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Buhari shelves publishing looters’ list despite pressure

Muhammadu Buhari

Nigerians who had expected a comprehensive list of the alleged treasury looters as promised by President Muhammadu Buhari were disappointed yesterday. The president failed to make good his promise. However, he directed the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture to publish the list.

Later in the night, the Minister of Information and Culture said during a television programme that he would disclose the recovered loot this week.

Buhari had, on May 14, during his recent trip to London, the United Kingdom to attend the anti-corruption conference put together by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, pledged in an interview, to avail Nigerians of details of the alleged treasury looters, including where stolen assets were being kept.

“So far, what has come out, what has been recovered in whatever currency from each ministry, department and individual, I intend on the 29th to speak on this because all Nigerians are getting from the mass media is the number of people arrested either by the EFCC, DSS. But we want to make a comprehensive report on May 29”, Buhari said while attending the anti-corruption summit in London.

But during a special nation-wide media broadcast to mark his first year in office as president, Buhari failed to give the details, citing the cumbersome nature of tracing the looters, merely repeating his previous position that his administration was grappling with bureaucratic hurdles that make it difficult for stolen assets to be recovered from foreign jurisdictions.

His words: “We are also engaged in making recoveries of stolen assets some of which are in different jurisdictions. The processes of recovery can be tedious and time-consuming, but today I can confirm that thus far: significant amount of assets have been recovered. A considerable portion of these are at different stages of recovery.”

Rather than personally speak on the matter and provide specific details as promised, the president only said he had directed the Ministry of Information to periodically publish details on the assets recovered so far.

“Full details of the status and categories of the assets will now be published by the Ministry of Information and updated periodically. When forfeiture formalities are completed these monies will be credited to the treasury and be openly and transparently used in funding developmental projects and the public will be informed.”

The president admitted that his government had of recent come under pressure to publicly substantiate his claims that billions of dollars have been recovered through the administration’s intensified war against graft.

In a broadcast, which lasted for 25 minutes, the president dwelt extensively on his economic blueprint and used the opportunity to formally unveil what he called “by far the most ambitious social protection programme” in Nigeria’s history.

He attributed the widespread poverty in the country to what he identified as largely certain policies of the Federal Government which were “necessary pills” to swallow in order to have a better future.

Buhari who announced the official inauguration of his administration’s Social Protection Programme, lamented that the Nigerian society had been neglecting the poor and victimising the weak.

He said the social protection programme would seek to start the process of lifting many citizens out of poverty, while at the same time creating the opportunity for many to fend for themselves.

“For too long, ours has been a society that neglects the poor and victimises the weak. A society that promotes profit and growth over development and freedom. A society that fails to recognise that, to quote the distinguished economist Amartya Sen, ‘poverty is not just lack of money…’

“So, today, I am happy to formally launch, by far the most ambitious social protection programme in our history.’’ He, therefore, expressed optimism that the programme would lift millions of Nigerians out of poverty while at the same time creating the opportunity for people to fend for themselves.

Accordingly, he said, N500 billion has been appropriated in the 2016 budget for social intervention programmes in five key areas. He said that his administration was committed to providing job creation opportunities for 500,000 Nigerians to work as teachers and employ 100,000 artisans across the nation.

His words: “5.5 million children are to be provided with nutritious meals through our school feeding programme to improve learning outcomes, as well as enrolment and completion rates. The conditional cash transfer scheme will provide financial support for up to one million vulnerable beneficiaries, and complement the enterprise programme which will target up to one million market women; four hundred and sixty thousand artisans; and two hundred thousand agricultural workers nationwide.”

He said this particular programme would target up to one million market women, 460,000 artisans and 200,000 agricultural workers, nationwide. President Buhari further disclosed that, through a education grant scheme, the Federal Government would encourage students studying sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics as well as lay a foundation for human capital development for the next generation.

On the Niger Delta, the president said his administration was committed to implementing the United Nations Environment Programme, (UNEP) report, noting that he believed the way forward was to take a sustainable approach to address the issues that affect the delta communities. He noted that re-engineering the amnesty programmes was an example of this.

He stressed that the recent spate of attacks by militants disrupting oil and power installations would not distract the administration from engaging leaders in the region in addressing Niger Delta problems, warning that if the militants and vandals were testing the government’s resolve, they were much mistaken, saying, “We shall apprehend the perpetrators and their sponsors and bring them to justice.

