President Muhammadu Buhari said yesterday he would not speak much about the recovery of looted funds in order not to jeopardise or impair his administration’s recovery efforts with resultant technicalities. He was speaking at the New Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa in Abuja at a luncheon with State House correspondents.
He said his government was still trying to get the cooperation of the international community on the recovery of Nigeria’s stolen assets.
The president noted that his administration had to do this “with a lot of respect to the judiciary,” adding, “We can’t go out and talk too much. We have to allow the judiciary to do their work. We give them the facts, the name, country, bank account. If you talk too much, technicalities will come in, then, we will realise less than what we want to realise.”
Buhari recalled how past government officials embezzled the $2.1 arms procurement fund.
“People were trusted and the most recent one which we haven’t recovered from is the $2.1bn which was given by the government then to the military to buy hardware to fight the insurgency which had taken over parts of the country. And they just sat, just the way you are sitting now, and shared the money into their own accounts. They didn’t even bother”, he said.
Buhari said his administration had just discovered that the country was poor and had nothing to fall back on because of over- reliance on oil and neglect of agriculture and solid minerals in the past.
“Because we became a mono-economy of oil rich Nigeria, everybody relied on oil and forgot about solid minerals, agriculture, making and exploring things. We recently just found out that we are poor because we don’t have anything to fall back on. This is the condition we found ourselves and this change mantra had to go through hell up till yesterday (Sunday).
“And for you to talk to whoever came to visit us throughout that year, I wonder how each of your diaries would be because people were expecting this change mantra in their own way. How do you define change? Luckily, our party identified three major items: security, economy and corruption. One of the men I pity is Lai Mohammed. Everyday he is on TV explaining our performance or lack of it.”
Buhari, who described the past one year as “tumultuous for everyone in the Villa, said he “underrated the influence of the PDP for 16 years, watching from outside. The experience of the staff, their commitment and zeal was different from what it is now. 16 years of development in the life of a developing nation is a long time,” he said.
The president said he was surprised that his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, conceded defeat before the results of the 2015 presidential election were announced.
“I’ll talk about my experience here in Aso Villa. When we came, there were 42 ministries, we cut it to 24. This is where I pay my respect to former President Goodluck Jonathan. This is actually a privileged information for you. He called me at a quarter past five in the evening. He said, ‘Good evening your excellency, sir’, and I said ‘Good evening’. He said, ‘I’ve called to congratulate you that I’ve conceded defeat’. Of course, there was dead silence on my end because I did not expect it. I was shocked. I did not expect it because after 16 years, the man was a deputy governor, governor, vice president and was president for six years.
“For him to have conceded defeat even before the result was announced by INEC, I think it was quite generous and gracious of him. Abdulsalam Abubakar recognised the generosity of Jonathan to concede defeat and said we should go and thank him immediately, and that was the first time I came here. We had to do it on our own”, the president said.
Buhari said he reduced the ministries from 42 to 24, having discovered that government could not continue with such a number and the paraphernalia of office.
He said the government also cut down half the number of permanent secretaries and did some cross-postings because it was discovered that the permanent secretaries that were there for the past five to seven years, “the only thing that they know is how things were done in the previous years.”
He said those permanent secretaries saw whatever the All Progressives Congress (APC) did during the campaign as rubbish “and that made it very difficult for us.”