SPEAKER of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, has described as unimaginable, the scale of corruption so far uncovered by anti-graft agencies.
At a meeting with newspaper editors in Abuja, on Saturday, Dogara said he was shocked by the monumental looting of the treasury in the past, citing the discovery of billions of looted fund buried in a farm in Abuja.
He explained that operatives of anti-graft agencies had been busy moving the cash out of the farm.
Dogara said he had never heard of such impunity in which people “stole for the sake of stealing,” decrying the latest antics of suspected looters to bury their loot in farmland.
According to him, it was imperative to bring the full weight of the law on all those found to have looted the treasury, in order to serve as deterrent to others with similar intention in the future.
“But, if I am just arrested, charged to court and maybe some money recovered from me and, at the end of the day, nothing happens, a lot of people may not be deterred in the future from engaging in corrupt practices.
“If you look at the massive looting of the treasury (actually, I have been in government for quite some time), I never could have imagined the scale of corruption that we are witnessing right now, where people took lot of money running into billions and buried them in farms.
“As we are speaking now, they are recovering monies from someone’s farm somewhere around Abuja. It is very unfortunate where people stole money just for the sake of stealing,” he said.
While acknowledging the criticism against the anti-graft agencies on the pace of work, Dogara noted that the agencies appeared overwhelmed by the volume of challenges arising from the current war.
Nonetheless, he said the agencies should do the needful so as to remain on top of its game.
“If you were the one in charge of fighting corruption, you would have even been shocked by the scale of the problem. I guess part of the problem we have is that the scale of the problem far outweighs the anticipation of the agencies. So, if care is not taken, we may not get things right in the process. They will have to keep their heads level to be able to be in charge of the fight and to do it effectively.”
The Speaker, who asserted that President Muhammadu Buhari remained committed to stemming corruption in the country, said the process of doing that had become a subject of concern to some people, especially concerning the operations of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
“If you look at what it has done so far, there is even a discussion as to whether or not they are proceeding in the right direction and whether or not it is not time for us to sit down and do an assessment of how the fight has been, in view of the fact that in the last one year, I do not think there has been any major conviction.
“It has always been a case of this person has been arrested and detained and some things have been done or he has been charged to court and then the story ends there. If we continue like this, only God knows if we will succeed in fighting corruption.
“If the end is just to arrest people, charge them to court and thereafter nothing happens; no one is convicted; because conviction, even if you are not jailed, has a way of deterring people.
“The fact that you are carrying that negative appellation as a former convict has the potential to deter people from corruption in the future,” he added.
Dogara, however, faulted insinuations in some quarters that the government was engaging in a selective war against corruption, with major actors in the last administration as targets.
He cited two instances where those believed to be very close to the corridors of power came under serious scrutiny by the anti-graft agencies to buttress his argument that the present administration was altruistic in its war against corruption.
“If we are talking about corruption, naturally, it will relate to those that had opportunity to serve in government. You will recall that, especially that the PDP had been in power for a number of years, more than a decade and if you were to weigh members of opposition that are in government now and had opportunity to serve, those that would have tendencies to engage in pilfering of resources, majority will come from PDP, except we are not being realistic.
“Though we can’t claim that all the members of APC are saints – you pointed out that APC spent money in the course of the campaign – where did this money come from? Because as it is, we haven’t really had any facts about government officials forwarding money to the cause of the campaign! Majority of the money that was stolen was channeled towards the PDP campaign.
“You know the arms purchase monies, for instance, virtually everything was given for the prosecution of PDP campaign. I do not think a dime went to any member of the APC; we were all in government then. I can’t remember a discussion like that then. I knew when some of the funds were being given to some of our friends as well but, I believe that no one that is of APC stock was given that money. The whole thing was scripted.
“I don’t think the fight has really been one-sided. If you recall, one of the closest aides to the president, I don’t want to name him, if you recall when he was picked up, everyone was shocked that the man could be picked up. He had been one of the most dutiful, yet he wasn’t spared when evidence was adduced that he benefitted from it and he had to refund the money.
“Recently, one of the closest people to the Villa was, as well, picked up. He has been detained and questioned; some recoveries were made from him. If the intention was that the fight should be one-sided, I can guarantee you that if it were to be a case that would have sacred cows, those two amply qualify as sacred cows that should not be touched,” Dogara added.
“The Speaker added that if there was anybody in the APC government that perpetrated corruption and had not been dealt with, it could be that there was no evidence before the government, adding that “I know there will be more that will come under serious searchlight of the anti-graft agencies and it doesn’t matter where they are.”
On the forgery case against the Senate leadership, Dogara cautioned against castrating the legislative arm of government, which he described as the bastion of democracy.
He said he could not make a categorical statement on the forgery allegation since the matter was already in court, coupled with his claim that he did not have all necessary documents in relation to the case.
“I believe that the National Assembly in any country is the bastion of democracy. Where you do not have an independent National Assembly, you definitely will have some kind of totalitarian tendencies in the government,” he added.
“Ours is a democracy that is still evolving; it is not as nascent as it used to be but, we still have a lot to learn. If the goal is that they want to strangle the parliament, then definitely, we are going to run into serious problems and that will be an affront, a serious affront on democracy and that will be totally unacceptable.
“But since the matter is in court, it doesn’t mean that when allegations are made, that they are true. It doesn’t. A lot of people have been charged to courts before and at the end of the day, insufficient evidence is given. And in a case of forgery, it (forgery) is a criminal offence and the standard of proof, the burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt.
“The Senate has spoken. It is an issue that all of us, including the Senate and the House of Representatives, will have to really sit down and analyse.
“As it is, I haven’t really seen the papers; I haven’t seen the charges. I don’t know whether they are grounded or not but I have asked, as a lawyer too, that I needed to see the nature of the evidence against the presiding officers that are being charged to court in a case of forgery. And if there is a compelling case, we won’t say he should be exempted because we are legislators,” he added.
The Speaker chided those advocating a mono-camera legislature for the country, accusing them of not acknowledging the essence of the existing two arms of the National Assembly.
Dogara also expressed concern on the parlous state of the economy and called for a stronger economic team to save the current situation.
“When you talk of the economy, it is something that we will have to look at closely. I sincerely believe we need a very strong team that will superintend our economy because as we are faced with dire challenges like this, we have to do something,” he said
“When (President Barack) Obama came into government in the US, there was virtual collapse of the economy at that time. He had to look for serious-minded people who sat and charted a way out of that crisis. I sincerely believe that in Nigeria as well, we are rich in diverse ways.
“I don’t think under (former President Olusegun) Obasanjo, we had an oil boom; we were earning far less than what we did subsequently, but we were able to manage the meagre resources we had.
“So, I sincerely believe it is just a matter of management and if we are able to get the right people in place, we will be able to swim through these dangerous waters. But as it is, as they say, we are in the waters, and everything seems to be heading south. Things seem to be defying the traditional ways of resolving this kind of problems. So, we need new methods. We need a strong team to really be in charge of the economy,” he stated.
The Speaker also commented on some members of the executive not honouring invitation by the National Assembly, saying “the provision of the constitution is manifestly and patently clear about powers in pursuance of a resolution published in a gazette.”
He also promised that the legislature would respect the collective will of Nigerians on the controversial grazing reserve bill.