corruption started with subsequent governments.”
Gowon exaggerated – Sagay
However, Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, disagreed and described Gowon’s claims as exaggerated.
Sagay said: “That is a bit exaggerated, I must say. If I recall, when the Murtala/Obasanjo regime took over government, it was partially based on corruption. Out of the 12 military governors, 10 were found guilty. May be corruption was less than it has become, but obviously, there was corruption because 10 of the governors had their properties seized. So, I think he exaggerated a little bit.”
Corruption started under Gowon – Balarabe Musa
Second Republic Governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa also disagreed with Gowon, arguing that corruption started under the former military ruler.
His words: “When Gowon was overthrown in 1975, late General Murtala Mohammed, who overthrew him accused the Gowon government of being corrupt. Murtala Mohammed investigated all the governments under Gowon and all were found guilty of corruption apart from the Lagos State Government of General Mobolaji Johnson. So, corruption started under him and has worsened now.”
His hands are not clean – Fasehun
Founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, said Gowon cannot be exonerated from the pervasive graft in the country. “Is anybody denying that there is corruption in Nigeria? Is there anybody that has served that has not been corrupt?” he asked in a reaction to Gowon’s comment.
No time for blame games, we need solutions – Adebanjo
To Afenifere chieftain and elder statesman, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, what the country needs now is solution, not blame games over who started graft in the country.
His words: “Who started corruption is immaterial. I don’t believe in blame games. What we need is solution. I am not looking at who started it. How do we stop it is the question. What instrument can we use to stop it? Some of those who are trying to stop corruption now like (Chief Olusegun) Obasanjo and co are all instruments of corruption. Let’s have clean people come to the stage. We cannot stop corruption by using those who started it.”
Corruption started in the First Republic before Gowon – Okurounmu
To Senator Femi Okurounmu, “Corruption has always been with us from the First Republic, only that the scale was very minimal compared to what we have today. Before the first coup, there was corruption in the system but politicians were doing it with timidity because they knew there would be consequences.
“During the Gowon administration, some personalities like Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Anthony Enahoro were with him. So, it will not be totally right to say there was no corruption but it was very minimal. However, corruption became institutionalised during the administration of General Ibrahim Babangida, it became a norm and open.”
Good luck to him — Babatope
Former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope said: “If General Gowon said corruption started after him and if he said no one in his cabinet was corrupt, good luck to him. All I know is that the anti-corruption war of President Muhammadu Buhari is selective because many people in his cabinet are corrupt. What is on the ground now is not the best way to fight corruption.”
Gowon not correct on that—CACOL
Executive Chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said: “He might not be quite correct because the Murtala regime fought corruption while Buhari was in government to fight corruption when he was a military leader. Apart from these regimes, others had corruption allegations trailing them. Obasanjo introduced the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC, and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, but he used his position to raise money for his presidential library which is still a controversial matter. Corruption should be fought with the seriousness it deserves instead of making statements that will not make any difference.”
Gowon part of corruption in Nigeria –Ikedife
Also, former President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr. Dozie Ikedife, last night, faulted Gowon’s statement that leaders who came after him should be blamed for corruption in the country, saying that indeed, Gowon was part of the corruption.
He told Vanguard that corruption even existed during the colonial era and the first republic, adding that the magnitude, however, increased during subsequent administrations.
He said: “It is not true that corruption in Nigeria started after him. When he said that those who abandoned their property and ran for safety when the war broke out only to be denied taking back such property, was that not corruption?
“When he decreed that all those who had money in Nigeria should be given only twenty pounds (£20 ) after the civil war, was that not corruption? When a leader declared that there was no victor, no vanquished only for a section of the country to be consistently marginalized, was that not corruption?
“Corruption was in existence even before Nigeria’s Independence, but it took a bigger dimension during subsequent administrations. It is unfortunate that people were used to offering kola as part of government service, which in itself, was corruption as it was taking place during Gowon’s era.
“Selling our raw materials to the white men only to pay much higher prize from them as finished goods is also corruption.
“So, Gowon should not absolve himself from corruption in Nigeria as he was one of those that encouraged it.”
Recovered Abacha loot for poor Nigerians — Buhari
Meanwhile, while declaring open the conference, President Buhari, who was represented by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, announced that Abacha loot recently recovered from Switzerland will be deployed for the Federal Government-operated Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme to support the poor.
The president disclosed that the funds were made possible following the meeting of the Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR), which at the December, 2017 meeting in Washington, facilitated efforts towards asset recovery and return.
Buhari said: “The GFAR saw the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Nigeria and the Government of Switzerland for the return of an additional $320 million of the Sani Abacha loot.
“Included in that agreement is the commitment that the funds would be invested in one of Nigeria’s flagship social investment programmes, the Conditional Cash Transfer Scheme, targeted at the poorest and most vulnerable households in our country.”
But Buhari lamented that corruption had continued to be one of the greatest challenges on the continent and called for international collaboration to stem the “scourge.”
He quoted a 2014 report by the One Campaign titled: “One Trillion Dollar Scandal”, which claimed that developing countries lost $1 billion annually to corporate transgressions, with most of them traceable to activities of companies with secret ownership.
He also cited another report in 2015 by the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa, chaired by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, which pointed out that Africa had lost over $1 trillion over a 50-year period.
Buhari said the report indicated that Africa had lost more than $50 billion annually to illicit financial flows mostly perpetrated in the extractive sector and through companies with hidden ownerships.
He noted that the cost of corruption imposed on all African countries and governments a moral obligation to fight it with vigour and political will.
The President lamented that, while public sector corruption was the usual focus, the private sector’s complicity was equally significant, such as when large multinational corporations engage in tax evasion or transfer pricing.
He added that it was the complex web of public-private collusion and connivance that resulted in proceeds of corruption ending up in foreign countries and especially in their financial institutions and systems.
He said: “Dismantling the conspiracies that facilitate export of stolen assets is probably as important as the theme of this conference, “Partnering towards Assets Recovery and Return.”
“It underscores the fact that fighting corruption is futile if we do not ensure that the proceeds of corruption find no safe haven.
“Recovering stolen assets not only accomplishes the goal of restitution, it also serves as a potential deterrent to future corruption.
“We must insist that recovered stolen assets be returned to the country of origin, without any preconditions, in line with Article 51 of United Nations Convention against Corruption, UNCAC.
“We must provide adequate resources to investigate, adequately equip operatives, protect their families, and protect whistleblowers and witnesses.
“Let me say to you Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa that you have found yourselves in roles that could change the destinies of your nation if you deliver on your mandates.
“You simply cannot afford to fail; on our part as the Government of Nigeria, we are irrevocably committed to the fight against corruption.”