The Special Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, has stated that his principal deserves commendation for rescinding his earlier decision to name those who have so far returned assets looted from public treasury to the government.
It would be recalled that Buhari had on May 14, while attending the anti-corruption summit in London, stated that he would personally provide specific details of all recovered stolen public funds because he believed that what Nigerians were being fed through the media were not detailed enough.
“So far, what has come out, what has been recovered in whatever currency from each ministries, departments and individuals, I intend on the 29th to speak on this because all Nigerians are getting from the mass media because of the number of people arrested either by the EFCC, DSS. But we want to make a comprehensive report on the 29th,” he had promised.
The President, however, reneged on this promise in his Democracy Day broadcast on May 29 and rather transferred the responsibility to the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who eventually published details of the recoveries on Saturday leaving out the names of those who made the return of stolen assets.
This has generated lots of criticisms, with the Socio Economic Right Accountability Project, SERAP, insisting that the Buhari-led government cannot justify its action in that regard.
But speaking last night when he featured on a Channels Television programme; Sunday Politics, Adesina disagreed with those who were unhappy with the President’s decision not to mention the names, adding that making the names public would deter persons who had the intention of returning funds from bringing them forward.
His words, “Well, the president said he will mention names, but even if he erred, it’s better to err on the side of caution. It’s always better to err on the side of caution. It (naming those who returned stolen assets) came up and legal opinion was that it was premature to mention those names.
“So, for me I think it’s a demonstration of strength for the president not to have mentioned those names again, contrary to what he said earlier. It shows that he buys into the opinion of other people. Legal minds came up to say: ‘Don’t mention these names of these people yet’. It would have implications if you do so, and he bought into it.
“I think rather it’s something that we must commend and applaud rather than condemn. These recoveries were made from May 29 last year to May 25 this year. A large number of them are fresh loot, outside the Abacha loot.”
The presidential spokesman went on to state that if the president had gone ahead with his earlier plan and it backfired, it would have amounted to a major distraction for the government.
According to him, “What if at the end of the day the court decides that those people are not guilty and that the money should be returned, then you will have legal cases on your hands and that will constitute distraction to the government.
“At the end of the day, we will lose monies that would have been recoverable for the country. What of the situation of those who want to return monies… because the government has been precipitate in mentioning names, those funds will not be returned to the coffers again.
“I think it is better to err on the side of caution and that was why eventually the president agreed with those who said the names should be withheld.”
He further stated that the recovered funds could be used to make up for the deficit in the 2016 budget, which has over two trillion naira deficit.
“If you look at the 2016 budget, you will see that it anticipated this eventuality. There is a provision, I think about N380 billion which say would be provided for from recovered funds. So the budget anticipated this.
“When he visited the UK in February, the president said much of the money that would have been borrowed to fund this budget may not be borrowed again because of recovered funds and monies that were housed through the Treasury Single Account, TSA,” Adesina said.