…We’re going after govt officials looting state funds – Sagay
…Says recovered assets used in national budget, school feeding
… 8th NASS frustrated corruption fight
By Johnbosco Agbakwuru
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari Wednesday said that he has instructed all the relevant agencies involved in the recovery of looted assets that all forfeited assets be sold, and the money put in the Treasury Single Account.
This is as the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, PACAN, has said that the Committee has recovered looted assets of about N1 trillion and that the money was used for the national budget and the Social Investment Programmes which includes the school feeding programme.
Chairman of the PACAN, Prof. Itsey Sagay also said that his panel will now concentrate its fight against corruption at the top level of government where powerful people use state funds for personal needs.
Hosting members of PACAC at State House, Abuja, President Buhari promised to beam the searchlight on cost of governance, and weed out possible corruption that exists anywhere.
The President in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Chief Femi Adesina, appreciated members of the committee for the “major sacrifice “they’ve made in accepting the assignment to serve the country,” noting, “Some of the elite won’t trust you, and you will be alienated, no matter how close you are to them.”
Recalling experience of the past, in which assets were seized from officials who couldn’t explain how they got them, “only for those assets to be returned to them when government was changed,” President Buhari vowed that such would not recur, as he had given instructions that all forfeited assets be sold, “and the money put in the Treasury Single Account.”
He said, “Let’s see who will now take back the money from the treasury, and give back to those people, as was done in the past.”
Chairman of PACAC, Prof. Itse Sagay, who led the delegation, said Nigeria was lucky more than ever to have a person of President Buhari’s credentials as leader of government.
He said, “We congratulate you for being a star of the anti-corruption struggle in Africa. You attach a lot of importance to the fight against corruption, and we have tried to achieve the aims you had in mind when you established PACAC.”
Prof. Sagay said the committee trains, builds capacity of anti-corruption agencies, and has helped to develop a programme of non-conviction assets recovery, which is recording great successes.
Some of the recommendations by the panel to the President, in order to move the anti-corruption war many steps forward include, reestablishment of the jury system for criminal cases in the country; setting up of a judicial commission on corruption in the judiciary, to be headed by retired judges under the auspices of National Judicial Council (NJC); passage of Proceeds of Crime Act by the National Assembly; the setting up of a Presidential Truth and Restitution Task Force; and a closer look at the cost of governance to weed out all vestiges of corruption.
President Buhari pledged that government would take a dispassionate look into all the requests.
Speaking to State House correspondents after the meeting, Prof. Sagay said that the committee has recorded tremendous achievements, adding that though there was still corruption in the polity, it had drastically reduced.
He said that the 8th National Assembly ganged up across party lines and frustrated the fight against corruption.
He also said that roughly N1 trillion had been internally recovered and ploughed in the National budget and also used for the Social Investment Programme, SIP, which include the school feeding programme.
Asked how much that had been recovered so far, he said, “I think the Minister of Information is best placed to say how much but I can say roughly internally is almost about N1 trillion. Because you see that in 2017, N500 billion was spent on this Social Investment Programme and in 2018 the same amount for the program.
“So it must be roughly about N1 trillion. Although we also have monies that were recovered from abroad being ploughed back into the same system.”
Also asked why he said that there was still corruption in the polity, he said, “When you have a disease that has been alive maybe 50 years, you cannot get rid of it overnight. My own personal experience about corruption, it exists at every level, that is the frightening aspect through all sectors of society.
“As a lawyer going to court to file a paper, every official of the court imposes a personal tax which has nothing to do with the official filing fees to do his job. These are clerical officers and much lower people and this pervades all aspects of Nigerian society.
“So, corruption has become a culture, some people are corrupt without even thinking that they are corrupt, it is part of them. They think it is an entitlement. So it is going to take a long time to get rid of it. So that is why the National Oriention Agency and the major document that has been produced, Anti-corruption Strategy lay some emphasis on acculturizing Nigerian with regard to fight against corruption, going to schools, NGOs, civil society organizations and so on to preach the message of anti corruption, to give incentives to those who are not corrupt so that people will be encouraged to imbibe that culture.
“It is a long term thing, all we can do as it’s being done is that concentration is at the top where powerful people are using state funds for themselves, eventually it will go down as this culture is being progressively imbibed.”
Commenting on the achievement of the Committee, he said,” In the area of recoveries, I don’t need to tell anybody, it is unprecedented in the annals of this country that we could be recovering so much assets illegally acquired mainly by public servants but not only by public servants.
“And the more remarkable aspect of it is that this recovered loots is being ploughed into the national budget every year. It is ploughed back into the national budget and used for the Social Investment Programme.
“So when you hear about feeding of over 12 million school children as when I checked last having nutritious meal every day, you hear of poor families being supported to survive and stand on their feet or over 500,000 young people who are being trained in all sorts of skills and paid N30,000 a month by the government and the interest free loans given to small scale businesses all over the country.
“It’s all part of this money, not a kobo of it is left, everything is ploughed back and I think the country should know that, it’s very unprecedented, this never happened before in the history of this country, everything is ploughed back.
“Then we have succeeded in improving the quality of prosecution by giving the anti corruption prosecution agencies a lot of capacity building, train them in the manner cases should be prosecuted and how charges should be drawn. Judges up to the Supreme Court have also benefitted from this programme.
“In the era of corruption, you will be surprised if you think back that nobody talks about fuel subsidy corruption anymore. Previously we were losing almost N400 billion every year on fake fuel subsidy payments but now, it is zero. So generally the tone of the country has improved.
“The country has gained tremendously, corruption has gone down. There is still corruption but it has gone down and anybody who indulges particularly an officer of a state who engages in it knows the risk he is taking. We have the TSA, we have the bank verification number, all those things have made an incredible change in our level of anti corruption.
“Now you cannot hide money in the banks anymore and agencies cannot hide money in various banks accounts which they spend without the knowledge of the government. Everything is in one place, everything is transparent, thanks to this government.”
On the challenges facing the committee, he said, “Well, we are doing pretty well. Previously, we were afraid that when the initial donor agency funds will be axhausted which we exhausted last year, we will be in trouble but I must say the government and various other bodies in this country which I will not want to mention have come to support PACAN with funds.
“And so, we are able to carry on our activities at the same speed as before regardless of the fact that the foreign donors are no longer funding us apart from Mc Authour that still fund programmes from time to time.
So, there are always challenges but we don’t have any serious ones at all. We are doing our work, there is a large variety of work that we do in various areas both remote and immediate to support the anti corruption struggle.”
Alleging that corruption was fighting back, Prof. Sagay said,” The issue of corruption fighting back, that is to be expected but I am happy to say that the capacity of corruption to fight back has been reduced with the expiration of the life of 8th Assembly.
“Because that is where the main opposition to this government was constituted, main opposition to the fight against corruption, that was the centre and at that time, it did not depend on which party they belonged to, they all ganged up together against the fight against corruption and did everything they could to frustrate the government and ourselves in the this fight.
“Luckily, the 9th Assembly is totally different Assembly it is an assembly that is determined to work hand in hand with the government and therefore with us in achieving the highest level of non corruption in society.”