Minister of Information and Culture Lai Mohammed has said elements within the opposition are subject to many corruption trials and probes because they are the ones that had access to public money within the period in which the funds were being misused. Mohammed stated this in an interview with THISDAY. He said those accusing the incumbent All Progressives Congress administration of targeting the opposition in its anticorruption war were missing the point.
The minister spoke against the backdrop of allegations that the APC government’s anticorruption effort was skewed against the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, which lost power in 2015 after 16 years of control.
In a related development, Mohammed said yesterday that the head of Islamic Movement in Nigeria, Ibrahim Yaqoub El Zakzaky, and former National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (rtd), were held in the custody of the federal government for national security reasons. The minister spoke at the 10th edition of the Lai Mohammed Ramadan Lecture Series held at his hometown, Oro, in Irepodun Local Government Area of Kwara State.
El Zakzaky was arrested in 2015 following a bloody clash between his followers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army, and he has been in the custody of the Department of State Services. The DSS has also detained Dasuki since his arrest in December 2015 for allegedly diverting and embezzling funds meant for the procurement of arms for the military. Various courts in the country have ordered the release of both men. But the information minister said their release could hurt national security.
Mohammed also cautioned persons and groups in the country banging the war drums with hate speeches to desist. He urged Nigerians to emphasise things that would promote peaceful coexistence.
He told THISDAY, “Those that are saying that the anticorruption fight is against one party have forgotten that one political party had access to public funds, had access to public patronage for 16 unbroken years. Therefore, if you are fighting corruption they are going to be the first to come and answer for their stewardship. That was why I said if you were never married you cannot come and say your in-law is late. You cannot come and say you want to probe Lai Mohammed because Lai Mohammed was in opposition for 16 years; he never held any political office. How are you going to probe me? That is the truth of the matter. If you want to start a probe today, a person who had no access to power, who had no access to public office, you cannot bring him in.”
The culture and information minister challenged critics to produce evidence of the prosecution of innocent persons by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mohammed stated, “We want anybody that is being probed by this government today to come and say, I am innocent, I am only being persecuted. We’ve not had one. On the contrary, they have been giving all kinds of flimsy excuses.
The minister said the whistle-blower policy of the federal government had boosted the anticorruption war. He stressed, “We’ve seen cases, when we are fighting corruption. We went to somebody’s house and almost $10 million was found in a refrigerator when they got there. We’ve discovered another $146 million in another account which had no owner. Within two months of our whistle blower policy, we were able to retrieve $8 billion, $160 million. I mean these are not things that we are imagining or fabricating.
“What is trial by media? If I go to your house today and I find $10 million in your fridge, won’t the media cover it? We don’t do media trial, what happens is that when things happen, the media will have to report it.”
Fielding questions from journalists in Oro during the Ramadan lecture, Mohammed defended the continued detention of Dasuki and El Zakzaky, saying, “At every point in time, a government will make a hard decision between your personal liberty and national security. In the wake of 911, the US came with regulations that breached the personal rights of Americans and all of us because of national security…
“In the case of both El Zakzaky and Dansuki, we are also talking about national security.”
He said, “Since the government would take responsibility for its actions, it cannot guarantee whether the former National Security Adviser will still stay in the country if granted bail.”
Speaking further on the detention of Dasuki and El-Zakzaky, Mohammed said, “It is because the court order said we must release him (El-Zakzaky) within 45 days, rebuild his house and there is nobody today within Kaduna State or anywhere else that wants to accept El Zakzaky as a neighbour. So who do you release him to? For him to be killed? So, he is in protective custody with his family and this is one thing people don’t say. “Like I said, a government faced with this kind of dilemma, so how much rule of law do you want to balance with national security? In the case of Dasuki, Dasuki transferred $1.2 billion in a day and he has refused to say where that money is (or who was) given, and as we speak today he has refused to tell.
“Now, $1.2 billion is a lot of money. Who can guarantee that if he is released today he will not abscond? And with $1.2 billion at his disposal, is any government safe? It is good when people start talking about human rights and rule of law, but as a government, that is responsible for territorial integrity of this country, at times you have to take the heat because you want to ask yourself, if such an accused person.. and he disappears, and this is a country that we are still battling with terrorism, this is a country that we’re still battling with insurgency, and he links up with other enemies of government with an arsenal of $1.2 billion, would the people not blame us? “So, I think these are high profile cases. On the surface it appears like a government that violates rule of law, but in reality it is a dilemma for government because we must balance individual freedom with national security. But I will say overall that we’re not a government of impunity.”