Former military head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), said on Monday that his regime never experienced anything such as corruption for the nine years it was in power.
Gowon, whose government ruled from 1966 to 1975, made the statement at the 8th Commonwealth Regional Conference for Heads of Anti-corruption Agencies in Africa hosted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja.
The former leader said although some of his ministers were being accused of corruption, the regime made sure that it did not happen.
“During our time, I can assure you we did not know anything of the sort such as corruption.
“Yes, some of my ministers were being accused of corruption, but I can assure you it was something that we tried to make sure it did not happen especially in the public service.
“When I left office in 1975, apart from my salary, it was those staff who were with me during the OAU meeting (Kampala, Uganda) that contributed their estacode to make sure that at least I had something to live on after I had been asked to leave office.
“And I said I wish I had done something to provide for the future, and I think it is that experience that probably made those that came after I left office to make sure they provided for the future.”
Gowon said he was saddened by reports in the media suggesting that all the country’s former Heads of States or Presidents were corrupt, noting that such allegations were denigrating the office.
The former military leader, therefore, urged Nigerians to make sure that those elected or appointed into public office were made to be honest, transparent and accountable.
He also challenged participants at the conference to come up with effective measures not only to prevent looting of public funds but also recovery of stolen money, and its use for the people.
Earlier, Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, said Nigeria had been “bled dry” by corrupt leadership over the years, and challenged the anti-graft agencies on the prosecution of past and current corrupt leaders.
“I took the trouble yesterday to visit the new headquarters of the EFCC; I wanted to see what would be the mode of hospitality for some of our leaders who will surely sooner or later pass through the doors of that beautiful building not far from here.
“Until we make sure that some of our leaders pass through those doors, this struggle against corruption in this country will not be won.
“I spoke to Magu (EFCC acting Chairman), that I want to see the presidential wing in this place. I said, ‘I am a human rights person and I want to make sure you treat them right when they come here’.
“But he said sorry, it is an egalitarian institution. And I said ok, I will take that message back to them, that they should get ready to go down a little bit in status when justice catches up with them.’’
Soyinka said EFCC’s major responsibility for now was to help the nation to recover the rest of the loot still hidden across the continent, fill up its detention room with corrupt leaders.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, called for more political will by governments in the continent in the fight against corruption.
Onnoghen advised that the masses should be carried along in the process, because anti-graft agencies could only effectively wage the fight with information from the people.
On behalf of the judiciary, the CJN assured the country’s anti-corruption agencies of the judicial support to sustain their efforts in reducing corruption to its barest minimum.
In his address of welcome, acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Magu, said Nigeria was lucky to have the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari which he said is committed to the anti-graft war.
Magu said there had never been a more focused and committed team in the ant-corruption anywhere in Africa than the current leadership in Nigeria.