Nigeria Looks for Missing $5.5 Billion in Defense Spending

  • Defense contracts meant to bolster fight against Boko Haram
  • Cash spent on helicopters, jets, ammunition that never arrived

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the arrest of former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and other unidentified officials for allegedly misappropriating as much as $5.5 billion worth of contracts to buy defense equipment to fight the Islamist militant group Boko Haram.

A government committee investigating weapons deals said it discovered total “extra-budgetary interventions” of 644 billion naira ($3.3 billion) in local currency and $2.2 billion in foreign funds, Femi Adesina, a spokesman in Buhari’s office, said in an e-mailed statement Tuesday. Dasuki awarded “phantom” contracts for the purchase of four jets, 12 helicopters and bombs, Adesina said. Dasuki denies the charges, his lawyer Ahmed Raji said.

“It is worrisome and disappointing that those entrusted with the security of this great nation were busy using proxies to siphon the national treasury, while innocent lives were wasted daily,” Adesina said. If the equipment had reached the military, he said, “thousands of needless Nigerian deaths would have been avoided.”

Corruption Crackdown

The allegations against Dasuki, 60, mark a big step in Buhari’s promised crackdown on corruption in Africa’s top oil producer. The committee is also probing the army, naval and air force headquarters. Soldiers on the front line against Boko Haram have repeatedly complained of a lack of food and equipment to battle the militants, who use suicide bombings, gun attacks and kidnapping of civilians in their six-year-old insurgency.

Dasuki, a former security adviser under Goodluck Jonathan, who Buhari defeated in March elections, was already under house arrest on charges of money-laundering that he has denied.

“He says he did not award any fictitious contracts and all that he did was with the approval of the president,” Raji said Wednesday by phone from Abuja, the capital. 

Using the national security adviser’s office to buy arms, instead of the Ministry of Defense, creates problems of obvious oversight, said Henry Adigun, technical team leader at the Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reform, a U.K.-funded group that’s working to stem corruption.

Public Scrutiny

“The normal process of expenditure should be a budget. Why did you have an extra-budgetary option in the first place?” he said Wednesday by phone from Abuja. “The NSA’s accounts are not open to public scrutiny.”

Corruption has dogged Nigeria’s political system since independence from the U.K. in 1960. Transparency International ranked it as the 136th out of 174 countries assessed in its 2014 Corruption Perception Index.

A government panel headed by Nuhu Ribadu, a former chairman of the country’s financial crimes agency, said in a 2012 report that Nigeria may have lost $37 billion from crude sales, royalties and signature bonuses for oil-exploration concessions in the previous 10 years. That exceeds the annual economic output of more than half the nations in Africa and surpasses the country’s annual federal budget.

The committee investigating defense spending was inaugurated in August and is still completing its work, Adesina said.

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