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Buhari demands immediate, unconditional release of stolen funds

ÎPresident Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday in London stressed the need for immediate and unconditional repatriation of identified stolen funds to their countries of origin by leaders in whose countries such assets are kept. Buhari also called for the establishment of an international anti-corruption infrastructure that would monitor, trace and facilitate the return of such assets to their countries of origin.

Speaking at a Commonwealth event entitled “Tackling Corruption Together: A Conference for Civil Society, Business and Government Leaders,’’ held at Malborough House, President Buhari expressed deep frustration in effort by his administration to retrieve huge public funds illegally taken abroad from Nigeria. Also on Wednesday in London, Buhari admitted that his country, Nigeria is “fantastically corrupt.” He was asked by Sky News Diplomatic Editor, Dominic Wagborn whether Nigeria was ‘fantastically corrupt’ as sarcastically depicted on Tuesday by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron and he responded in the affirmative.

Cameron was caught on camera on Tuesday describing Nigeria and Afghanistan as two ‘fantastically corrupt’ nations. The conversations between Buhari and Sky News Editor, as posted in a video by the news platform went thus: “Will you like an apology from the prime minister?” “No, no, not at all.” “Are you embarrassed by what he said?” “No I’m not.” “Is Nigeria fantastically corrupt?” “Yes!” Buhari reiterated the ‘no apology needed’ stance while speaking at the Commonwealth event, saying “I am not going to demand any apology from anybody.” To cheers from Nigerian delegates in the audience, he added: “What would I do with an apology?” Instead, he said Britain could be quicker to return assets wrongly brought to London, saying “I need something tangible,” instead of apology.

He observed, in the keynote address that he presented, that the tediousness and almost frustrating procedures being demanded need not be as there are provisions in the appropriate United Nations’ Conventions that require countries to return assets where they were stolen from once it had been proven that they were illegitimately acquired.

President Buhari also blamed international criminal cartels for the flourishing of corrupt practices in several countries, saying that the local perpetrators work handin-hand with the cartels. He said, “It is important to stress that the repatriation of identified stolen funds should be done without delay or preconditions.” President Buhari equally pointed out that the quantum of illegal activities in the oil sector in Nigerian, especially oil theft, had been made possible through the collaboration of staff of the oil companies. “In addition to the looting of public funds, Nigeria is also confronted with illegal activities in the oil sector, the mainstay of our export economy.

That this industry has been enmeshed in corruption with the participation of the staff of some of the oil companies is well established. Their participation enabled oil theft to take place on a massive scale. “Some of us in this hall may be familiar with the Report released by Chatham House, here in London, in 2013, titled “Nigeria’s Criminal Crude: International Options to Combat the Export of Stolen Oil.” The important findings of the Chatham House document are illuminating and troubling. “Part of the Report concluded that: Nigerian crude oil is being stolen on an industrial scale and exported, with the proceeds laundered through world financial centres by transnational organized criminals.

“Oil theft is a species of organized crime that is almost totally off the international community’s radar, as Nigeria’s trade and diplomatic partners have taken no real action. “Nigeria could not stop the trade single-handedly, and there is limited value in countries going it alone. “It is clear therefore, that the menace of oil theft, put at over 150,000 barrels per day, is a criminal enterprise involving internal and external perpetrators. Illicit oil cargoes and their proceeds move across international borders. “Opaque and murky as these illegal transactions may be, they are certainly traceable and can be acted upon, if all governments show the required political will. This will has been the missing link in the international efforts hitherto. Now in London, we can turn a new page by creating a multi-state and multi-stakeholder partnership to address this menace,” Buhari declared.

Accordingly, he called on the international community to designate oil theft as an international crime similar to the trade in “blood diamonds”, as it constitutes an imminent and credible threat to the economy and stability of oil-producing countries like Nigeria, urging the critical stakeholders present at the conference to lead the charge in that regard. The President noted that a main component of the anti-corruption partnership “is that governments must demonstrate unquestionable political will and commitment to the fight.

The private sector must come clean and be transparent, and civil society, while keeping a watch on all stakeholders, must act and report with a sense of responsibility and objectivity.” In a veiled reference to the continuous detention of the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, Buhari admitted that agencies of government had applied stringent rules in certain cases to prevent escape from justice. Dasuki has remained in detention since last year following his arrest in connection with about two billiopn dollars arms deal, despite court orders. Buhari also sought the support of countries in effort to prosecute some wanted persons residing there.

“I admit that there are a few cases where apparently stringent rules have been applied as a result of threats to national security and the likelihood that certain persons may escape from the country or seek to undermine the stability of Nigeria. “It is for this reason that we are seeking the support of many countries for the prosecution of certain individuals residing in their jurisdictions. Of course we will provide the necessary legal documents and whatever mutual assistance is required to secure conviction of such individuals, as well as facilitate the repatriation of our stolen assets,” Buhari submitted.

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