The Federal Government said, Monday, that 55 well-placed Nigerians stole a whopping N1.34 trillion between 2006 and 2013, an amount that would have been enough to provide significant developmental projects across the country. Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, gave the figure while addressing a world press conference in Abuja to mark the beginning of the war against corruption in Nigeria. Mohammed said: “This is the money that a few people, just 55 in number, allegedly stole within a period of just eight years. And instead of a national outrage, all we hear are these nonsensical statements that the government is fighting only the opposition, or that the government is engaging in vendetta.”
Out of the stolen funds, the minister said 15 former governors stole N146.84 billion; four former ministers took N7 billion; 12 former public servants both at federal and state levels stole over N14 billion; eight other Nigerians in the banking sector made away with N524 billion , while 11 businessmen cornered N653 billion. The minister said that using World Bank rates and costs, one-third of the stolen funds could have provided 635.18 kilometres of roads; 36 ultra-modern hospitals per state; 183 schools; educated 3,974 children from primary to tertiary level at 25.24 million per child and built 20,062 units of 2-bedroom houses.
While maintaining that the Buhari administration would never be biased in the fight against corruption, the minister, however, warned that no person found to have stolen public funds would go unpunished irrespective of their political, religious or tribal leanings. The minister dismissed the accusation that the federal government’s anti-corruption crusade was lopsided, describing the allegation as nauseating and borne either out of deliberate mischief or sheer ignorance.
He said: “There is the erroneous impression out there that the war against corruption is a vendetta against the opposition, and that indeed it is one-sided. This is not true and indeed very nauseating. We need the media to lead the campaign against corruption. All we have heard from them are ludicrous reasons why they partook in sharing of the money. One said he collected N4.5 billion for spiritual purposes, another said he received N2.1 billion for publicity, while yet another said he got N13 billion to pay someone else for the Maritime University land.
“Based on these revelations, should we now fold our hands and allow these people to go away with public funds? Is anyone thinking about the innocent soldiers who lost their lives just because they did not get the necessary weapons to fight the terrorists? What about the families left behind by these soldiers who were sent to their early graves because of the misappropriation of these funds? What about those who lost their means of livelihood after the terrorists overran their towns and villages? What of the millions of Nigerians, especially women and children, who are now living in IDP camps? Is it not clear that the cruel fate that has befallen these unfortunate people is a direct result of the misuse of the funds meant to fight the terrorists? Are these not the true costs of corruption?," he asked.
The minister pleaded with all Nigerians to join hands with the government to tackle corruption so as to plug the loopholes of financial leakages for national development. “As President Muhammadu Buhari likes to say, if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria. There is no better way to say it,” the minister said.