Looters hide billions in farms – Dogara

     
                                                                     Yakubu Dogara

By Jide Ajani
ABUJA— THE Speaker of the House of
Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has expressed shock
over the wicked manner some leaders looted the
nation’s treasury, saying they now hide their loot in
farms.
Dogara, who lamented that no conviction had been
secured so far against the looters to serve as
deterrence to others, said, in an interview, that there
was need to reassess the way the anti-graft war was
being waged to ensure the rule of law was followed.
He also urged support for the President's anti-graft
war.
He said: "If you look at the massive looting of the
treasury, actually, I have been in government for quite
some time, I never, never could have imagined the
scale of corruption that we are witnessing, where
people took lots of money running into billions and
buried them in farms.
"As we speak, they are recovering monies from
someone’s farm somewhere around Abuja. It is very
unfortunate, where people stole money just for the
sake of stealing. If you were the one who was in charge
of fighting corruption, you would have even been
shocked by the scale of the problem.
"I guess part of the problem we have is that the scale
of the problem far outweighs the anticipation of the
agencies. So, if care is not taken in the process, we
may not get things right. They will have to keep their
heads level to be able to be in charge of this fight and
do it effectively."
No major conviction in past one year
Dogara, who also spoke on a host of burning national
issues, lamented that there had not been a major
conviction in the last one year.
His words: "You will recall that the fight against
corruption is one of the cardinal promises that Mr
President made before assumption of office. He had
cause to say that we have to kill corruption before
corruption kills us and I know he is committed to
fighting corruption to a stand still.
"The process of doing that has become a subject of
concern to some people. The EFCC is actually the
agency, as we all know, that is in charge of this fight
and if you look at what it has done so far, there is even
a discussion as to whether they are proceeding in the
right direction and whether it is not time for us to sit
down and do an assessment of how the fight has been,
in view of the fact that in the last one year I do not
think there has been any major conviction.
"And it has always been a case of this person has been
arrested and detained and some things have been done
or he has been charged to court and then the story
ends there. Whether we will succeed in fighting
corruption, if we continue in this way,  only God knows.
"If the end is just to arrest people, charge them to court
and, thereafter, nothing happens, no one is convicted;
because conviction, even if you are not jailed, has a
way of deterring people. The fact that you are carrying
that negative appellation as a former convict has the
potential to deter people from corruption in the future.
"But if I am just arrested, charged to court and maybe
some money recovered from me and at the end of the
day, nothing happens, a lot of people may not be
deterred in the future from engaging in corrupt
practices."
War not one-sided
The speaker disagreed with claims that the war against
corruption was selective, stressing that naturally, the
war would revolve around those who had the
opportunity to serve in government at the centre.
He said: "If we are talking about corruption, naturally, it
will relate to those that had opportunity to serve in
government. You will recall that, especially, the PDP
had been in power for a number of years, more than a
decade and if you were to weigh members of
opposition that are in government now and had
opportunity to serve, those that would have tendencies
to engage in pilfering of resources, majority will come
from PDP, except we are not being realistic.
"Though we can’t claim that all the members of APC
are saints, you pointed out that APC spent money in
the course of the campaign, but where did this money
come from? Because as it is, we haven’t really had any
facts about government officials forwarding money to
the cause of the campaign.
"Majority of the money that was stolen was channelled
towards the PDP campaign.  You know that this arms
purchase monies, for instance, virtually everything was
given for the prosecution of PDP campaign.
"I do not think a dime went to any member of the APC,
we were all in government then. I can’t remember a
discussion like that then but I knew when some of the
funds were being given to some of our friends as well
but I believe that no one that is of APC stock was given
that money.
"The whole thing was scripted. I don’t think the fight
has really been one sided. If you recall, one of the
closest aides to the President, I don’t want to name
him, when he was picked up, everyone was shocked
that that man could be picked up.
"He had been one of the most dutiful, one of the people
that is very, very close to the President, yet he wasn’t
spared when evidence was adduced that he benefited
from it and he had to refund the money."
Senate forgery case
On the Senate forgery case, he said he did not want to
offer an opinion because the matter was in court.
However, he cautioned against anything that would
hurt the National Assembly as it is the bastion of
democracy in any country.
He added: "Where you do not have an independent
National Assembly, you definitely will have some kind
of totalitarian tendencies in the government.
"In the past, there had been stability in regards to the
work of the judiciary and the executive because
usually, during military regimes or intervention, the
institution that was suspended was the National
Assembly and for obvious reasons.
"The body that now makes the law is the executive
body. Ours is a democracy that is still evolving, it is
not as nascent as it used to be but we still have a lot to
learn.
"If the goal is that they want to strangle the parliament,
then definitely, we are going to run into serious
problems and that will be an affront, a serious affront,
on democracy and that will be totally unacceptable.
"But since the matter is in court, it doesn’t mean that
when allegations are made, that they are true. It
doesn’t. A lot of people have been charged to courts
before and at the end of the day, insufficient evidence
is given. And in a case of forgery, it is a criminal
offence and the standard of proof, the burden of proof
is beyond reasonable doubt.
"The Senate has spoken, it is an issue that all of us,
including the Senate and the House of Representatives,
will have to really sit down and analyze. As it is, I
haven’t really seen the papers, I haven’t seen the
charges, I don’t know whether they are grounded or not
but I have asked, as a lawyer too, that I needed to see
the nature of the evidence against the presiding
officers that are being charged to court in a case of
forgery.
"If there is a compelling case, we won’t say he should
