Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, says until corrupt Nigerian leaders start getting jailed, the war against corruption will never be won.
Soyinka said this in Abuja on Monday at the 8th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Africa.
The playwright said he recently visited the new head office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission which will be inaugurated this week.
He said on arrival at the building, he specifically asked the acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, to take him to the VIP (Very Important Person) section of the detention facility but was delighted to hear that all suspects were treated equally.
Soyinka said, “That we have been bled dry in this nation by corrupt leadership and their agencies is nothing to reiterate. It is a given. And I took the trouble yesterday to visit the headquarters of the EFCC. I wanted to see what would be the mode of hospitality of some of our leaders who will surely, sooner or later, pass through the doors of that beautiful building.
“I am not a vengeful person but I think until we ensure that some of our leaders pass through those doors, this struggle against corruption in this country will not be won, will not be over.
“And so, I spoke to Magu and I said I want to see where the presidential wing is. I said as a human rights person, I want to make sure you treat them right when they come here and he said ‘sorry it is an egalitarian institution, and I said I would take that message back to them that they should get ready to go down a little bit in status when the time comes and justice catches up with them.”
The Nobel laureate said for now, the responsibility of anti-corruption agencies should be to recover the rest of Nigeria’s stolen funds which could be used in developing the nation.
Corruption started after me –Gowon
In his reaction, however, a former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, said corruption started after he left government in 1975.
Gowon said leaders who came after him started looting because they did not want to end up like him, who was poor after leaving office.
The former military head of state, who ruled from 1966 to 1975, recalled that he was attending an Organisation of African Unity summit in Kampala, Uganda when he was ousted from power.
He said it was his aides that contributed money for him to travel to Britain where he went into exile.
He said, “I can assure you we did not know anything such as corruption. Yes, some of my ministers were accused of corruption but I can assure you that it was something we tried to make sure it didn’t happen especially in our public service.
“But after I left office, in 1975 and the state in which I left office, I can assure you that apart from my salary, it was those members of staff that were with me during the OAU meeting that contributed their estacode to ensure that I had something to live on after I had been asked to leave office.
“That was the only one and then I said I wish I had probably done something, made sure I had provided for the future. I think it was that experience that probably made some after I had left office (sic), it was what made those that came after me probably to make sure that they provided for the future and therefore, you should not blame them for doing that after the experience that I had.”
Legal framework needed to repatriate looted funds –Buhari
In his remarks, President Muhammadu Buhari said there was a need for countries to come up with a legal framework that would make it easy for the repatriation of stolen funds.
Buhari, who was represented by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, said the absence of legal basis for cooperation in some countries, differences in legal and procedural frameworks, language barriers, bank secrecy rules, jurisdictional issues, lack of funding were some of the obstacles standing in the way of effective mutual legal assistance.
He added, “While public sector corruption is the usual focus, the private sector complicity is significant especially with large multinationals engaged in tax evasion but it is the more complex web of public-private collusion and connivance that results in proceeds of corruption ending up in countries and their financial institutions and systems, dismantling the conspiracies that fasten the export of stolen assets is probably as important as the theme of this conference.
“It underscores the fact that fighting corruption is futile if we do not ensure that the proceeds of corruption find no safe haven and that such proceeds are fully recovered.”
Also speaking, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Ms. Patricia Scotland, said English-speaking countries in Africa were beginning to wake up to their responsibilities as regards fighting corruption.
She commended the Buhari government for recovering $3bn.
SERAP, CACOL, CD back Soyinka
Meanwhile, some civil society organisations, the Socio-Economic Right and Accountability Project, the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership and the Campaign for Democracy, have backed Soyinka’s call on the anti-corruption fight of the Federal Government, saying the trial of the country’s corrupt past leaders is overdue.
The SERAP Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, said, “It appears we have not started taking on past leaders in the government’s fight against corruption. These leaders left the economy in a shambles. A party was in power for 16 years and all we saw was looting. I agree with Soyinka that we have to call our leaders to account. It is not only the executive; the judiciary should also be involved. The trial is overdue.”
Also, the CACOL Director, Debo Adeniran, said, “All past leaders are supposed to have been on trial for various corruption and human rights violation. A lot of Nigerians know that these past leaders are pathetically corrupt and the present administration should summon the courage to bring them to justice.”
Meanwhile, the CD President, Usman Abdul, said, “The fight against corruption will be a mere witch-hunt until we scratch these past leaders. I agree with Prof. Soyinka that the government must prosecute these past leaders alleged to be corrupt. The trials of all of them are long overdue.”