There has been no shortage of praise for Nigerian President Muhammad Buhari’s anti-corruption war, which has led to the arrest of a string of high-ranking former government officials.
The Buhari crackdown centres on an alleged $2.1bn “arms scam”, where money earmarked for weapons to fight Boko Haram is said to have been diverted for political purposes.
But experts say the arrests and ongoing trials do little to tackle the systemic corruption in the defence sector that helped allow the Islamists to seize large swathes of territory in the country’s northeast.
Former national security advisor (NSA) Sambo Dasuki is accused of overseeing a sprawling embezzlement scheme that saw “phantom contracts” awarded for personal gain, as under-equipped and demoralised troops fought better-armed Boko Haram militants.
But Dasuki’s trials have a narrow focus, to determine if Nigerian defence money was diverted to former president Goodluck Jonathan’s party to fund his failed 2015 re-election campaign.
Anti-corruption campaigners in Nigeria say nothing yet addresses the commercial companies behind the procurement deals, or the lack of oversight that makes the Defence sector ripe for fraud, leaving the door open to future arms scams until the Defence sector, where national security is often invoked to prevent scrutiny, is truly transformed and managed. Poor leadership, administration of Defence procurement and general oversight allowed procurement to deteriorate to unprecedented levels. In this murky environment, shady arms deals conducted with military merchants around the globe thrived.
Shielded by the secretive status quo, corruption thrived while Boko Haram tore through Nigeria in 2014, making extensive territorial gains and killing over 2 500 people, possibly one of the bloodiest years of the insurgency.
One company singled out by Buhari’s presidential committee probing arms deals is Societé d’équipements Internationaux (SEI), which has offices in Abuja and Paris.
Between January 2014 and February 2015, the Presidency alleges Dasuki awarded SEI contracts worth $930m, but the company failed to deliver operational equipment.
“Had these funds siphoned to these non-performing companies been properly used… thousands of needless Nigerian deaths would have been avoided,” the Presidency said in January.
But SEI managing director Hima Aboubakar, who describes himself as a “big advisor in the security field”, maintained he only has Nigeria’s best interests at heart. “We fight against terrorism, against Boko Haram. It’s good to investigate all the companies, everybody who is a businessman needs to be investigated. If you aren’t being investigated you aren’t serious” he said, seemingly unperturbed by the Presidential probe into the affair.
(Note that Aboubakar has not yet been charged in connection with the alleged arms scam).
But Nigerian anti-corruption campaigners fear Nigeria’s justice system is too weak to secure convictions against individuals in the defence industry, and to support this suspicion, there have already been botched cases.
They cite the case of Austrian security contractor Wolfgang Reinl, one of several individuals listed by the Presidency over deals characterised by “irregularity and fraud” and who worked with Abuja-based GTESC Limited, who was detained last December by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), without a court order, then released in February.
Later suing the EFCC for violating his fundamental human rights, in May, a judge ordered the EFCC to pay a fine of 10 million naira ($35m) and banned the anti-graft agency from arresting Reinl again, thereby compromising any future investigation and leading to fears about the robustness of the Nigerian judiciary
“We’ve not been able to secure a conviction. That says so much about the fact that the system is not able” said Olukayode Majekodunmi, deputy director for the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, a civil society group.
“The judicial system in Nigeria is very weak, it has been polluted by corruption. There are so many saboteurs that are thwarting the efforts of the government” said Debo Adeniran, head of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders.
As it stands, defence equipment deals in Nigeria take place behind closed doors without much public consultation or scrutiny. The Public Procurement Act 2007, which governs procurement procedures, does not usually apply to military purchases, and politicians have been loath to question Defence spending in Parliament.
In June, the Nigerian military held a seminar in Abuja aimed at “totally overhauling and realigning their hardware acquisition processes”.
But there has been little indication policy reforms will happen anytime soon. The Federal Government claims there is no truth that the report of the Presidential Committee on the Audit of Defence Equipment Procurement in the Armed Forces (2007-2015) has been “doctored”.
The Committee is currently investigating 18 serving or retired senior military personnel, 12 serving and retired senior public officials and 24 CEOs of various commercial entities involved in Defence procurement activities. All were either accounting officers or they played key roles in the Nigerian Army procurement process during the period under review. The list includes two former Chiefs of Army Staff (both retired Lt-Generals), a former Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and three former Permanent Secretaries in the Ministry of Defence.
According to this Committee, the total amount spent during the period 2011-2015 was close to USD700 million, with contracts having been awarded without significant input from the end-user (the Nigerian Army) and to vendors lacking the necessary technical competence, and characterised by a “lack of due process, in breach of extant procurement regulations and tainted by corrupt practices and without any competitive bidding process”
Throughout the corruption enquiries, Nigeria continues to suffer Boko Haram attacks. On 8th July, according to Nigerian military sources, six people were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque in Damboa, some 90km south-west of the Borno state capital, Maiduguri in the northeast of Nigeria, in the latest violence to hit the restive region.
A Nigerian Army spokesperson said the attack happened at about 05:15 in the town of Damboa. “The first suicide bomber targeted Damboa Central Mosque but due to stringent security measures, he could not gain entry. Obviously frustrated, he exploded [his device] and died near the central mosque. However, the second bomber veered off and gained entry into another smaller mosque and detonated the bomb, killing himself and six other worshippers and injuring one other person. The wounded (were) evacuated to a hospital….Troops and other security agencies have been mobilised to the area.”
This attack is the latest against a mosque in northeast Nigeria and the wider Lake Chad region, as part of a campaign of violence by the Islamist group against civilian soft targets.
On June 27, two would-be suicide bombers were killed in Maiduguri, as they tried to target an overnight Ramadan vigil at a mosque on the Damboa Road.
Three days later, on the 30th June, 10 people were killed in the town of Djakana, in northern Cameroon near the Nigerian border, when another suicide bomber blew himself up.
Then on July 4, the Nigerian Army said it had neutralised an attempted suicide bombing, this time by three women, against people displaced by Boko Haram in Monguno, to the northeast of Maiduguri.
However, over the past two weeks, there has been a relative lull in attacks, as troops regain control of territory once held by Boko Haram, whose fighters have now been pushed into remote rural areas towards Lake Chad.
The seven-year insurgency in Nigeria and its neighbours has left at least 20 000 people dead in Nigeria alone, and has displaced more than 2.5 million people, putting pressure on local authorities in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad, and aid agencies have warned that some 50, 000 children under the age of 5 are facing severe acute malnutrition in Borno alone this year because of food shortages caused by the conflict.
The UN’s assistant secretary-general and regional humanitarian coordinator (Toby Lanzer) said in a statement that “time is running out (in the northeast) for the poorest and most rural of people. A failure to act now will result in deeper and broader suffering, unlike anything seen to date in Nigeria’s northeast, and a steeper bill for all concerned to alleviate suffering and stabilise the situation”.
Meanwhile, across the border in Cameroon, Amnesty International says Cameroonian security forces have unlawfully killed dozens of civilians and tortured and forced the disappearances of others in mass arrests of suspects in fighting the Boko Haram Islamic insurgency.
A report published on 14th July accused Cameroonian military forces operating in Cameroon’s Far North province, bordering northeast Nigeria, of crimes under international law.
The London-based group says Cameroon’s government and security chiefs have not responded to its requests for information about the allegations and missing people and its calls for investigations.
Refugees who fled across the border into Nigeria claim that Cameroonian troops have been indiscriminately killing civilians, looting and destroying property.
Cameroonian troops operating along the border with Nigeria