Seven months after a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ordered the Federal Government to release to Nigerians the list of public officials from whom public funds had been recovered, the list has yet to be released by the authorities.
Justice Hadiza Shagari had on July 6, 2017, in her judgment in a suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, directed the Federal Government to “immediately” release the names of the officials, the circumstances under which the funds were recovered and the exact amount recovered from each public official.
While responding to the judgment, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, had said the government would publish the names of the looters, in compliance with the court order, noting that the Federal Government totally agreed with the ruling.
The Federal Government had on June 4, 2016, through the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, disclosed that it had recovered cash sums of N78,325,354,631.82, $185,119,584.61, £3,508,355.46 and €11,250 between May 29, 2015, and May 25, 2016. He added that the assets and cash seized under interim forfeiture totalled $9bn, N126bn, £2.4m and €303,399.
And on October 12, 2017, the acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, said at a forum that the cash recovered through the whistleblower policy had risen to over N30bn, in different foreign currencies.
Meanwhile, the refusal to release the list or obey the court judgment was preceded by the promise voluntarily made in December 2015 by the President when he said he would unveil the names of the looters. He had said the only thing stopping the Central Bank of Nigeria from releasing the list at that time was to avoid jeopardising investigations and further recoveries.
He also reiterated the promise in May 2016 at an anti-corruption summit in London that he would give a comprehensive report on the loot recovered on May 29, 2016 – Democracy Day, which he failed to do.
And till date, the names of the looters have yet to be released.
Speaking on the protracted delay, the Executive Director, SERAP, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said the refusal of the Buhari-led administration to make the list public, as directed by the court, had called into the question the much-touted integrity of the administration.
He said, “Once you make a promise, you should fulfil it. They said they would fight corruption, judgement was obtained to help you to fight corruption, yet you are not obeying the court order, it questions your integrity and sincerity as a government. This government is not doing what it promised.”
Also, the President of Campaign for Democracy, Mr. Bako Abdul Usman, described as unfortunate the way the present administration had been flouting court orders, saying even though the African Union made the President the model of anti-corruption fight in Africa, that “does not really hold water back home when looking at the nitty-gritty.”
He added, “If that list is released today, people within the circle of the President would be part and parcel of it. That is why there is a constraint in releasing the list. Impunity, high-handedness and corrupt practices are easy to come by in this administration.”
A legal practitioner and public affairs analyst, Liborous Oshoma, said a government that won an election on account of its promise to be transparent didn’t have to be compelled by the court to name and shame looters, stressing that the excuses it gave had already made it another round of propaganda.
He noted that the reluctance to release the list could be because the government bloated the amount it recovered, making it difficult to put names to the figures. He explained that it would be an investment in uncertainty to expect the government to release the names before the next general elections because it might need the influence and monetary contribution of some of the looters.
He added, “Do they (government) also need a legal paperwork to release the names of those that owned up voluntarily, not due to their conscience but because it was either obvious or government was closing in on them? To serve as deterrence to others, shouldn’t a transparent government release those names.
“Now that elections are here, these (looters) are the same people they would go back to source money from. So, if anybody believes that the government would name and shame those looters before the election, the person must be joking, because some alleged criminals would even be embraced because of their money and influence, especially when you have desperation for a second term.”
But when asked when the names would be released as he promised in July 2017, the AGF said a committee set up by the President was still auditing the list of the looters.
In a text message he sent as a response to Saturday PUNCH’s inquiry, he said, “Audit work is in progress by a committee put in place by the President.”