Balarabe, Tsav, Okorie, Galadima support voluntary return of stolen funds
By Omoniyi Salaudeen
WELL meaning Nigerians have thrown their weights behind President Muhammadu Buhari’s olive branch extended to those who stole public money to voluntarily return their share to get a reprieve.
Noting that the process of loot recovery has been unduly slowed down by legal huddles, they said letting the looters go after voluntary return of their stolen money would encourage more people to submit their ill-gotten wealth and thus mitigate the effect of the present economic crunch. A former national secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Alhaji Buba Galadima, in an interview with Sunday Sun said: “No thief will return the loot without the assurance that he will be let to go when he returns the money. In Nigeria, our judicial system is not looking for the truth, but the technicalities to let the culprits off the hook on the pretext that you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt. I will support any initiative that will enable us to recover all the loots because that will be more beneficial to the people and to the country.”
Also speaking in the same vein, a former commissioner of police in Lagos State, Abubakar Tsav, submitted that the olive branch would accelerate the process of loot recovery, adding that the present administration may not see the end of the ongoing trials, if legal process were to be relied upon. His words: “Anybody who returns the loot should be set free. If they do that, a lot of people will be encouraged to bring back their loots. If not, they will use the loot to defend themselves and their lawyers will delay the cases for a very long time. And that will be very frustrating. Many of the cases may not even finish during Buhari’s time. If they identify the amount involved and the property, the government should seize all of them and make them poor again.”
On his own part, the presidential candidate of the United Progress Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, while supporting the president’s initiative to provide a soft landing for those in possession of public funds, emphasized the need for the government to institutionalize anti-corruption war in a manner that would bring shame to the looters and their families. He, however, said that the exigency of the present circumstance made it imperative for the government to review its loot recovery strategy.
“What the President has done is to send an olive branch to the looters as a leeway to reduce their problem. If it is clear how much they actually stole after a thorough investigation and they bring all of it back, I will support letting them go. The country is in dire need of the money they stole. For those who have not been charged to court and voluntarily they bring back the money, the government can let go because we need money to run this country,” he said.
“Institutionalizing anti-corruption is a more sustaining way of fighting the menace of corruption. But in the interim, there is need for the money to be brought back because what was stolen from the information available to the public is mindboggling,” he added.
The Second Republic civilian governor of the old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, advocated leniency rather than a total pardon for the looters. In his opinion, it would be a bad precedent to just collect the looted money without bringing the culprits to book.
He said: “Loot recovery and prosecution have to go together. The government should collect money through the court. What can save those who stole money is if they voluntarily submit what they have stolen. After that, the government can be lenient on them with less punishment when they get to court. But those who refuse to return the money; the government should investigate them thoroughly, be sure of how much they stole and take them to court without any leniency as to their punishment. The benefit of returning money voluntarily is that government can be lenient. There must be a punishment but government can be lenient,” he posited.
President Buhari’s advice to those in possession of public funds came on the heels of Eid- El-Fitr celebration. Speaking at the Presidential villa when he received a delegation of Abuja-based residents comprising of Christians and Muslims as well as top government officials led by the Federal Capital Territory Minister, Bello Muhammadu, he said: “Please tell those with plenty of money that does not belong to them to try and negotiate and return it in peace so that both they and us will be in peace; otherwise, we will continue to look for it.”
In their separate interviews with Sunday Sun, the eminent stakeholders blamed the slow process of loot recovery on the nation’s judicial system and accordingly declared their support for the president’s olive branch.