So Nigeria Isn’t Corrupt Anymore? Watch for Elephants in Buhari’s Room 4
NIGERIA - CIRCA 1965: Fauna of Nigeria. elephant, circa 1965.

When President Muhammadu Buhari took more than five months to appoint his Cabinet, Nigerians gently mocked old “Baba Go-Slow.”

Most accepted the fact that, in one of the world’s most corrupted political systems, it simply took time to find the honest ministers needed for the mammoth cleanup that Buhari had promised.

Once appointed, the new administration wasted no time in rounding up the first culprits. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, or EFCC, rapidly launched a number of investigations against high-profile politicians.

It so happened that most of the accused were members of the outgoing Goodluck Jonathan regime – and predominantly his close allies. But that was understandable too, given these were the most prominent figures, with access to the purse strings of state.

Any questions about the integrity of the APC government’s agenda were soon answered with the arrest of a Buhari ally – the former Military Administrator of Kaduna State, Jafaru Isa. The example showed the president isn’t afraid to target those within his own party. It underscored the EFCC’s newly granted autonomy to conduct inquiries into all politicians of any affiliation.

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The ultimate test, however, is still to come.

As the anti-corruption campaign continues to pick up steam, Buhari must inevitably turn his focus to the former PDP members who have decamped to the APC in order to avoid prosecution. Rather incongruously given Buhari’s long and careful evaluation process, some of the politicians warranting the most attention are his own ministers. The veracity of Buhari’s war on corruption will be defined by the extent to which those at the core of his government are transparently investigated.

 

Money From Arms

 

To date, the most significant target of the anti-corruption crusade has been the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki.

Dasuki’s prosecution came soon after his dismissal by Buhari. He’s accused of stealing $2.1 billion through fictitious contracts for jets, helicopters and ammunition that had been intended to strengthen the military’s capabilities in the face of Boko Haram insurgencies. He’s also suspected of defrauding the Central Bank of a further $140 million. The money was supposedly transferred to accounts in Britain, the US and West Africa, despite the absence of any contracts to support the transactions.

Raids on two of Dasuki’s homes in Abuja and Sokoto last July led to the seizure of hundreds of thousands of dollars, assault rifles and a submachine gun – weapons he claimed belonged to his bodyguards.

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Faced with a series of charges, including money laundering and illegal possession of arms, Dasuki has responded with “not guilty” pleas and repeated stalling tactics. When the Department of State Services announced in February that the prosecution was ready for trial to commence, Dasuki insisted he wasn’t ready because officials hadn’t complied with a court order granting him bail. The court adjourned until March, when Dasuki argued that the case should be dropped as his constitutional right to legal counsel was being frustrated by the government.

Meanwhile, he hauled the Federal Government before the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice over his continued “unlawful and unconstitutional” detention without trial. ECOWAS has adjourned to determine whether it has the jurisdiction on the matter, and Dasuki is seeking $2.5 million in punitive damages.

 

Crowning Jewel

 

More significantly, further corruption allegations against Dasuki emerged in March from a federal audit report that had been submitted to the National Assembly two years earlier. That report showed $183 million of funds intended for the construction of dams was, in fact, disbursed to Dasuki and distributed to various politicians before the 2015 presidential election. The fresh allegations diminish any prospect of Dasuki of being released on bail.

Given its highly politicized nature and the amount of money involved, Dasuki’s case might be viewed as the crowning jewel of Buhari’s mission and a clear indicator to the electorate, politicians and the economic elite that corruption will no longer be tolerated. If the government manages to repatriate some of the $2.1 billion allegedly misappropriated by Dasuki and his cohorts, it could also valuably bolster the ailing economy.

On a broader level, targeting former members of the Jonathan administration has obvious advantages for the APC – not least that Buhari can prove to the electorate that they made the right choice in bringing both him and his party to power. By further undermining the PDP’s already shattered credibility, Buhari can prevent the opposition from mounting an effective bid ahead of the 2019 presidential election.

 

Two Elephants

 

Yet once the PDP’s key figures are brought to justice, Buhari will be left with a couple of elephants in the room.

Last August, the PDP challenged its former party member, the current Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi, to respond to a number of corruption accusations. The matters are of such importance, they “can no longer be glossed over,” declared PDP State Chairman Felix Obuah.

For a change, the PDP was able to take the high ground on the anti-corruption initiative thanks to a CNN Amanpour live report. It alleged that Amaechi has amassed a fortune of $757 million in a US Bancorp account.

This report isn’t the only source of alleged impropriety by the former governor. The NGO Integrity Group has requested that Buhari and the EFCC investigate numerous cases of unlawful self-enrichment, criminal breach of trust and the illegal conversion of $352 million by the Amaechi Rivers State government.

This figure doesn’t include a sum of over $105 million that the PDP says Amaechi secretly transferred from the sale of the Access Bank Power Assets into the accounts of three private companies: Advante Consulting & Management Company, Result Import Experts Co. and Capital Index Ltd.

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And then there is Buhari’s Minister for Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola.

Around the same time that the PDP began challenging Amaechi, allegations surfaced that Fashola had allocated $390,000 for the upgrade of his personal website. The accusation came from BudgIT, a Nigerian group advocating transparency in government expenditure, and was corroborated by a report from the Lagos Public Procurement Agency, or PPA.

The former governor publicly acknowledged such an expensive contract had been awarded, but said the PPA had misrepresented the work involved. It included other services – a countdown clock to the political handover and various mobile apps – plus there was the annual maintenance required for the website. In fact, “only” $60,000 was awarded for the upgrade, a worthy expenditure, Fashola argued, as he used his website to communicate with his constituents.

The contractor company, Info Access Plus, confirmed the $60,000 figure but said it only received $50,000 from Fashola’s governorship.

The Lagos PPA also alleged a $700,000 contract for the drilling of two boreholes at the government secretariat and $1.5 million for the relocation of cables belonging to the Power Holding Company of Nigeria at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital. Both were awarded to Deux Projects Ltd. Its Managing Director, Tunji Olowolafe, is reportedly a proxy of Fashola’s erstwhile godfather, Bola Tinubu.

On top of that, there’s an apparent further $3.2 million contract with German engineering firm Julius Berger for the reconstruction of a car park and other associated works at Fashola’s official residence, the Lagos House Marina. Fashola hasn’t responded to these allegations.

The Civil Society Network Against Corruption, which represents a coalition of Nigerian anti-corruption organizations, has called on the EFCC to thoroughly investigate Fashola.

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Amaechi and Fashola are cornerstones of the APC administration. Any investigation into their past alleged indiscretions could severely undermine the party’s credibility as an honest, transparent and accountable alternative to the notoriously corrupt PDP.

However, failure to investigate would be a huge oversight. These two cases have the potential to fundamentally undermine Buhari’s achievements and credibility in the eyes of the electorate.

 

The author is Luke Doogan, Africa Analyst at West Sands Advisory Limited. After working in the energy industry in Ghana, Luke has focused on investigating the intricacies of how informal networks exert influence over political and commercial decision-making throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. West Sands is a business intelligence, investigations and political advisory firm that has, since 2006, helped clients identify opportunities and reduce risk in emerging and frontier markets.

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