The Federal Government is proposing to sell off the assets of suspected looters of government funds. This was disclosed by President Muhammadu Buhari recently. Speaking while receiving some elders from Daura, Katsina State, who had come to pay him a condolence visit, the president said that an increasing number of suspected looters of public funds were denying ownership or disclaiming properties traced to them by the anti-corruption agencies. He promised that government would sell off the assets and keep the funds generated from the sale in the national treasury. “As a civil servant, you have 10 houses in Abuja and even in Kaduna and abroad. The more you show them the properties, the more they will swear that it does not belong to them. And we are still following the process. You know that in democracy, you have to follow the due process and respect the rule of law. Some of these looters were arrested, and for those who deny their loots… this time around, we will sell those stolen properties and the proceeds will be deposited in government treasury,’’ he said.
It is gladdening that another avenue is springing up for the country to boost its treasury. This is why the decision to sell off the assets of persons proven to have engaged in looting the national treasury is a decision that must be applauded by all. However, this decision must be seen to follow the due process in all spheres. This will require the Presidency first providing a list of the said properties and their locations. Thereafter, a proper valuation of the properties should be made by recognised estate valuers and in a thoroughly open manner, so that Nigerians can determine the amount of money expected from them. This will put the assets in the public glare and stave off any attempt to convert them to personal use. Thereafter, the government should advertise for their sale and then public bidding for the assets must be made. After this, the names of those who eventually purchased the properties would need to be made public. This course of action is predicated on the atrocious paths allegedly taken by government officials in times past whereby recovered loots were surreptitiously returned to the hands of their previous owners, or government officials and their acolytes.
Openness becomes more necessary when viewed from the prism of a recent statement by the governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose. Fayose alleged that some of the said assets had been “sold and resold.” In a country where there is very little trust in the government, allegations that the said assets would be fraudulently obtained by those in government should not be treated with a pinch of salt. Of course, we are in agreement with the Federal Government in its disavowal of abandonment of property, especially in Abuja, whose ownership is linked to high net worth individuals in government before and now, and who used them to launder stolen funds. These owners, in trying to evade connection with money laundering, abandoned the properties, many of which are consequently rotting away. The publication of the list and addresses of these assets would further give the Federal Government a moral right to dispense with them. This is because anyone whose property is thus advertised and who has a genuine ownership of the said property would come out to claim it.
A major problem that could however arise is in connection with the assets of persons whose owners are still being tried in courts of competent jurisdiction. Except the said assets have been forfeited to the Federal Government by the courts, it would be a flagrant violation of the law for the government to sell them off while their cases are still in court. Thus, the government must demonstrate openness and transparency in disposing of these assets. Nigerians have found out that governments are always hijacked by the whims of some nefarious characters within the system. These people exploit every government action and policy to their personal advantage. To say the least, Nigerians do not believe that there would be no shady deals in the process of selling off these assets, which is why it must be done openly and transparently.
We urge President Buhari to follow the due process in disposing of these assets. This would enable Nigerians to keep tabs on increment in the public treasury. Needless to say, whatever money is made from the sale of the assets should be expended on projects that would facilitate a better quality of life for Nigerians.