Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari will not shield from prosecution any cabinet minister or member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) who commits financial malfeasance, Nigeria's information minister said Wednesday.
But in a media chat — his first since coming into office in 2015 — Buhari maintained that none of his cabinet ministers are corrupt. He challenged Nigerians who have evidence of financial impropriety against any of his officials to present it.
His statement came after the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) demanded an investigation into the alleged misuse of security funds by senior officials in the administration.
Information minister Lai Mohammed dismissed suggestions that the government's fight against corruption targets only officials of the previous administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan. He says the government has empirical evidence against former officials suspected of embezzling public funds.
"The truth of the matter is that General Buhari would not spare anybody, whether he is a member of the APC or not, who is proven or alleged to have been corrupt,” Mohammed said. “It is only natural that after 16 years in power, if there is going to be any probe today or there is going to be any fight against corruption, the most likely people would be those who had held the reins of power.
"The government is going out with hard facts, documents of transactions, account numbers and how much has been paid into which account. This is what I call fighting corruption, not just mudslinging."
Corruption fight stalled
Nigerians have demanded Buhari ensure the publication of a list of former officials who have returned stolen funds. Mohammed confirmed that some former officials have returned stolen funds, but argued that publication of their names would undermine the fight against graft.
"The percentage compared to those who are yet to do so and those that are being investigated is so negligible that it would be a bit premature right now to start publishing the names of those who have [brought their loot]," Mohammed said.
"Secondly, as Mr. President explained … if a person has returned X amount of money and you publish that he has returned X amount of money, well, the next person would not want to return more than that. So for some strategic and security reasons, it is not prudent at this point in time to make public those who have returned [money] and how much they have brought back. But in the fullness of time, it would be done."
Critics, however, say the fight against corruption appears to have stalled despite repeated promises from the administration to root out graft. Mohammed disagreed.
"Before now, corruption was celebrated in Nigeria,” Mohammed said. “Before now, corrupt figures were role models [who] actually dictated the affairs of this country. But today, the entire thing has changed. For the first time, Nigerians are appreciating the fact that corruption is a bad thing and that it is not to be celebrated.”
He says that in the coming year, Nigerians should expect a government that is honest and committed to improving their living conditions despite the challenges the country faces.