A row broke out yesterday over the updated “list of looters” released at the weekend by the Federal Government.
Some lawyers and some of those on the list took on the government, but Lagos lawyer Festus Keyamo (SAN) said the listing of “looters” was in order.
Minister of Information Lai Mohammed issued the list of “28 looters” in two instalments, after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) challenged the government to name those who looted the treasury when the party was in power.
On the list are ex-ministers, ex-governors, senators, former party leaders and campaign chiefs, among others.
Chief Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) described the list as “danger to democracy and the rule of law”. He is opposed to the release of names of those who are still in court as looters.
He said: “Such persons are presumed innocent until proven otherwise by the Constitution, which the President swore to uphold.
“The case against Nenadi Usman is pending in court. The Federal Government that has labelled her as a looter of public funds is yet to prove the allegations against her in court.
“The government, by taking this matter to the court of public opinion, is making a strong statement – either that it has no confidence in the process it initiated in court or it is calculated to arm-twist the judiciary to convict her at all costs.”
“Either way, the publication by the government portends grave danger to democracy and the rule of law. Surely, there will be a legal response to this Executive gross misbehavior,” added Orbih.
But Keyamo said: “If you have the facts at your disposal that somebody is a thief, and you know your facts are unassailable, you can go ahead and name the person as a thief. The person does not need to be convicted before you, based on the facts, can name the person as a thief. But this is so long as you have your unassailable facts that you can present at the appropriate time to defend yourself if you are sued for defamation.”
Keyamo explained that the government may also be in the process of charging those on the list who are not under trial.
He said: “Even those who have not been charged to court, the Federal Government may be in the process of charging them. It may be in the process of drafting charges and arraigning them. So long as they have their unassailable facts, there is nothing wrong with the Federal Government naming whoever it wants to name based on the facts at its disposal. “
Keyamo also encouraged aggrieved persons to sue, saying: “It is left to the person to go to court. Going to court is not a threat to anyone. It is a welcome development. A welcome development because it is even in court that the Federal Government will have the opportunity to lay bare the facts.
“So, we must encourage the PDP members who were named to go to court. If they don’t want to go to court, we must beg them to do so. That is where all the facts will be laid bare.”
Former Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu said he did not loot the treasury during his eight-year tenure. He threatened to challenge the allegation in court.
In a statement in Minna yesterday, he said: “ I wonder why the Federal Government should include my name in the 24 treasury looters’ list released again by the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed.’’
The former governor said nobody had confronted him with any document that he received N1.6 billion from the former National Security Adviser (NSA), Sambo Dasuki. He urged the government to prove its allegation.
Aliyu alleged that the All Progressives Congress (APC) was doing everything possible to blackmail him because he refused to join the party.
“The APC government has embarked on calculated blackmail against my person because I refused to join the party.
“We all have our minds and what we believe in politics is a thing of the mind.
“In the orchestrated plot to tarnish my image, I am presently before the Federal High Court and a Niger High Court for the same alleged offence.
“This is to show that the government is hell bent on bringing me down but they will not succeed.
”As a governor, I left a landmark for posterity; no amount of blackmail or character assassination can wipe me out from the minds of the people,’’ he said.
Former Aviation Minister Femi Fani-Kayoede, in a statement, said he was innocent, adding that the N860 million he collected to run the media campaign for former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 was not from the government’s purse.
He said: “I did not receive and neither was I ever given one kobo by any government official, government agency or government parastatal during President Goodluck Jonathan’s tenure.
“The money that I received was given to me by the Director of Finance of the Jonathan Campaign Organisation, Mrs. Esther Nenadi Usman, before the election in 2015 and it was specifically for the conduct of the presidential election.
“I was Director of Media and Publicity of the Campaign Organisation and it was used specifically and solely for the running and conducting of the media and publicity aspect of the election.
