President Muhammadu Buhari says during his rule as a military head of state, he was ousted from office and detained for three years for fighting corruption.
Buhari said this at the inauguration of the new corporate headquarters of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in Abuja on Tuesday.
The President, who ruled from December 1983 to August 1985 before he was ousted in a coup by Gen. Ibrahim Babangida (retd.), said all the corrupt persons that were arrested during his administration were released while the loot recovered from them were returned.
He said, “This government promised to fight corruption but corruption will continue to fight back. (During) my first attempt to fight corruption, corruption fought back successfully. I was removed as the head of state, detained for three years and people who we recovered stolen money from were given back their money and I remained in detention up until my mother had to die to save me from detention.”
Buhari, however, said he remained steadfast and committed to the fight against graft despite many challenges.
He said since its inception in 2015, his administration had succeeded in recovering trillions of naira stolen by those he described as people without conscience.
The President also denied allegations that his government embarked on witch-hunts in the fight against graft.
Buhari said under his watch, all Nigerians were now aware that corrupt officials would be held to account, no matter how long it took.
He said throughout the journey of his national life, he had made the anti-corruption fight a major agenda.
The President, however, expressed the hope that the judiciary and legislature would collaborate with the executive on the current war against corruption in the country.
Buhari said, “Throughout my journey in national service and since 2015, I have made a very conscious decision to pursue a vigorous fight against corruption in public life.
“Since 2015, we have made significant progress in the fight against corruption. Everyone now knows that corrupt officials will be held to account, no matter how long it takes.
“We have recovered and are still recovering trillions of naira that were stolen in the past few years by people without conscience.
“We are pursuing recoveries everywhere and are making sure that anyone who has been found culpable is made to answer for his or her crime under the law.
“It is my hope and expectation that the judiciary, which is a critical stakeholder and partner in the war against corruption, would continue to collaborate with the executive to bring corrupt people to book.”
Buhari called on the legislature, which provides the legal framework for the anti-corruption war, to add more verve to the determination of the government to rid the nation of the brazen corruption witnessed in recent years.
This, he said, could be achieved through a review of archaic provisions in the nation’s laws and proactive passage of new legislation.
He admitted that the war against corruption was not an easy one to fight.
“Structures are not the whole story. We must change our ways of handling public trust. Corruption not only kills governments but destroys societies,” Buhari added.
The President expressed gladness that a number of nations were signifying interest to help Nigeria tighten her laws and enter into agreements with her to repatriate not only stolen funds but to make the culprits face due process of law.
He said his administration was committed to working with the nation’s “foreign friends” to stop the inflow of stolen funds from Nigeria into their countries and recovering what was there already.
The President said when repatriated, the assets would be put to building infrastructure.
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In his remarks, the acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, said the office complex was built to accommodate about 700 employees.
According to him, the new headquarters has a forensic laboratory, separate male and female detention facilities, as well as a health centre that will cater for both members of staff and suspects.
Listing some of the recent achievements of the commission, Magu said, “In 2018 alone, we have secured 89 convictions, thus so far, we have secured 486 convictions from November 2015 till date.
“We have recovered funds in different currencies, and so far have recovered more than N500bn. The recoveries meant for the Federal Government are duly remitted to its account, while recoveries for individual, and private institutions are equally paid to them in accordance with the law.”
Buhari’s comments, deceitful-PDP
But the Peoples Democratic Party described statements credited to the President on his anti-graft credentials as deceitful.
The National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, Mr. Kola Ologbodiyan, said this in a telephone interview with The PUNCH, in Abuja, on Tuesday.
He was reacting to enquiries from The PUNCH over the comments made by the President while inaugurating the new office complex of the EFCC.
Ologbodiyan said, “What the President said, with all due respect, was deceitful. The President knows in his heart of heart that he is not fighting corruption. What he is doing is hounding his opponents with the aim of decimating the opposition.
“For Nigerians to take him seriously about the anti-corruption war, which in any case was fought vigorously under the PDP, we want to see people like Babachir Lawal in the dock.
“Nigerians want to see all those corrupt individuals currently taking shelter in the APC being prosecuted instead of being shielded in places like the Presidential Villa.”
Buhari hasn’t learnt from his experience —Balarabe
Also, two elder statesmen, a former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, and a Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, knocked the President, saying his administration had not done better on corruption than it did between 1983 and 1985.
Balarabe said, “I agree that it was corruption that sent him out of power in 1985. But the problem is that why is President Buhari allowing corruption to fight him back again in this present government? Why is he not adopting effective measures to tackle corruption in his present government?
“The President seemed not to put the experience from his first government into use in dealing with corruption now. In spite of the experience he gained between 1983 and 1985, you expect him to do better and not allow corruption again to lead to his removal, but we have not seen this.”
President’s claim, simplistic –Junaid Mohammed
Also, a Second Republic lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said, “The President is being economical with the truth by saying corruption was the reason he was ousted in 1985. He is lying. There were so many issues in 1985 which Buhari does not want to admit, which are still germane till now.
“It is too simplistic for him to claim that corruption sent him out of power. No, I don’t agree that it was corruption. It was a coup held for many factors such as individual ambitions and the national situation.”
Buhari concerned about the past –Adebanjo
In his reaction, an Afenifere chieftain, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, said it seemed Buhari was concerned with the past than the present hence his penchant for blaming past leaders.
The 90-year-old statesman said Buhari could not genuinely claim to be fighting corruption as he was surrounded by persons with questionable character while at the same time refusing to obey court orders.
Adebanjo said, “What is the relevance of his claim? I don’t really care what he did in the past. I am complaining about what he is doing now. He has not done what people expect of him. The hopes he raised when he came to replace (Dr. Goodluck) Jonathan have been dashed.
“He claims to be fighting corruption with the corrupt persons surrounding him. Is he obeying the rule of law despite his claim that he is now a democrat? Why is Dasuki still in detention and the Shi’ite leader in custody despite several court orders?
Afenifere dismisses Buhari’s claims
The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, also dismissed Buhari’s claims that his government was overthrown in 1985 because he fought corruption, noting that his war against graft was selective then just as it is now.
Afenifere’s spokesman, Yinka Odumakin, accused the President of hypocrisy and double standards, noting that he treated his corrupt kinsmen with kid gloves while hounding those from other regions.
He added, “His claim (that he was ousted for fighting corruption) is debatable because even in 1984, the corruption that was fought was as selective as it is today.