Looters trial begins soon, Buhari says

By: Isiaka Wakili

President Muhammadu Buhari has said the prosecution of those who stole national resources will begin in weeks.

The President stated this yesterday during a meeting with members of the National Peace Committee headed by former Head of State General Abdulsalami Abubakar

Presidential spokesman Femi Adesina quoted Buhari as saying his government was “irrevocably” determined to break the vicious cycle of corruption, unemployment and insecurity in Nigeria.

“Nigeria has to break this vicious cycle before we can make progress”, President Buhari told the committee.

He said apart from working to return stolen funds stashed in foreign banks, he would also put the culprits on trial in Nigeria.

“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”, Buhari said.

“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,” President Buhari told his guests.

He said a single treasury account had been established for all Federal revenues to ensure greater probity, transparency and accountability in the collection, disbursement and utilisation of national funds.

The presidential spokesman said Buhari granted the committee permission to transform to National Peace Council.

The committee was formed before the 2015 general elections as a result of widespread fears that the polls could be marred by violence.

The committee was instrumental to the signing of the peace accord between Buhari and his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan ahead of the March 28 presidential election.

Their meeting with Buhari came five days after Jonathan had paid a secret visit to the president at his official residence in Aso Rock Villa.

Rule of law must prevail – Committee

Addressing State House reporters after the meeting, a member of the committee, Bishop of Sokoto Diocese Mathew Hassan Kukah said members had urged the president to be guided by the rule of law in the fight against corruption.

He said the committee was at the Villa to update President Buhari about “the relevance of the peace committee itself and how we can help to nurture what God has given to us”.

He also disclosed that in its recent conversation with Jonathan and political parties’ members, the committee realised that nobody was in favour of corruption or against Buhari’s commitment to fighting it.

“It (Buhari’s anti-graft war) 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 over a new leaf.

“I think what we are concerned about is 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”, he said.

Kukah dismissed the reports that Jonathan sought the committee’s intervention on the ongoing probe of his government.

He said: “Anybody is free to come to our committee, but former 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 parties, members of the civil society. We planned to see the speaker because we couldn’t see him yesterday (Monday).

“This is a very planned series of intervention 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”.

Asked why the committee’s intervention had become so necessary, Kukah said: “This is not an intervention, it is not a hearing out process. When we had the election, it was like a wedding.

“Now, the reality of government is now 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, iniquity, corruption and in that regard, we all had one single conversation.

“Essentially we are not policing, but when the need arises, help to build confidence and in the process”, he said.

Members of the committee, who attended the meeting are the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.

Others are the Primate of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh; the Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, Cardinal John Onaiyekan; former President of the Nigerian Bar Association Mrs. Priscilla Kuye and Senator Ben Obi.

Our correspondent reports that the national chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, was also at the meeting.