The Catholic Bishop of Abuja Arch Diocese, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to pardon Nigerians involved in money laundering, so long as they are ready to return all their looted funds.
Mr. Onaiyekan stated this at the SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Nyanya, Abuja, as part of his New Year message to the nation.
The Catholic archbishop, who granted an interview to a PREMIUM TIMES reporter, who attended the mass, stressed that the ongoing anti-corruption campaign of the Buhari administration has shown that graft can only be eradicated over time, not immediately.
He also called for caution in the fight against corruption.
“It is okay to expose people and disgrace them, but that will not solve the problem”, Onaiyekan said.
“If we want our money back, we have to strategize so that the countries that are keeping our money can feel challenged to return them.
“The time has come such that once we have those facts we can call those nations thieves that they are, and say bring back our money”.
According to Onaiyekan, the best strategy towards ensuring the return of the stolen monies would be to reach an agreement with the people involved in money laundering, to have them return what they have stolen.
“But the easiest way to get the money back is if you can convince the people to go and bring the money back themselves, then it will be easy.
“One way to convince people to go and bring back such money is to convince them that you will not disgrace them, after they have done that”, he stated.
He, therefore, said a special kind of amnesty might be required.
The Cardinal, however, clarified that his idea of amnesty does not include plea bargain, which only leads to the return of part, not all, stolen funds.
“This is different from the popular plea bargaining where you tell a person who has stolen hundred billion to return fifty billion and be forgiven; that for me is not the right thing.
“If you have stolen hundred million and you are ready to bring back all, then we will leave you and not send you to jail, Nigeria can do that”, said Mr. Onaiyekan.
He said corruption is embedded in the Nigerian system and therefore requires a systemic change to reverse the situation.
“It was built into the system, so the system must change, so that corruption can be fully dealt with,” Mr. Onaiyekan said.
The archbishop also charged the federal government to swing into proper action in the New Year, for the fulfilment of its campaign promises, noting that the beginning of 2015 saw various forms of campaigns, from all sides, with numerous promises made, adding that the success of the All Progressives Congress, which was built on a promise of change, would be the focus of attention in 2016.
“At the beginning of 2015, it was election campaign; the party that won promised change.
“We can say that from May (2015) till now, it has been a period of consolidating, making strategies and preparing.
“Now that we have entered 2016, it will now be a year in which we will now begin to see exactly where we are going and how we are moving”, Mr. Onaiyekan said.
He added that the movement will entail all of the nation’s all, with security and anti-corruption campaign at the forefront.
“Moving in terms of security, finished mopped-up operation with Boko haram, dialogue with those who would like to talk to us and forgive those who have repented.
“We must find a way to discuss, negotiate the peace and tranquility of our nation”, he said.