Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari says the prosecution of former public officials who stole public funds and stashed them in overseas accounts will begin in a few weeks.
Buhari made the statement after he met with members of the Peace Committee led by former military leader General Abdulsalami Abubakar at the presidential villa in the capital, Abuja.
According to one member, the committee advised the president to ensure the legal process is thoroughly followed in the much anticipated trial.
Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu says the prosecution of those accused of financial malfeasance forms part of Buhari’s promise ahead of the recent presidential election to weed out graft.
He says the president has so far received promises and support from the U.S., Europe and some Asian countries to help trace and repatriate public funds siphoned out of the country.
“The president has set himself an important task which is to fight corruption. For him the starting point was lock all leakages that are used to steal Nigerian assets, particularly crude oil, which are being transported using fake papers to foreign countries sold and transferred and the proceeds placed [in] privately-held accounts, not the accounts of the Nigerian government,” said Shehu.
“They [foreign governments] are helping Nigeria to track and to trace the stolen crude oil and the proceeds as well. Tankers hopefully are being impounded and bank accounts are being blocked. So the president has been very painstakingly patient in this work that he is doing. He wants to establish incontrovertible evidence before he goes forward following due process,” he added.
Just the Beginning
Critics say Buhari has been too slow. They contend that since he was sworn into office, not a single former public official has been prosecuted despite repeated promises. They have urged him to expedite the process of recouping stolen funds in order to improve the living conditions of citizens.
But, Shehu says, Buhari is a democratically-elected leader now and is playing under different rules from when he was a military ruler. He says the legal process should be followed as laid out in the constitution.
“Under the constitution, he cannot lock up people without the evidence. So the process that is prescribed by the law would be followed. Nigerians should be patient otherwise the rights of Nigerians would be compromised, and he doesn’t want to do that,” he said.
Shehu also says Buhari has warned all public sector workers to answer queries by auditors within 48 hours, to curb misbehavior in all spheres of the government.
“Impunity has grown so big in Nigeria that audit queries that should be answered within 24 hours take weeks, months and years to be responded to. What he is simply saying is that is wrong and unacceptable and that impunity will not thrive under his administration,” said Shehu.
“He [Buhari] directed that within 30 days all the backlog, unanswered audit queries should be answered. And going forward, all queries that are issued will be answered within 48 hours. It is clear in the rules; it is just simple that people are not observing the rules,” he added.