“Mrs. Usman, who was Minister of Finance during the Obasanjo government, was neither a member of the Jonathan government and neither did she manage, handle or touch any government funds in her capacity as Director of Finance of the Jonathan campaign.
“The money she made available to me came from a private company account which was used to house contributions made to the Jonathan campaign by party supporters after a series of fundraising event.
“These were private funds and not public funds and neither can anyone expect us to have run an election in 2015 without any money. You do not run election campaigns with sand but with money.
“It is common knowledge that the Buhari campaign in 2015 was funded by moneys that can be traced directly to the state governments of Rivers State, Lagos State, Kano State, Ogun State and a number of other key APC states, yet not one of those involved or that governed any of those states at the time have been questioned, arrested or prosecuted by the EFCC or the Federal Government.
“From the foregoing, it is clear that the Buhari administration’s so-called war against corruption is selective and punitive and it is nothing but a vicious media trial and politically-motivated witch-hunt.
“It is nothing but a squalid and mafia-like attempt to muscle, discredit, demonise and silence key members of the opposition. It is slanderous, malicious and unjust.
“Not only is this a violation of the constitutional provision that says that an accused person is deemed innocent until they are proved guilty by a duly constituted court of law, but it is also highly prejudicial to the criminal cases that they are or may be facing.
“Apart from that, it is a crude and sordid attempt to intimidate the judges and influence the outcome of the cases which are before them and also to compel them to give the judgement that the government wants. This is not only unacceptable but it is also shameful.
“It is a clear violation of the concept of separation of powers, which gives the judiciary alone the power to determine the guilt or otherwise of an accused person.
“It is trite law that only a court of law can declare a man guilty or declare him a thief or a looter and not Buhari and his government.
“You cannot be the investigator, accuser, prosecutor and judge in your own case. This is a basic principle of criminal and constitutional law which appears to have been lost on President Buhari and his cohorts.
“I also deny all the charges that have been levelled against me by the EFCC, I hereby restate my innocence and I shall continue to vigorously defend myself and my good family name in the court of law.
“I have no doubt that in the end my innocence will speak for me. God will vindicate me and He will expose my accusers for the heartless monsters that they really are.”
A former federal Permanent Secretary, Godknows Igali, alleged that his name was “smuggled” into the list of looters.
Igali, who is alleged to have looted N7billion, wrote on his Facebook page: “On account of my background, I am normally taciturn, but I cannot keep silent against such weighty unfounded allegation.
“Not surprisingly, my name was smuggled into the list, against a whopping ‘loot’ of N7 billion. I understand Godknows Igali was dragged in last minute to create the needed effect. After all, he’s one of Jonathan’s main men.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this is totally false, as no amount whatsoever has been recovered from me or traced to me. Indeed, N7billion recovered from which accounts, which banks and when?
“My life has been an open book of distinguished public service in diplomatic service, scholarship and administration. In all places where I had served, the records are there for all to see. I continue to stand tall and remain undaunted. I am of modest background and very simple lifestyle. I am extremely contented and awesomely grateful to God.”
The former permanent secretary lamented that it was the third time the government had hit the headlines with such “negative news” about him since 2016.
“Coincidentally, all the three occasions were during festive periods. Most prominent is the tale of 45 SUVs supposedly found in my compound, which everyone now knows was a fabrication and fake news,” he said.
“It is now common knowledge that the vehicles in question were leftovers from the erstwhile Jonathan-Sambo campaign bought with a bank loan and confiscated from the premises of a known business concern that is not connected whatsoever with me. The loan is now being recovered forcefully and perhaps being termed a ‘loot’.
“With former President Goodluck Jonathan’s loss of the election and peaceful exit from office in 2015, I knew that some of us close to him, especially me, will suffer and carry lots of crosses. So, they have continued to pursue without relenting. Yes, some of us are victims and scapegoats. It’s all unfair and ungodly! But then, these and many more afflictions will come like floods and pass. There is nothing new under the sun. So it is well, indeed!”