The federal government on Sunday vowed to release the names of more persons alleged to have looted public funds.
Two previous sets of lists released by the government have been criticised for containing only the names of the members of the main opposition party, PDP.
None of those named have been convicted with some of them being prosecuted and others not being tried for any offence.
Persons mentioned in previous lists as well as civic groups like the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have criticised the government for releasing the names.
However, in a statement issued in Lagos on Sunday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, said since the release of the first two lists of the alleged looters, there have been overt and covert attempts to intimidate and blackmail the federal government into discontinuing the release of more looters’ names.
”Hack writers have inundated the social and traditional media with articles casting aspersion on the lists, while some newspapers have even resorted to writing editorials against the federal government over the release of the lists. Most of the write-ups have accused the government of politicising the anti-graft war by releasing the lists. We strongly disagree with them.
”We do not have the power to try or convict anyone. That is the exclusive preserve of the courts. But we have the power to let Nigerians know those who turned the public treasury into their personal piggy banks, on the basis of very concrete evidence, and that is what we are doing,” he said.
However, contrary to Mr Mohammed’s claim, the government does have the power to try or prosecute anyone suspected of stealing public funds, and is actually doing so. He is, however, right that only the courts can convict any accused.
Mr Mohammed said the government has always known that corruption will fight back and hence it is not surprised at the hiring of “hack writers” to attack the very idea of naming and shaming the looters, or the hysterical threats of litigation.
”All the fuss about politicising the anti-corruption fight is aimed at preventing the government from releasing more looters’ names and at the same time muddling the waters. But 1,000 negative write-ups or editorials will not deter us from releasing the third and subsequent lists. For those who have chosen to give succour to looters, we wish them the best of luck with their new pastime,” he said.
The minister said the pressure being mounted on the government over its decision to expose looters is not unexpected, adding: ”We know where the pressure is coming from. However, the die is cast. We will not stop until we have released the names of all those who have looted our commonwealth. Those who have not looted our treasury have nothing to be afraid of.”
He challenged anyone who feels that he or she has been wrongly accused to seek redress in court, rather than engaging in exhibitionist sophistry.
Mr Mohammed said it was the PDP that dared to challenge the federal government into releasing the list of PDP looters, hence the argument that the list only contained the names of PDP members falls short without proper contextualisation.
”We are not underestimating the desperation of the looters, but we wish to assure Nigerians who are justifiably outraged at the mindless plundering of the nation’s wealth also of our determination not to back down. Nigerians must know those who have wrecked the country and mortgaged the future of their children,” Mr Mohammed added.
Just before Mr Mohammed’s statement was sent to newsmen, the presidency also released a statement where President Muhammadu Buhari again criticised the past PDP administration of massive corruption.
President Buhari said the damage done to the Nigerian economy in the years of plunder was massive, and that government was doing its best to recover some of the loot, but noted that it was impossible to identify and recover all.
“If they had used 50 per cent of the money we made, when oil prices went as high as $143 dollars per barrel, and stabilized at $100 dollars with production at 2.1 million barrels per day for many years, Nigerians would have minded their businesses. You could almost grow food on our roads, as they were abandoned.
“The stealing was so much, and they were so inept that they could not even cover the stealing properly. I wonder how all those things could have happened to our country,” the president was quoted as saying.
The president spoke in London when he received members of the Buhari Diaspora Support Organisation, led by Charles Sylvester.
“You met a difficult situation, but you have overcome most of them. We are happy with the agriculture revolution, the ease of doing business, the anti-corruption war, the employment of youths through the N-Power programme, and the blockage of leakages in the public sector through the Treasury Single Account (TSA),” Mr Sylvester told the president.
“We are proud of the speed with which you recovered the abducted Dapchi schoolgirls. It shows you as a worthy general. We are happy that you have declared for 2019. Majority of Nigerians are happy, but agents of corruption and darkness are unhappy. The same God, who healed you when you were ill, will grant you victory in the 2019 elections.
“You are a general who does not fear combat, either with generals or non-generals. We declare our love and support for you. You are fixing the faulty foundations of our country and second term is when you will build the enduring structure.”