The presidential spokesperson, Reuban Abati, said his boss fights corruption hard.
The Nigerian presidency has distanced itself from the highly criticised anti-corruption record the Goodluck Jonathan administration has been faulted for, heaping the blame instead upon the judiciary which it said has failed to speed up efforts of bringing offenders to justice.
Presidential spokesperson, Reuben Abati, said President Goodluck Jonathan has worked hard to improve, or at worst, sustain the tempo he met on corruption, but those efforts were constantly suppressed by Nigeria’s lethargic judiciary.
“If you feel that the process of bringing persons to justice is slow in your estimation, don’t forget the fact that the process of conviction and of bringing people to justice after government has initiated it, is that of the judiciary,” Mr. Abati said in an interview with the Nigeria Pilot first published Monday. “The onus is on the judiciary to make sure that those cases are expeditiously treated. But what we get to hear is that the wheel of justice in Nigeria still grinds slowly.”
He, however, said the president was overseeing an ongoing reform that would see the judiciary working faster.
“However, judicial reform is something also that President Jonathan is looking at to make sure that the justice administration system is fast tracked and that justice is done and is seen to have been done.”
The remarks from the presidency, apparently indicative it was sifting the buck, on a touchy subject it has faced unending criticisms for, drew immediate condemnation from corruption activists.
Critics have accused Mr. Jonathan of not only retarding the pace of campaign against official graft, but also of reversing the minimal gains made by the previous administration.
Three months ago, Mr. Jonathan reversed the indictment of a former governor of Bayelsa state, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, convicted in 2006 on charges of enriching himself with state funds totaling into billions of naira, and granted the ex-governor state pardon.
Despite a huge backlash, the president held on to the decision. In a statement on Sunday on a separate subject, Mr. Abati castigated the former chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Nuhu Ribadu, who oversaw Mr. Alamieyeseigha’s prosecution. Mr. Abati accused Mr. Ribadu of maltreating suspects when they were yet tried by the courts. He said Mr. Ribadu engineered the impeachment of Mr. Alamieyeseigha over the matter.
Under Mr. Jonathan too, Nigeria has performed consistently poor in global rating on corruption. The government has repeatedly discarded the indices as not reflecting the reality.
In the interview with The Pilot, Mr. Abati said the administration was not only winning the corruption war, it was preempting fraud through policies that make it difficult for officials to steal.
“There have been concrete convictions of persons involved in corruption cases since this government came in. We are aware of the celebrated case of the man that was involved in the pension fund scam. That has been one high profile conviction. And only last year, the EFCC made it clear that it had secured over 200 convictions in 2012 alone and that number must have gone up by now,” he said. “Nobody wants to take special notice of this, and I think that it is something that should be stressed. It will be wrong to say that there have been no convictions. The other thing is that in terms of the fight against corruption, this administration has taken a lot of result-oriented steps to strengthen processes, institutions and block wastages and leakages within the system.
He cited reform in pension, petroleum subsidy, fertilizers, reduction in number of government offices, amongst such policies.
“Government is perpetually giving account; ministers are required to make presentations, to subject themselves to peer review in terms of what monies they collected and how much they have spent,” he said.
“This government is always saying, this is what it is doing and it is open to assessment. It is in that spirit that today, the budgeting process has been become more transparent so that anybody can comment on the budget.”
Mr. Abati also rejected public impression that the president endorsed the governor of Plateau state, Jonah Jang, as the victor of the controversial governors’ forum election. He said the president merely received Mr. Jang, he did not endorse him.
“As President, he receives guests everyday including governors and members of the National Assembly. If a group of governors say they want to see him, there is no way he can refuse them audience. So, it is a case of people reading meanings to that meeting. And if the people who have come to see him describe themselves in a particular manner, it is not for the President to argue against that, because he is the father of all.
“If another set of governors come tomorrow and they want to see the President, he will grant them access. If he denies them audience, that could be a problem because what Nigerians would then be saying is that the President is denying governors access to his office. Don’t forget that the President is also a political leader, if you say this is what you are and you want to see him, he will grant you audience. That does not amount to an endorsement because as I said earlier, he is not a member of the NGF. It is the governors who should put their own house in order because they are political leaders in their own right,” the spokesman said.