President Muhammadu Buhari is under pressure from the Nigerian elite to soft pedal on the war against corruption, his deputy, Yemi Osinbajo, said yesterday.
Vice President Osinbajo spoke at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja during a meeting with a delegation of the Muslim Congress of Nigeria (MCN).
He said the government had been receiving regular messages from the elite asking it to “cool down” on the anti-graft war.
They argued that corruption was not a big deal and that Buhari should merely ask the looters to return the money and go, he said.
This is in the wake of the ongoing probe and prosecution of persons for the alleged diversion of $2.1 billion meant for arms purchases, which Buhari last week described as a tip of the iceberg.
Osinbajo did not name those elite, but added that they cut across all sections of the country.
The vice president, however, vowed that such pressure would not deter the government from its effort to rid Nigeria of corruption.
“We get regular messages from some Nigerian elite saying cool down. It is a very strange morality that some of those people have, very complicated but cutting across all tribes and religious differences”, he said.
Osinbajo noted that it was, however, encouraging that the Nigerian masses had a clearer understanding of “right and wrong.
“Although some elite are saying it is not a big deal, and that government should merely ask the looters of the commonwealth of the nation to return the money and go; a new tribe of Nigerians who will not compromise their values, but will maintain a sense of right and wrong is now emerging.
“The man on the street is very clear. So, whatever some of these elite say, we shall keep our focus on the masses who voted for us”, the vice president said.
He added that due to corruption, no federal road or rail project was completed in the last 16 years; a situation he described as simply unacceptable.
The cost of projects, he noted, was often inflated as people entrusted with public trust struggle to enrich themselves at the expense of the people.
He said owing to the inordinate desire for enrichment, funds meant for arms procurement were shared at a time when Nigeria’s territorial integrity was being attacked.
“The insurgency has gone on for six years because government could not adequately equip the military”, the vice president stated.
Osinbajo added: “Mr. President and I are extremely focussed on what we need to do. We will focus on critical things, infrastructure and social investments”.
Earlier, the leader of the delegation, Imam Abdullahi Shuaib, expressed the support of the Muslim Congress of Nigeria for the government’s anti-graft war and other programmes.
President Buhari had, while on a four-day visit to the United States in July last year , sought President Barrack Obama’s help in repatriating $150 billion stolen from Nigeria and held in foreign accounts.
Buhari, in his article published in The Washington Post on July 20, 2015, said: “The fact that I now seek Obama’s assistance in locating and returning $150 billion in funds stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts on behalf of former, corrupt officials is a testament to how badly Nigeria has been run. This way of conducting our affairs cannot continue.”
Also on December 11, 2015 at the Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Foundation Lecture titled: “Incorruptibility: A Spiritual Premise for Material Well-being”, Buhari said past officials had stolen money they could never finish spending.
He had said: “That must stop, if we want a new Nigeria. And that was why I said at another forum that people need not fear me, but they must fear the consequences of their actions.
“Corrupt acts will always be punished, and there will be no friend, no foe. We will strive to do what is fair and just at all times, but people who refuse to embrace probity should have every cause to fear. Look at the corruption problem in the country, and tell me how you feel as a Nigerian.
“Our commonwealth is entrusted to leaders at different levels of governance, and instead of using the God-given resources to better the lot of the citizens, they divert them to private use.
“They then amass wealth in billions and trillions of naira, and other major currencies of the world, ill gotten wealth which they cannot finish spending in several lifetimes over. This is abuse of trust, pure and simple.
“When you hold public office, you do it in trust for the people. When you, therefore, use it to serve self, you have betrayed the people who entrusted that office to you”.
Also, Information and Culture Minister Lai Mohammed had at a press conference in Abuja on January 18 disclosed that 55 Nigerians, including 15 former governors, stole over N1.34 trillion from the nation’s treasury from 2006 to 2013.
“Between the period 2006 and 2013, just 55 people allegedly stole a total of 1.34 trillion Naira in Nigeria. That’s more than a quarter of last year’s national budget. Out of the stolen funds, the minister said 15 former governors were alleged to have stolen N146.84 billion; while 4 former ministers stole N7 billion; 12 former public servants, both at federal and state levels, stole over N14 billion; 8 people in the banking Industry allegedly N524 billion; while 11 businessmen allegedly stole N653 billion”, Lai had said.