A representative of the Commonwealth Secretariat, Ms Katalaina Sapolu, has said that looters of Nigeria’s public funds have no justifiable reasons to complain of rights violation in the course of government’s efforts to recover stolen wealth from them.
Sapolu, who is the Director, Rule of Law Division of the Commonwealth, said this while speaking with journalists on the sideline of the ongoing three-day ‘National Stakeholders Workshop on the Recovered Assets Workshop’ in Abuja.
The event is co-organised by the Prof. Itse Sagay-led Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Sapolu had also led the Commonwealth delegation to the PACAC’s ‘Workshop on Roles of Judges in the Fight Against Corruption,’ which earlier held on Monday and Tuesday at the National Judicial Institute in Abuja.
President Muhammadu Buhari, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, judges at various levels of court, among other stakeholders attended the opening ceremony on Monday.
Sapolu said it was obvious during the conference on the roles of judges that looters could not justifiably complain of rights violation when asked to return their stolen wealth.
She said, “What I can speak of is what was expressed at the workshop which is what I can say is from the horse’s mouth. There were lawyers who spoke, there were judges who spoke and they said most of the suspects and their highly-paid lawyers would come to court and they would raise, of course, as any lawyer would, depending on the instruction from their clients, the fundamental rights issue.
“But I think the consensus view is that if you steal money, if you are looting money through corrupt conduct, it’s not yours, and the government is trying to recover the proceeds, what fundamental right is being violated?”
Sapolu said the Commonwealth was supporting Nigeria’s efforts to recover its assets looted by its corrupt officials because President Buhari had demonstrated strong political will to fight corruption.
She said Buhari had, during the London Conference on anti-corruption held in May this year, demonstrated the political will which was absent in previous governments, to fight corruption.
She also said efforts by previous administrations to recover Nigeria’s looted assets had not yielded much result because of lack of trust of various countries holding custody of the stolen assets in the preparedness of the Nigerian’s government to put them to good use.
She however said the political will the Buhari administration had demonstrated would assist Nigeria to get its stolen assets back.
“This international cooperation is very important; and I would have to say that from my own experience it is really that trust. This is because much of the reluctance or the reason that is given by other countries is that, ‘are we returning the money to safe hands to be reused for the benefit of the people of the countries?’
“So, I strongly believe that with the new political leadership and the political will that has been demonstrated internationally, it will work. It will help a lot.”
Sapolu said apart from the political will Buhari had demonstrated to fight corruption, the Commonwealth’s new Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, had made anti-corruption part of the organisation’s priorities.
She said, “I refer to the ‘tackling corruption together conference’ held by the Commonwealth in London in May.
“It was held the day before the London Summit that was hosted by the then Prime Minister David Cameron at the time and President Buhari was our special guest at the Commonwealth conference.
“He spoke very passionately and very inspiringly about the priority his government is giving to combating corruption and he said ‘more importantly we want the recovery of stolen assets.’
“So, it was discussed between him and my Secretary-General; we have a new Secretary-General at Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland (QC), and one of her priorities is tackling corruption.
“We are here to further the agreement between the Secretary-General and the President that the Commonwealth will give its support to Nigeria in fighting corruption.