Imperative of loot recovery, By Wole Olaoye

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Reading Time: 4 mins read

If there is no chicken for the celebration of Christmas this year, it won’t be because people have suddenly lost their appetite for chicken. It will be an indication of the state of the economy and the privation many Nigerians are going through. As you and I know, the fact that many people now trek great distances to destinations they would hitherto have commuted to, tells you that they can’t afford the new fare hike caused by the increase in the pump price of fuel. You deceive yourself if you interpret mass trekking as a testimony to the newfound love of Nigerians for physical fitness. 

Seeing how tough life is for many people, imagine how the average Nigerian would feel reading stories of looted treasury by the high and mighty and watching the circus show that we have made of the usually tame attempts to investigate and prosecute the offenders.

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, the other day warned — no, begged— politicians not to carry on in such a way as to encourage anti-democratic forces within the society from gaining more recruits. If the people are tightening their belts but the leaders are perceived as having an unending festival of sleaze, the call for continued cooperation with the authorities as they struggle to mend the broken economy will fall on deaf ears.

As queues continue to appear and disappear at petrol stations, the local Naira currency has been commoditised. For some reason, the banks are determined to add to the anguish of customers by limiting how much they can draw from their accounts through the automated teller machines, as if the country was at war.

In the midst of all these, mind blowing stories are making the rounds about the ongoing investigation into the activities of the central bank under former governor Godwin Emefiele. In his final report tagged, ‘Report of the Special Investigation on CBN and Related Entities (Chargeable offences)’, The Special Investigator, Jim Obazee, a former Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, also found that the ex-CBN governor lodged £543,482,213 in fixed deposits in UK banks without authorisation. It has also been revealed that he invested Nigeria’s money without authorisation in 593 foreign bank accounts in the United States, China and United Kingdom, while he was in charge.

Many critics of the former administration had suspected that the Nigerian ship of state was running on auto pilot because of the many inexplicable surprises that attended matters that could otherwise have been straightforward. The usual Nigerian malaise of surrendering authority to presidential aides came to the fore as it was alleged that the controversial and pain inflicting Naira redesign project was neither a presidential directive nor a decision of the board of the central bank. It is alleged that the policy was canvassed by a domestic aide of the president, Tunde Sabiu,

The cavalier manner a country of 200 million souls was being run was exemplified by the way the entire matter concerning a grave decision like the redesign of the nation’s legal tender was handled. Because we are all attendants in the courtyard of history, the story bears retelling: 

According to the document, “The former President tagged along but did not approve the redesign as required by law. Buhari merely approved that the currency be printed in Nigeria. The redesign was only mentioned to the board of the CBN on December 15, 2022, after Emefiele had awarded the contract to the Nigerian Security Printing and Minting (NSPMC) Plc on October 31, 2022.”

When the NSPMC disclosed that it could not deliver the order on the proposed tight schedule, Emefiele gave the job out to De La Rue of the UK for £205,000 under the vote head of the Currency Operations Department. The sum of N61.5bn was earmarked for the printing of the new notes out of which N31.79 billion had been disbursed.

The report accused Emefiele and his four deputies of conniving to steal public funds by “violently taking money from the Consolidated Revenue account and then charging it to Ways and Means.”

The investigator further found that, “The CBN officers and even the then acting CBN governor could not produce the Presidential Approval of most of the expenses described as ‘Ways and Means.’ When confronted, to provide the breakdown of the supposed N22.7trn that was presented to the 9th National Assembly to illegally securitise as ‘Ways and Means’ financing, they were only able to partially explain a total of N9.063 trn or N9.2trn depending on which official you are considering his submission and an unreasonable attribution of non-negotiated interest element of N6.5tn.

“This was the point where the officers of the immediate past administration as well as the erstwhile CBN governor and his four deputy governors connived, defrauded, and stole from the commonwealth of our country with the aid of civil servants… The true position of the Ways and Means as documented from the reconciliation between the CBN and the Ministry of Finance at the time is N4,449,149,411,584.54.

“This may have been the main reason the past administration hurriedly sought that the advances of N22.7trn be securitised by the 9th National Assembly on December 19, 2022, which they also hurriedly did despite the fact that it contravenes section 38 of the CBN Act, 2007.”

We have seen all sorts of crimes perpetrated by government officials over the years, but these recent disclosures concerning Emefiele and his colleagues will be difficult to beat because the allegations are not just about cooking the books but direct pilfering. 

It has been said that there is nothing that cannot be swept under the carpet in Nigeria, but this one may take some doing because, if true, it is at the very heart of the current suffering being experienced by Nigerians. With the revelations so far made by Mr Obazee and colleagues, Nigerians cannot wait to see Mr Emefiele, his colleagues and other accomplices defend themselves in court. 

The public has also mounted a sturdy campaign on social media calling for diligent prosecution of those indicted by past investigations. Indeed, Premium Times recently did a special report on some forgotten cases of alleged corruption by former Nigerian state governors and called for a speedy prosecution. The thinking is that the proverbial carpet under which so many shocking cases have been swept in the past must be so dirt-laden by now that it cannot possibly accommodate even one more speck.

The media identified 11 cases involving former governors being handled by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and called for a speedy resolution. One of the unintended consequences of the immunity clause protecting governors in the constitution is that it emboldens them to commit all sorts of financial crimes believing that they can explain everything away under the canopy of immunity. This is why civil society groups and political activists are clamouring for the removal of the immunity clause from the constitution.

Another campaign gaining momentum is the review of the punishment for stealing public funds. The larger consensus is for a more stringent regime of sanctions, ranging from 10 years imprisonment to life. A minority of the social advocates have even demanded outright death penalty for anyone caught with his hands in the till.

Whichever way we choose to go, it is imperative that we at least retrieve the humongous sums of money stashed in various private accounts at home and abroad, to plough back towards making life better in Nigeria. That is the least that the government can do to keep faith with the people in this lean Yuletide season and beyond. 

Dear reader, with or without the chicken meal that goes with the season, please have a Merry Christmas.

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