Biggest area of stealing of Nigeria’s funds was through NNPC – Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari, in an interview with BBC Hausa, yesterday, says his government has gone far in identifying looters, especially those involved in crude oil stealing and explains why it is taking him time to prosecute the culprits. He also gave insight into the appointments he made so far. Excerpts:
Ever since you came to office, the issue of security has been your priority. What is the present security situation?
One of the decisions we took soon after we came into office was to change the service chiefs and we overhauled the infantry. We mandated the military chiefs to change the infantry, re-train them, equip them with adequate weapons and put trained and qualified commanders for the soldiers. The three states of Yobe, Borno and Adamawa know the successes being recorded now. They can attest to that. And the other parts of the country, too, are coming back to normal life. Places like Kano, where business was crippled has started to pick up. And along the Damaturu – Maiduguri road, up to Lake Chad, security has improved. So the people around the flash points know that success is being recorded.
But despite this success, suicide bombers have continued to strike. Do you think this renewed effort will also end the suicide incidences?
Boko Haram members have pledged their allegiance to ISIS – an insurgent group from the Middle East, with enough money and its members were brainwashed into killing innocent people, including Al-Shabab around Somalia, and Al-Qa’eda from Yemen, plus the ISIS itself around Syria and Iraq. If you can recall, ISIS even went to mosques in Saudi Arabia and killed people on about three to five occasions not to talk of doing same in Nigeria. So, the biggest problem here is how they brainwashed young people, including young girls, who go to mosques, churches, markets, motor parks and detonate bombs, kill themselves and other civilians. How we are going to overcome this is going back to the traditional security apparatus – community leaders, neighbours, district heads, emirs, who should begin to identify new faces in their localities and asked them where they come from and what brought them. They can identify them in either markets, or any other place. This is what will help us in that regard so that those planning to undertake suicide missions could be identified and they would be dealt with appropriately.
Since you came into office, you have been receiving intelligence reports about this Boko Haram crisis. Did you receive any information about the whereabouts of kidnapped Chibok girls?
They have scattered them, and are being guarded at dispersed locations. Most of the girls are Christians and were forced to embrace Islam. And the sect’s cruel leaders have married some of the girls, obviously against their wish. Others have been left to practice their religion but their condition could hardly be ascertained. Both ground and air security personnel in the Sambisa forest could spot where the girls are, but since the insurgents have also kidnapped housewives and other women, no one could say whether they mixed them or how they dispersed them. But efforts are being intensified and as people know, the three neighbouring governments of Cameroon, Chad, and Niger are helping us since these suicide bombers are now going to their areas and detonating the bombs in mosques and other places.
Since you came into office, the anti-corruption crusade has been on the media. But are there some stolen monies which your government was able to recover?
The biggest area of stealing of Nigeria’s funds was through NNPC which is the apex oil selling corporation. That was why we dissolved their board and brought someone who knows the oil sector very well, but who is not from NNPC and entrusted him with the leadership of the NNPC. And instead of the 8 major departments, four were liquidated and four continue to exist. This is because, for the past 10 years, the crude oil stealing has been going on using some vessels. By law, their owners, captains and where they are taking the crude must be known. So the method for the crude oil stealing was that those involved shipped the crude through smaller vessels and then transfer the crude to the larger vessels at distant location in the ocean, before they head to other countries. Some of them carry the crude but later change the destination. So our new approach is to get support from European countries, the US and China. Those doing the bunkering, you need to know the amount first and the banks they deposit the monies, etc. These are the things we are doing presently. And you know, those developed countries are strict on evidences and you have to show the evidences of such cases before they can assist you. If you recall, during the military regimes, such people were arrested, thoroughly interrogated and arraigned before the courts with evidences. But that is impossible now. It is democracy and even the foreign countries, where the monies are being taken to, practice democracy. The companies involved in buying the crude and the banks that kept the monies would be identified so that we would determine whether they are Nigerians or not; whether the stolen crude and its quantity was actually taken from here, sold with the Nigerian name and how what accrued to Nigeria was diverted. So, the situation is a complex one, but we are getting support from governments of those countries, including their security agencies. When we get the relevant documents, we would bring them (culprits) back to our courts and try them. We would then show the evidence to the world that the crude oil they traded was actually stolen or shipped with Nigerian name but later changed the papers and took away the money, instead of depositing them into the Central Bank of Nigeria.
Recently, you said that within weeks, Nigerians would witness the prosecution of such looters in the courts. When are you precisely going to prosecute them?
Actually, we are at the verge of doing that. I have just explained the difficulties involved. In the past, around 1984, the process we underwent to recover the stolen monies was different from the one we are adopting now. It was a military regime at that time, but now, ideologies of the countries involved is that until you are proved guilty, you remain innocent. And that is what we have been trying to establish: the actual identity of the people, where they took the crude to, did they really pay back the money to the CBN or to the pocket of some individuals, was the entire crude shipped or part of it. This is not an easy thing and we have never realised its complexity until recently when some foreign countries agreed to support our course.
Nigerians have been eagerly awaiting the formation of your cabinet. You once disclosed that your cabinet would be revealed in September and we are in September. When will president Buhari tell Nigerians the names of his cabinet members?
I said within this month. Therefore, I still have three weeks. As such, hold back your question until after three weeks, when September ends without me doing that. And you know too well that their names have to be submitted to the Nigerian Senate and the appointees will pass through the Senate’s screening before they become eligible to hold the ministerial offices.
A lot of people assume that the long time you spent without forming this cabinet was due to some level of due-diligence on the people you want to bring in. Have you finished that process?
The process is difficult to finish. So, we would continue the screening to come up with people that deserve to hold the positions. This is because, what I see daily in terms of the damage inflicted on Nigeria in the last 10 years is enormous. Only God knows its magnitude.
Are there names that you earlier lined up for the appointments but you later discovered their complicity and then you changed your mind?
There are people that deserve to hold the position because of their knowledge in either financial issues, or oil sector or even in governance. But you discover that in one way or the other, and whether they knew it or not, they were dragged to such unwholesome practices. Bringing such people will be tantamount to leaving your doors open when you have gone to rest in your apartment. Putting such people in either financial, petrol or works ministry would be dangerous because behind the scene, some people control a person. They would be dictating to them with a threat to award them contracts. This is the most frightening thing that Nigerians must understand. You need to get people who held similar post before or tried to maintain accountability.
There are appointments you made recently and a section of the country alleged that you tilt your appointments to only one part of the country. What will you say about this allegation?
This is the nature of Nigerian politics. If they will do justice to me, as an elected Nigerian president, let them look at the Constitution a Nigerian president works with, there are people who will closely work with me that don’t need to be taken to the Senate. If I select people whom I know quite well in my political party, whom we came all the way right from the APP, CPC and APC, and have remained together in good or bad situation, the people I have confidence in and I can trust them with any post, will that amount to anything wrong? I have been with them throughout our trying times, what then is the reward of such dedication and suffering? They did not defect because of positions, they did not involve themselves in the pursuit of personal gains, and they accepted their fate throughout our trying moments. What is wrong if I make you the secretary (of the federal government) because I have confidence that things will go normal?
Lastly, people appreciate the improvement in electricity. What is the secret President Muhammadu Buhari adopted?
There is nothing strange, except that I said those who bought the electricity companies and the workers must work accordingly. From 1999 to present, Nigeria’s money, totalling $20 billion, not Nigerian naira, but US dollars was spent on Nigeria’s electricity. So the companies involved in whatever way, we have been begging them to come back and work because there may be a time when the push comes to shove on how such monies were spent, the companies must execute the project or refund to Nigeria her money.