Outraged by #PanamaPapers revelations, Nigerians ask Buhari to probe, prosecute named officials

Bukola-Saraki-3Civil society groups and concerned Nigerians on Wednesday asked President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately order relevant anti-graft and security agencies to immediately launch a probe of some top public officials named in connection with the massive Panama Papers scandal.

A huge trove of internal data of the Panama-based offshore provider, Mossack Fonseca, obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with PREMIUM TIMES and over 100 other media partners in 82 countries, revealed records of top secret financial dealings by over 128 politicians and public figures, including Nigerians.

The cache of 11.5 million records of financial secrecy of top politicians, fraudsters and drug barons, celebrities, billionaires and sports stars, included some prominent Nigerians.

They include the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, and his wife, Toyin, former Senate President, David Mark; a retired army general and former defence minister, Theophilus Danjuma, former Delta State governor, James Ibori and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, and his oil-magnate brother, Sayyu Dantata.

Following the report, the prime minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, resigned from office, becoming the first powerful political figure to go down with the scandal after he was implicated by the massive leakage of classified documents.

With Mr. Gunnlaugsson’s resignation on Tuesday, some Nigerians and civil society groups became emboldened Wednesday to turn the heat on the Nigerian government to pressurize affected top officials to emulate him.

But some have noted that it would be near impossible for Nigerians to see the Iceland Prime Minister’s example back home due to the high level of impunity and the dearth of moral and ethical values among the country’s political class.

Executive Director, Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ), David Ugolor, said the #PanamaPapers expose further showed how politically exposed persons in the country connived to fritter away Nigeria’s wealth to offshore havens to the detriment of the country and its people.

Mr. Ugolor, who expressed concern over government’s silence on the leaked document, urged President Buhari to immediately order the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate all those named.

“Such investigation will reveal the true identity of all those involved and how much they stashed away in Panama,” Mr. Ugolor said.

An Abuja-based development economist and public commentator, Odilim Enwegbara, urged Nigerians to mobilize and march to the National Assembly to demand that affected officials take steps to clear their names immediately or resign.

The Country Director, PLAN International Nigeria, Hussaini Abdu, regretted that Nigerians were not likely to see a replay of the Iceland PM’s action in Nigeria due to the country’s entrenched impunity in the political system.

“We have a different attitude to issues of accountability, such that the public is not shocked whenever their leaders do things that embarrass them or bring the country to disrepute,” he noted.

Mr. Abdu said the revelations should however provide leads for further investigations by various anti-graft agencies with the aim of revisiting the asset declarations of the affected officials.

“Where it is found that these assets were not included in what they declared initially, the affected officials should be compelled to vacate their office and face prosecution immediately,” he said.

The Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, CENSOJ, Eze Onyekpere, shared Mr. Abdu’s opinion, saying the documents should provide a prima facie evidence of what security and anti-graft agencies should follow up and possibly press charges in court against the affected officials.

For former President General, Trade Union Congress, TUC, Peter Esele, there was nothing to be excited about the Iceland PM’s resignation, because of the lack of values in the Nigerian polity.

“What happened in Iceland is that their society is founded on a value consent and character. Ours is based on ethnicity and such parochial sentiments. This is why we are where we are today,” Mr. Esele lamented.

An Abuja-based lawyer, George Ukaegbu, was equally not excited about prospects of the affected politicians stepping down from office to face prosecution, because of Nigeria’s peculiar environment.

“The proper thing should have been for them to resign as was the case in Iceland. But our law thrives on the concept that a man is innocent until proven guilty. This is a mundane concept Nigerians have clung on, so much that they throw away all morals. That is why we will never become a developed country,” Mr Ukaegbu said.

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