• Vows to prosecute ex-ministers for oil theft, says 250,000bpd and 1mbpd stolen
• Accepts he’s slow but steady
• Departs US, rejects request to repeal anti-gay law
By Nduka Nwosu in Washington and Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday said the US Leahy Law “aided and abetted” the campaign of bloodletting by Boko Haram.
The Leahy Law prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defence from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. It is named after its principal sponsor Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
It was the primary reason the US government refused to sell weapons to the Nigerian Army last year and even blocked attempts by Israel to sell Cobra helicopters to Nigeria.
Other than Nigeria, other countries that have been stopped from receiving assistance by the US under the Leahy Law are: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia and Pakistan.
Speaking at the United States Institute for Peace (USIP), Buhari urged the US government to review the law so that it could provide the needed assistance to Nigeria to crush Boko Haram.
He said that the blanket application of the Leahy Law by the US on the grounds of unproven allegations of human rights violations levelled against the Nigerian Armed forces had denied the country access to appropriate strategic weapons to prosecute the war against the insurgents.
“In the face of abduction of innocent school girls from their hostels, indiscriminate bombings of civilians in markets and places of worship, our forces have remained largely impotent because they do not possess the appropriate weapons and technology, which they could have had, had the so-called human rights violations not been an obstacle.
“Unwittingly, and I dare say, unintentionally, the application of the Leahy law amendment by the US government has aided and abetted the Boko Haram terrorist group in the prosecution of its extremist ideology and hate, the indiscriminate killings and maiming of civilians, in raping of women and girls, and in their other heinous crimes.
“I believe this is not the spirit of the Leahy Laws. I know the American people cannot support any group engaged in these crimes.
“I therefore strongly appeal to both the Executive Arm and the US Congress to examine how the US government can provide us with far more substantial counter-terrorism assistance with minimal strings.
“The longer we delay, the deadlier the Boko Haram gets. At all events, we have re-written the rules of engagement protecting the rights of combatants and in particular safeguarding civilians in theatres of conflict. “As we ramp up our efforts to defeat Boko Haram, we know that winning this battle sustainably will require that we expand economic opportunities and create jobs for our teeming young population.
“We must also improve the quality of governance; ensure that governments at all levels are responsive, inclusive, transparent and accountable, and that public institutions deliver services in a timely and efficient manner. We must win and sustain the trust of the people we govern,” he said.
Before the president’s address at USIP, the former United States Secretary of State for African Affairs, Ambassador Johnnie Carson, who moderated the interactive session, had described Buhari as a “very humble and strong personality with enormous integrity and commitment to good governance and uplifting the lives of the citizenry”.
Prior to his address at USIP, Buhari had met with the Nigerian community Tuesday evening, during which he revealed that evidence of massive looting and stealing of Nigerian crude oil by some government officials including former ministers was being compiled by relevant agencies for possible prosecution of anyone found wanting in the scams.
The president made the disclosure while responding to questions at an interactive session with members of the Nigerians in Diaspora Organisation (NIDO) at the Nigerian chancery in Washington DC Tuesday night shortly after the first session anchored by the Chairman/CEO of Ebonylife TV Mo Abudu for Nigerian youths.
However, the president, during the session with Nigerians resident abroad, gave disparate figures on how much crude oil was stolen. In one breath he said 250,000 barrels of oil was stolen daily and in another, he said former ministers stole 1 million barrels of oil daily.
The president stated that 250,000 barrels per day of Nigerian crude was stolen, adding that the culprits sold the oil and put the money into individual accounts.
He said some of the affected officials were involved in illegal sale and diversion of crude oil monies belonging to the federal government to private accounts abroad.
He disclosed that some leaders of developed nations across the world where these monies are being kept had already been contacted to assist Nigeria to freeze such dubious accounts.
“We are now looking for evidence of shipping some of our crude, their destinations and where and which accounts they were paid and in which countries.
“When we get as much (evidence) as we can get as soon as possible, we will approach those countries to freeze those accounts and go to court, prosecute those people and get the monies repatriated to Nigeria.
“The amount of money is mind boggling but we have started getting documents where some of the senior people in government – former ministers – some of them owned as much as five accounts and were moving about 1 million barrels per day on their own. We have started getting these documents.
“I assure you that whichever documents we are able to get and subsequently trace the sale of the crude or transfer of money from ministries, departments or the central bank, we will ask for the cooperation of those countries to return these monies to Federation Account,” he said.
Buhari vowed to use the evidence put together to arrest the government officials concerned and prosecute them.
He also frowned at the way the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) was being managed, saying his administration would check the excesses of the corporation.
Buhari said unlike what obtained during his tenure as Federal Commissioner for Petroleum under military regime in the 1970s when NNPC had only two traceable accounts before paying oil proceeds into the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), officials in recent times behaved with reckless abandon.
