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There are laid down processes for the recovery of funds stolen or alleged to have been stolen by public officials. Public money when stolen must be returned in the public glare, not privately. It is different when an individual loses his or her properties to a thief. The victim may decide to have his or her properties returned to him in secret without going through the hassles of pressing charges, but when it is public fund, the public have to be taken into confidence as regards the arrangement and processes of returning the looted funds, and how safely the recovered funds will be. Therefore, it is lame, illogical and illegal for anyone to tell us that monies have been recovered from certain individuals without the public being made aware of the how, the what and the where.
Right before President Muhammadu Buhari was formally inaugurated as the President and Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces, some of his closest associates, including the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai went to town with stories of how some people who looted our public funds have started making moves to return these monies. Nigerians believed then, that this stoppe at just making moves till the President himself announced to the whole world that his government is in receipt of unspecified amount of money recovered from unspecified public officials, who returned monies they allegedly pilfered from our national treasury.
As Nigerians were still chewing over these ludicrous claims, the newspapers went awash with news about the arrest by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of the arrest of Jafaru Isah, a retired military personnel, former military Governor of Kaduna State, chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress and supposedly, an ally of President Muhammadu Buhari. By that, Jafaru became the first member of the APC to have been affected by the gale of arrests sweeping across the political landscape since the new Sherrif came to town.
Days before Jafaru Isah was arrested, the National Publicity Secretary of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olisah Metuh had been picked up by the same anti-graft agency over a related matter.
Both men were accused of having received money from the former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki. While Olisah Metuh was accused of receiving 400 Million Naira, which he denies, Jafaru Isah was said to have received the sum of 170 million Naira.
The PDP cries witch-hunt over the arrest and detention of its spokesman hinging their claims on the fact that Olisah Metuh was never invited by the EFCC but was humiliatingly picked up like a common criminal, while Jafaru Isah had been served several EFCC invitations which he ignored. When Jafaru was released less than five days after his arrest, bewildered Nigerians began to query the sincerity of the Buhari government anti-corruption fight. Questions as to why Jafaru Isah had to be let off the hook without being taken to court, while Olisah Metuh remained in custody without as much as being charged to court.
The explanations put forward by the Commission were as disturbing as the release of Jafaru Isah. EFCC sources were quoted as saying that Jafaru Isah had to be let off the hook, because he had returned one hundred million Naira out of the One Hundred and Seventy Million Naira he agreed to have received from Dasuki.
This explanation is as ridiculous as it is insulting to the sensibilities of most Nigerians, as it failed to answer the most important questions relating to the legality and equitability of their action. To whom was this money handed over to? Under what arrangement was the money handed over to the person? Is the institution that received this money empowered by the laws of our land to receive such money? Into which account are these returned monies paid in and what guarantee do we have as to the safety of this money? Does the return of these monies free the individual involved from prosecution?
Our Constitution provides for how people who abuse public trust should be treated. Basically, they must have their day in court, and the only arm of government vested with the powers to decide the fate of criminals or accused persons is the judiciary. The EFCC or any other arm of the federal government can only accuse, they cannot and should not go ahead to condemn or exonerate. It is only the court that can condemn such individuals and pronounce what punishments they are to serve, after it has been proven beyond reasonable doubts that such individuals are actually guilty of whatever crime they are accused of.
Whatever arrangements that need to be made over the return or expending of public funds must be to public knowledge and anything short of that is not just suspect, but corrupt. The money which Jafaru Isah or any other former public official is said to have returned does not belong to any private individual, but to the Nigerian public, hence, Nigerians must be taken into confidence in dealing with issues relating to their assets.
Part of the mandate of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is to recover stolen funds, but nowhere were they empowered to keep such funds. The Senate is yet probing the ousted chairman of the Commission, Ibrahim Lamorde over allegations that he failed to remit over two trillion Naira recovered from corrupt officials to the government. This trillions of Naira for which Lamorde is being investigated are monies which courts of competent jurisdiction ordered that should be returned to the people of Nigeria through their governments. If such money could go missing, what guarantees do we have that monies paid to the EFCC directly under duress without adequate documentation will not also disappear into thin air?
Jafaru Isah allegedly returned one hundred million Naira out of a whopping 170 Million Naira he was said to have received illegitimately, and he was shielded from the law. This is wrong and will remain illegal no matter how well anyone tries to explain it out. The essence of the criminal justice system is not really about recovering stolen funds, it is mostly correctional; those who are proven to have misused or misappropriated public funds are made to face the music of the law, to correct them and also serve as deterrent to others. It is dangerous to create the impression that as long as you can return whatever money you stole from government, then you can go ahead and steal as much as you can return, then many business minded individual will have no qualms stealing good money from the government, and after investing such money in lucrative businesses, return the capital and keep the proceeds which may have become bigger than the capital, if the individual is good at doing business.
As at the last time, President Buhari was taken up on how much he has recovered through this illegal method, he didn’t know, and if this wasn’t embarrassing enough, then the admittance by our Minister of Finance that she too does not know how much the Nigerian people have in that special purse. The new EFCC chairman is yet to tell us if he knows how much we have in that secret account, but I doubt if he does as it becomes clearer by the day that these monies may actually have been recovered to be re-looted by the ‘right’ people.
There is no worst corruption in a democracy than the neglect of the rule of the law. We cannot say that we are fighting corruption, while that sacrosanct document in which is contained all we need to know about what constitutes corruption and what punishments are meted out to individuals for infracting on any is being treated with disdain. In any sane system, the Constitution of the land is the compass to whatever decision or actions leaders take, but for the present administration, it seems the emotions, preferences, assumptions and mood of the President and those very close to him are the compass.