President Olusegun Obasanjo recently revealed that the Paris Club gave him names of prominent Nigerians who allegedly siphoned public funds overseas.
The President who made the revelation while receiving a Kwara State delegation led by Governor Bukola Saraki that went to felicitate with him for securing debt relief, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, stated: “We must realise that this debt relief did not at all come easy. They had shown me some of our highly placed people who are still misbehaving by siphoning money out of the country. Of course, we get more information; we will react to it and other reports.” The president, however, did not make public the names he claimed to have been given. While we acknowledge the efforts of the Obasanjo administration in its fight against corruption, we are concerned that the President is shielding from the public names of these ‘highly placed Nigerians’ who may have apparently stolen from public treasury and stashed them in foreign banks.
This newspaper therefore calls on the president to, apart from making the list public, also handover such prominent Nigerians to appropriate agencies for investigation. This would reassure the public that there are no untouchable personalities in his anti-corruption campaign. Nigerians would also want to know how much is involved, and the modalities for the repatriation.
At inauguration in 1999, the President made the fight against corruption one of his cardinal policies for the revival of the economy. However, the government has been unable to restore moral, social and institutional order except for a few recent cases which are still ensnared in controversies. The so-called war against corruption has unfortunately assumed image laundering colouration as against the crusade for national renaissance that was pledged by President Obasanjo on May 29, 1999. More worrisome is the fact that the entire anti-corruption project has been impeded due largely to lack of transparency and honesty of purpose on the part of the leadership.
For instance, the government has failed in the past six years to take pragmatic steps in successfully prosecuting anyone even when there are glaring evidences for conviction. The popular impression therefore is that it is still business as usual.
We strongly believe that the war against corruption should not be tailored to just impress our creditors for debt cancellation or even for foreign investment but most importantly as a crusade to cleanse our society and restore our image in the gathering of nations.
Like many Nigerians, we believe that the President’s revelation of the existence of some prominent Nigerians siphoning funds to foreign lands should not be casually mentioned and forgotten without a swift action by government when there is precedence in the protracted struggle to retrieve the Abacha loot for which the administration has put so much energy.
We are uncomfortable with the present situation where the President keeps the list close to his chest. Our feeling derives from the fact that the list may become a potent weapon by the government against perceived enemies that would be used at a time convenient to him and his aides.
Like many Nigerians, this paper strongly believes that if the President is to be taken seriously, then he is under obligation to make public their names as failure would indicate that the list contains names of ‘sacred cows’. Secondly, the President may be seen to be concealing a criminal act if he insists on not making public the names. This, therefore, is an opportunity for him and Nigerians to make the statement that public office is not an opportunity for anyone to enrich self and kindred.
Daily Trust (Abuja), All Africa.com, August 3, 2005