“The policy measures and actions taken so far are not to be seen as some experiment in governance. We are fully aware that those vested interests who have held Nigeria back for so long will not give up without a fight. They will sow divisions, sponsor vile press criticisms at home and abroad, incite the public in an effort to create chaos rather than relinquish the vice-like grip they have held on Nigeria.”

The president condemned the activities of illegal miners in the country, saying that a special security team had been set up to check the menace. He stressed that the security team was saddled with the task of protecting the nation’s mining assets. He also revealed that special measures would be in place to protect miners in their work environment.

According to him, the Ministry of Solid Mineral Resources has produced a roadmap where Nigeria would work closely with the World Bank and major international investors to ensure best practices and due diligence in the mining sector.

On security, the president commended members of the Armed Forces for their efforts in checking the menace of Boko Haram insurgency in the North Eastern states of the country.

“I would like to pay a special tribute to our gallant men and women of the armed forces who are in harm’s way so that the rest of us can live and go about our business in safety. Their work is almost done. The nation owes them a debt of gratitude,’’ he said.

Buhari described the last one year of the administration as being a year of triumph, consolidation, pains and achievements, adding “By age, instinct and experience, my preference is to look forward, to prepare for the challenges that lie ahead and rededicate the administration to the task of fixing Nigeria.”

On putting the economy back on track, he noted: “The measures we must take, may lead to hardships. The problems Nigerians have faced over the last year have been many and varied. But the real challenge for this government has been reconstructing the spine of the Nigerian economy.”

According to the president, the good news about low prices of crude oil is that it has provided the nation with an opportunity to restructure its economy and diversify.

He said: “We are in the process of promoting agriculture, livestock, exploiting our solid mineral resources and expanding our industrial and manufacturing base. That way, we will import less and make the social investments necessary to allow us to produce a large and skilled workforce.”

He assured the citizens that the “Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN) would offer more fiscal incentives for business that prove capable of manufacturing products that are internationally competitive. We remain committed to reforming the regulatory framework, for investors by improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria.”

To assist the women, the president said: “I am very pleased to announce that the government will shortly be launching the national women’s empowerment fund, which I have approved to provide N1.6 billion in micro-finance loans to women across the nation to assist in rehabilitating the economies of rural communities, particularly those impacted by the insurgency and conflict.”

On the foreign scene, Buhari said: “We want to assure our neighbours, friends and development partners that Nigeria is firmly committed to democratic principles. We are ready partners in combating terrorism, cyber-crimes, control of communicable diseases and protection of the environment.

“Following on the Paris Agreement, COP 21, we are fully committed to halting and reversing desertification. Elsewhere, we will intensify efforts to tackle erosion, ocean surge, flooding and oil spillage which I referred to earlier by implementing the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report.

“We are grateful to the international community notably France, the U.S., UK and China for their quick response in helping to tackle the recent Ebola outbreak in our sub-region. We also acknowledge the humanity shown by the Italian and German governments in the treatment of boat people, many fleeing from our sub-region because of lack of economic opportunity. We thank all our partners especially several countries in the EU.

“We appreciate the valuable work that the UN agencies, particularly UNICEF, ICRC, the World Food Programme have been doing. We must also appreciate the World Bank, the Gates Foundation, the Global Fund and Educate A Child of Qatar for the excellent work in our health, education and other sectors.”

He reaffirmed his administration’s belief in democracy as the form of government that best assures the active participation and actual benefit of the people, noting that despite the many years of hardship and disappointment the people of this nation have proved inherently good, industrious tolerant, patient and generous.

“The past years have witnessed huge flows of oil revenues. From 2010 average oil prices were $100 per barrel. But economic and security conditions were deteriorating. We campaigned and won the election on the platform of restoring security, tackling corruption and restructuring the economy. On our arrival, the oil price had collapsed to as low as $30 per barrel and we found nothing had been kept for the rainy day. Oil prices have been declining since 2014 but due to the neglect of the past, the country was not equipped to halt the economy from declining.

“The infrastructure, notably rail, power, roads were in a decrepit state. All the four refineries were in a state of disrepair, the pipelines and depots neglected. Huge debts owed to contractors and suppliers had accumulated. Twenty-seven states could not pay salaries for months. In the north-east, Boko Haram had captured 14 local governments, driven the local authorities out, hoisted their flags. Elsewhere, insecurity was palpable; corruption and impunity were the order of the day. In short, we inherited a state near collapse.”

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