By Olaolu Oladipo, Lagos
A group, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged the Federal Government to list the names of past political office holders who have returned stolen funds and assets in their possession.
This is coming just as the group also lauded the Muhammadu Buhari led Federal Government for publishing the funds and assets so far recovered from looters, saying the government has demonstrated enough transparency through the actionâ€™
According to SERAP in a statement it issued through its Executive Director, Mr. Adetokunbo Mumuni, it â€œwelcomed publication of the list of recovered funds by the Federal Government as a positive development towards entrenching a culture of transparency and accountability in government.â€
But it however asked the government to â€œpublish the names of high-ranking public officials from whom the public funds were recovered, and spend recovered funds in a transparent and accountable manner so as to remove opportunities for re-looting recovered loot.â€
On how money and the assets should be spent, Mumuni said, â€œThe recovered funds must be spent to directly benefit Nigeriaâ€™s most vulnerable populations particularly to improve their access to quality education, healthcare including for children, women and the elderly, and regular and uninterrupted electricity supply. It will be a double jeopardy for victims of corruption if recovered funds are re-looted, as it was the case with Sani Abacha recovered loot.â€
SERAP urges President Muhammadu Buhari to set up a mechanism with a view to ensuring that the funds so far recovered are applied in a transparent and accountable manner, and with civil society involvement and oversight.
Mumuni stated that â€œPublishing the names of high-ranking government officials that have already returned stolen public funds will not infringe their right to presumption of innocence in particular and fair trial in general if the government can provide a caveat to make it clear that such disclosure does not suggest an assessment of the guilt of those named, and that they remain suspects until proven guilty by a competent judicial authority.â€
â€œThe authorities responsible for combating corruption cannot be expected to refrain from all statements, such as the fact that a suspicion of corruption exists. What is excluded is however a formal declaration that somebody is guilty without trial before a court of law.â€
â€œThe fact that suspected corrupt officials have returned some public funds makes the argument in favour of publishing their names even stronger. Open justice promotes the rule of law and publicity is a powerful deterrent to abuse of power and official misconduct.â€
â€œNigerians have the right to know how high-ranking government officials carry out their entrusted public functions and manage the public treasury, and whether or not they act in accordance with the code of conduct which Nigerians expect from their leaders.â€
â€œThe government must now move swiftly to complete all pending investigations of corruption and to pursue diligently those cases in court, and to consistently utilise the crime of illicit enrichment (also called: â€œunexplained wealth,â€ or â€œinexplicable wealth,â€ or â€œdisproportionate wealthâ€) to achieve effective prosecution of corruption cases. The government should compile a list of corruption cases in court and cases already completed with names and the amounts involved, and widely publish this including on a dedicated website to promote the idea of open justice.â€
â€œA naming and shaming policy already exists in the international arena, for example, the FATF usually adopt a sanctions regime of ‘naming and shaming,’ against Non-Cooperative Countries or Territories (NCCTs) in its battle against money laundering.