PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari has confirmed evidence of massive looting and stealing of Nigeria’s crude oil by some government office holders.
They include former ministers whose names are being compiled by relevant agencies for possible prosecution.
The President, while answering questions from members of Nigerians In Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) in the United States of America and Canada at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC on the third day of his visit lamented that “Corruption in Nigeria has virtually developed into a culture where honest people are abused.”
He however vowed that his administration would trace the accounts of individuals who stashed away ill-gotten oil money, freeze such accounts recover the loot and prosecute the culprits.
“As soon as possible, we will approach those countries to freeze such accounts, prosecute the culprits and return the monies to Nigeria.
During a meeting with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office on Monday, Buhari disclosed that about $150 billion in Nigeria’s oil money was stashed away in various banks outside the country and solicited Obama’s assistance towards recovering such monies.
According to him: “250,000 barrels per day of Nigerian crude were being stolen and people sold and put the money into their private accounts.
“The amount involved is mind-boggling. Some former ministers were selling about one million barrels of oil per day. I assure you that we will trace and repatriate such money and use the documents to prosecute the culprits.
A lot of damage has been done to the integrity of Nigeria with individuals and institutions already compromised.”
He recalled that during his period as Federal Commissioner for Petroleum under a military regime, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had only two traceable accounts before paying oil proceeds into the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The President, while skeptical about oil subsidy noted that if subsidy was removed, transport, housing and food prices would go out of control and the average worker would suffer untold hardship.
He said the “economy is in an extremely bad shape,” following 16 years of alleged bad governance by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which ran down the oil refineries and had the “treasury in their pockets.”
His All Progressives Congress (APC)-led administration, Buhari said, would fulfill its three-pronged campaign manifesto of providing security, turning around the economy with a major focus on youth employment and fighting corruption.
He said agriculture and mining would receive priority attention as faster job-creation avenues for the teeming unemployed youth, adding that some foreign investors had agreed to take advantage of the immense business opportunities in Nigeria.
He also confirmed that some leaders of developed nations across the World, where such stolen monies were being kept, had been contacted to assist Nigeria to freeze such dubious accounts., noting: “We are now looking for evidence of shipping some of our crude, their destinations and where and which accounts they were paid into and in which country.
We have started getting documents where some of the senior people in government, former ministers, some of who had as many as five accounts into which they paid stolen oil monies.
“I assure you that whichever documents we are able to get and subsequently trace the sale of the crude or transfer of money from Ministries, Departments, Central Bank of Nigeria, (CBN) we will seek the cooperation of those countries to return those monies to federation accounts. And we will use those documents to arrest those people and prosecute them . This, I promise Nigerians.’’
He said that his administration was carefully studying the issue of oil subsidy, but that he would not be a party to taking decision that would further impoverish Nigerians in the name of removing oil subsidy.
His words : “Who is subsidizing who? But people are gleefully saying ‘remove subsidy’, they want petrol to cost N500 per litre. If you are working and subsidy is removed, you can’t control transport, you can’t control market women, the cost of food, the cost of transport.
“If there is need to remove subsidy, I will study it. With my experience I will see what I can do. But , I’m thinking of those Nigerians who constitute half of the population who cannot afford to live without subsidy. From where will they get the money to go work with? How can they feed their families? How can they pay rent?.’’
On appointment of ministers, Buhari dismissed those accusing his administration as being too slow in taking crucial decisions concerning governance.
He cited the example of previous governments under the PDP which took more than two months to settle down during its 16 years of ruling the country.
The President, however assured that, though his administration might be accused of being slow, it would be steady in fulfilling its campaign promises to Nigerians.
He also pledged to study the Diaspora Bill with a view to signing it into law as being demanded by the Nigerians in Diaspora.
To those of them looking for government jobs back home , he urged them to suspend such thoughts as Nigeria’s economy was in a bad shape and it would take his administration about 18 months or more to resuscitate it.
He, however, promised that some of them would be engaged by the Federal Government as consultants to enable them contribute their quota to the nation’s development.