The president again expressed skepticism about the withdrawal of fuel subsidies, stating that his administration was carefully studying the issue but he would not be a party to taking a decision that would further impoverish Nigerians in the name of removing oil subsidy.
He asked: “Who is subsidising who? People are gleefully saying ‘remove subsidy’. They want petrol to cost N500 per litre… but if you are working and subsidy is removed, you can’t control transport, you can’t control market women and the cost of food.
“If there is need for removing subsidy, I will study it. With my experience I will see what I can do. But, I think that more than half of Nigerians virtually cannot afford to live if it is removed.
“Where will they get the money to go to work, how can they feed their families, how can they pay rent? If Nigeria were not an oil producing country, all well and good. However, our refineries are not working, so we have a lot of work to do.”
When asked if the federal government would agree to negotiate with the Boko Haram insurgents to pave way for the release of the abducted Chibok schoolgirls, he informed his audience that his government would only negotiate if genuine and confirmed leaders of the militant sect came forward and convinced the federal government of the current conditions of the girls, their location and the sect’s willingness to negotiate.
“Our objective is that we want the girls back, alive and returned to their families and rehabilitated. We are working with neighbouring countries if they will help,” he said.
On the appointment of ministers, Buhari dismissed those accusing his administration of being too slow in taking crucial decisions concerning governance and appointment of political office holders.
He cited the example of previous governments under the Peoples Democratic Party that spent more than two months to settle down during its 16-year rule in the country.
The president, however, assured that though his administration might be accused of being slow, it would be steady in fulfilling its campaign promises to Nigerians.
He said: “Within the past two weeks I have been asked when I’m going to form my cabinet. And in some quarters they are now calling me ‘Baba Go Slow’. I’m going to go slow and steady.”
He pledged to study the Diaspora Bill with a view to signing it into law as being demanded by the Nigerians in diaspora and advised Nigerians resident overseas but are looking for government jobs back home to suspend their ambitions, as the nation’s economy was in a bad shape and it would take his administration about 18 months or more to resuscitate it.
He promised, nonetheless, that some of them would be engaged by the federal government as consultants to enable them contribute their quotas to national development.
All those who spoke at the interactive session, expressed their readiness to assist the APC-led administration to achieve its campaign promises to Nigerians.
They also called on the president to sign into law the Diaspora Bill that would pave the way for the establishment of a commission to cater to Nigerian issues overseas.
Earlier, Nigeria’s ambassador to the US, Professor Ade Adefuye reminded Nigerians how a nation woke up one morning in 1984 to see people adhering to the rules of discipline as the new military administration under Buhari brought sanity to a country that was grossly indisciplined.
Adefuye said the return of the same man through a democratic process last April was a divinely inspired process which Nigerians had clamored for adding this new turn of events in the polity was salutary for the growth of the people.
He said Buhari’s policies would help instill sanity on a country easily described as one of the most corrupt in the world.
Nigerians in the Diaspora, Adefuye said, were happy that the image of the country is turning around for good, pointing to the grand reception of the president and his entourage, the first of its kind accorded a Nigerian leader to date.
The ambassador said with the unfolding of the Buhari administration’s packages on a daily basis, it was clear the country was marching to greatness
Meanwhile, contrary to the fear expressed by many Nigerians that Buhari may succumb to pressure from the US government to repeal the Anti- Same-sex Act passed by the Nigerian government over a year ago, the presidency explained yesterday that the president rejected the request.
Presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina said the issue of repealing the law against same-sex unions was discussed during Buhari’s meeting in the US, but the rejected idea, stating that sodomy was against the law of Nigeria and abhorrent to its culture.
“The issue of gay marriage came up here yesterday. PMB was point blank. Sodomy is against the law in Nigeria and abhorrent to our culture,” he posted on Twitter.
Prior to the US visit, Nigerians were concerned that the US government might pressurise Buhari to sanction same-sex unions in Nigeria in order to get the support of the United States.
However, several faith bodies and civil society groups had counselled Buhari not to listen to the US government on issues of gay rights in order to protect the laws and cultural mores of Nigeria.
Adesina further clarified that the issue was never discussed between Buhari and President Barack Obama, but with US lawmakers.
“The same sex marriage issue came up at the joint session of Senate and House Committees on Foreign Affairs, not in direct talks with Obama. Talks shifted to another matter once PMB emphatically stated Nigeria’s stand on same sex marriage. The issue was not pushed,” he wrote on his Twitter handle.
Buhari wrapped up his visit to the US yesterday and departed Washington from the Joint Base Andrews Airport. He is scheduled to arrive Abuja this afternoon.