THE near future of some former ministers and top government officials appears to be behind bars as President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday confirmed that he had started receiving some documents, which showed that they were thieves.
The President vowed that the ex-ministers would be prosecuted based on the indicting documents while the proceeds of their fraud would be repatriated to government coffers from their multiple foreign accounts, which he said were opened for the purpose of laundering money.
Buhari said the documents at his disposal indicted some former ministers and other top government officials of massive fraud, including oil theft.
“Some former ministers were selling about one million barrels per day. I assure you that we will trace and repatriate such money and use the documents to prosecute them. A lot of damage has been done to the integrity of Nigeria with individuals and institutions already compromised,” the President said.
He spoke at an interactive session with Nigerians in Diaspora at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC, United States of America, as part of his four-day official visit to the country.
He also said that while many Nigerians had nicknamed him “Baba Go Slow” because of the delay in forming his cabinet, he would prefer to be “slow and steady” in taking decisions.
He said the government officials who had been stealing Nigerian oil also opened as many as five bank accounts abroad for the purpose of laundering the money they made from their thievery.
The President said, “We are now looking for evidences of shipping some of our crude, their destinations and where and which accounts they were paid and in which country.
“When we get as much as we can get as soon as possible, we will approach those countries to freeze those accounts and go to court, prosecute those people and let the accounts be taken to Nigeria.
“The amount of money is mind-boggling but we have started getting documents. We have started getting documents where some of the senior people in government, former ministers, some of them operated as much as five accounts and were moving about one million barrels per day on their own. We have started getting those documents.
“I assure you that whichever documents we are able to get and subsequently trace the sale of the crude or transfer of money from ministries, departments, Central Bank, we will ask for the cooperation of those countries to return those monies to the Federation Accounts.
“And we will use those documents to arrest those people and prosecute them. This, I promise Nigerians.”
Buhari faulted the mode of operation of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, saying his administration would check the excesses of the corporation.
The President restated his position that removal of subsidy would bring more hardship on Nigerians.
He however said he would study the debate and take a decision based on his experience.
He said, “Who is subsiding who? But people are gleefully talking ‘remove subsidy.’ They want petrol to cost N500 per litre.
“If you are working and subsidy is removed, you can’t control transport, you can’t control market women, the cost of food and the cost of transport.
“If you are earning N20, 000 per day and you are living in Lagos or Ibadan, the cost of transport to work and back, the cost of food. You cannot control the market women because they have to pay what transporters charge them.
“If there is a need for removing subsidy, I will study it. With my experience, I will see what I can do. But I am thinking more than half of Nigerians cannot afford to live without subsidy.
“Where will they get the money to go to work? How will they feed their families? How will they pay rent? If Nigeria were not an oil producing country, all well and good.
“Our refineries are not working. We have a lot of work to do.”
Buhari decried those he said had started calling him “Baba Go Slow” because he has yet to form his cabinet, weeks after his inauguration.
He said, “Within the past two weeks, I am being asked when I am going to form my cabinet. And in some quarters they are now calling me ‘Baba Go Slow.’
“I am going to go slow and steady. Nigerians should be patient to allow this administration put some sense into governance and deal with corruption.”
He also pledged to study the Diaspora Bill with a view to signing it into law as being demanded by the Nigerians in Diaspora.
The President advised the Nigerians in Diaspora looking for government jobs back home to suspend their ambition, saying the national economy was in a bad shape and that it would take his administration about 18 months or more to resuscitate it.
He, however, promised that some of them would be engaged by the Federal Government as consultants to enable them to contribute their quota to national development.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, later issued a statement quoting Buhari as saying that his administration would trace the accounts of individuals who stashed away ill-gotten oil money, freeze and recover the loot and prosecute the culprits.
The statement read in part, “Corruption in Nigeria has virtually developed into a culture where honest people are abused.
“250,000 barrels per day of Nigerian crude are being stolen and people sell and put the money into individual accounts.
“The United States and other developed countries are helping us to trace such accounts now. We will ask that such accounts be frozen and prosecute the persons. The amount involved is mind-boggling.”
One former minister, who served in the ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, in his reaction on Wednesday, said Buhari was not a frivolous person and that his allegations against former ministers should not be trivialised.
The ex-minister however added that it was only former ministers who had access to oil that could have been engaged in the stealing of the product.
The minister, who is from the South-West, but who asked not to be named, told our correspondent that Buhari, being a cautious leader, could not have made a general statement tagging all ex-ministers as crude oil thieves.
“It is only someone who has access to oil that could steal it. I won’t believe that the President made a general statement calling all ex-ministers thieves. The President Buhari that I know doesn’t speak anyhow. This is a serious allegation that we should not trivialise,” he said.
Also a former junior minister, also from the South-West geo-political zone, told one of our correspondents on the phone late on Wednesday that he could not defend anybody because he did not know those that Buhari was accusing.
“I don’t want to react because I am not sure about those the President is accusing of stealing oil. I don’t even think it concerns me; its people like (former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani) Alison-Madueke that you should be talking to. By the way, you know I came late to the whole thing,” the former minister of state said.