By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA—The trial of former public officers who looted the national treasury and stashed the funds in foreign banks will commence in few weeks. President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed this, yesterday, when he met members of the National Peace Committee led by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
President Buhari, who vowed to break the vicious cycle of corruption, unemployment and insecurity in Nigeria, stated that his administration would not only ensure that stolen monies stashed in foreign bank accounts were returned but that the looters must be tried. He disclosed that he was gathering documents which would serve as evidence against suspected culprits in the anti-corruption war.
The meeting between President Buhari and the committee, it was gathered, followed an earlier meeting with the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, during which committee members were told of the persecution that members of the PDP were facing in the hands of the new governing party.
“Nigeria has to break this vicious cycle before we can make progress,” the President said.
The President, who regretted the sorry state of the country’s finances also told the committee that as part of his actions to address the national problems he inherited, he has ordered the reorganization of Nigeria’s revenue generating institutions.
No more business as usual
He explained that a single treasury account had been established for all federal revenue to ensure greater probity, transparency and accountability in the collection, disbursement and utilisation of national funds.
His words: “We have really degenerated as a country. Our national institutions, including the military, which did wonderfully on foreign missions in the past, have been compromised. But we are doing something about it. The military is now retraining and morale has been resuscitated.
“As Petroleum Minister under Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo in the 1970s, I could not travel abroad until I had taken a memo to the Federal Executive Council asking for estacode. Now, everybody does what he wants. That is why security-wise, and economically, we’re in trouble. Those who have stolen the national wealth will be in court in a matter of weeks and Nigerians will know those who have short-changed them.”
The National Peace Committee, then asked him to follow due process in the anti-graft war.
They also reminded the President that Nigeria is not under a military regime, stressing that everyone suspected to have committed any crime was assumed innocent until proven guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Rising from the meeting held behind closed-doors in the Presidential Villa, the committee remarked that though corruption was not to be condoned, the process of prosecuting suspects has to be constitutional.
Speaking to State House Correspondents on behalf of the committee, the Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Dr. Matthew Hassan Kukah, who confirmed the meeting with former President Goodluck Jonathan, however, said the former president never begged for their intervention.
According to him, the meeting was a hearing-out process.
“We gave a bit of update about the relevance of the Peace Committee itself and how we can help to nurture what God has given to us. Anybody is free to come to our committee but President Jonathan never by telephone or another means talked to the committee. We went to see him, but that was after we had already seen members of the political party, members of the civil society; we plan to see the Speaker because we couldn’t see him yesterday.
“This is a very planned series of interventions essentially just to hear out everybody and I think the good news is that Nigerians are committed to a new nation. They are committed to ensuring that the gains and blessings God has given us come to fruition.
Due process must be followed —Peace committee
“This is not an intervention, it is a hearing out process. When we had election, it was like a wedding, now the reality of government is the marriage and people need to be encouraged. We need to reaffirm that this is our country and the only thing we can collectively be opposed to is injustice, inequity, corruption and in that regard we all had one single conversation.
“The President has also reaffirmed the need for this committee to continue and the international committee has very much welcomed the contributions of the committee. Essentially we are not policing, but when the need arises, we will help to build confidence in the process.
“It is not heating up the polity. In our conversation with former President Jonathan and members of the parties, I don’t think any Nigerian is in favour of corruption or is against the President’s commitment to ensuring that we turn a new leaf. I think what we are concerned about is the process. It is no longer a military regime and under our existing laws, everybody is innocent until proven guilty.
“Again, our own commitment is not to intimidate or fight anybody. The former President’s commitment and what he did still remains spectacular and I think that President Buhari himself appreciates that. So our effort really is to make sure that the right thing is done,” Kukah said.
Members of the National Peace Committee who accompanied Gen Abubakar on the visit were Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah, His Eminence, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto; John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN); Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria; Justice Rose Ukeje (rtd), Prof Ameze Guobadia, Mr. Sam Amuka, Publisher, Vanguard Newspapers; Dame Priscilla Kuye, Senator Ben Obi, Dr. Yunusa Tanko, and Dr Arthur-Martin Aginam.