be exempted because we are legislators. So, if there is
no basis, serious basis, justifiable basis, for preferring
the charge, I believe that the accusation by the Senate
may ultimately be right.
"That is the situation as I have seen myself. The matter
is in court, we will allow the judiciary to do its work and
I sincerely believe that if they are guilty as they are
alleged, that the proof of evidence will disclose any
material allegation against them, then we will continue
to do the work we do in parliament without fear of any
intimidation."
Allegation of a cabal in govt
On Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s allegation of
government within Buhari’s government, Dogara said:
“The Senate president has his own sources of
information, he is a close watcher of development of
government, he has been in the system far longer than
myself and so, for him to have made this allegation, it
means he had seen certain things or certain trends that
lent credence to what he said.
"In my case, I cannot say that I have seen a situation
where a cabal that sits in government can make a
decision. I don’t know, but I believe that since he is the
one that said it, he will be in a better position to throw
light on this.
"He has said there is a cabal, that there is a
government within a government, so I believe that in
due course, he will educate us more, throw light onto it
and maybe we can unveil the cabal. That is a job
journalists can really do effectively."
NASS may approach S-Court on honouring of
invitations
On relations with the Presidency and the Executive arm
of government not honouring invitation, especially the
Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of
Justice, Dogara said the lawmakers might approach
the Supreme Court to get a decision on the issue.
"Whether we should approach the court and ask for
interpretation of our powers to summon ministers, I
don’t think that is in doubt. The provisions of the
constitution is manifestly and patently clear about
powers in pursuance of a resolution published in a
gazette.
"In the case of Diezani, what she did was a clever way
of saying there was no publication in a gazette and so
we had not complied with the constitutional provision
to compel her. That was neither here nor there but the
constitution was very clear that in pursuance to our
resolution published in a gazette, we can invite any
authority in Nigeria or any place to give evidence in
clear exercise of our legislative powers.
"It is manifestly provided for in our constitution. We will
see what we can do if it is necessary to approach the
court again, maybe the Supreme Court, to say
pronounce on this.
"What we should correct more in Nigeria is this culture
of impunity. It is not a question of law, it is just a
matter of when an individual feels that to some extent, I
can manoeuvre my way through the system so I’m not
bound by provisions of the law.
"Due process and rule of law are the foundation of
democracy, to the extent that it is not the government
of men but the government of laws. Anyone who knows
and believes in our laws will not have any difficulty
honouring the invitation of the National Assembly,
except that person feels guilty.
"The attorney general has had cause to appear before
committees of the National Assembly in the past,
especially when we were dealing with the issues of
Kogi State, MTN and others. So, it is a bit strange to
say he is not going to honour Senate’s invitation
because he is not answerable to them. It is left for him
to explain but like they say in law, you cannot
approbate and reprobate."
Calls for restructuring
On calls for restructuring of Nigeria and adoption of
confab report by constitution review committee, the
speaker said he agreed with the fact that there
shouldn’t be any off limits discussions on
restructuring.
He said: "It is healthy, it is going to lead us to a
destination but I don’t want to prejudge the issues
because I know that these issues will come very soon.
To me, as an arbiter and if I let the cat out of the bag, it
will be too obvious that I have taken a position.
"So, I don’t want to say this is my position in this, I
want to maintain neutrality, even though I have my own
sentiments about the issues. The House committee
has said they have adopted the conference report as a
working document and that is only because they are
the ones responsible for crafting bills that will lead to
alteration to the constitution.
"It is only when those bills are crafted by the
committee and transmitted to the larger house that the
debate will take place and that is why I am saying I do
not want to have an opinion as it is, even though I
cannot run away from the fact that as a citizen, as a
politician, I have to see things from the angle of an
enlightened person and so if I say I don’t have a
position, I will be lying."
We will do the wish of Nigerians on grazing reserve
bills
On the issue of Grazing Bills, the speaker said: "My
take on this is very simple. I have had cause to talk to
some of the promoters of these bills to say hey, there
is this unhealthy discussion about these bills in the
National Assembly, so let’s just halt and have a small
group of people that will take a look at some of these
issues from the contributions of Nigerians and let’s
advice ourselves before moving on and as it is, that is
where we are.
"We want to listen to opinions of our citizens and at the
end of the day, it is government of our people, we are
going to do what majority of our citizens want and not
what a few want to be done. As the House of the
people, we cannot run away from it, so ultimately, it is
the will of the people that will triumph in this matter, so
right now, we have halted all further processes on
these bills.’’
Amnesty programme
"With regards to amnesty, I don’t think the government
has stopped the amnesty programme. The contention,
as I heard, is that the funds appropriated was not
enough. It is not the case that there is an outright ban
on amnesty programme.
"All of us believe that this is the right way to approach
this. We were in government when this decision was
taken and we sincerely believe that it provides a great
window for managing this crisis in the Niger Delta, so it
is one of the things the executive cannot simply wish
away without some dire consequences.
"I believe that the only way out is engaging these
militants. We have to do everything possible within
government to ensure that we rein them in so that we
can have the needed peace. Not even just for economy
exploitation or economic benefit of the whole country,
but to ensure that that region develops too, they need
the peace."
Too early to assess APC achievements
On the achievement of the APC government in the last
one year, Dogara said: ‘’One year may be a small
period of time for us to begin to assess the progress of
this government.
‘’We have not even started implementing the budget in
its true sense and that will be done after procurement
processes are over. That is one of the challenges that
we have have on ground."

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