The challenge of dealing with military corruption in Nigeria

Colonel Sambo Dasuki, the former National Security Adviser to the Federal Government of Nigeria, is waiting to go on trial for corruption in the richest, most populated and many think the most corrupt country in Africa. This story (see here for more) is not in the same league as the case of Sani Abacha, a former corrupt General and President of Nigeria who stole billions, but it is still serious.

Dasuki was high on the new(ish) Nigerian president, General Mohammadu Buhari’s, hit list, and one of the first people to be charged with corruption when he took office in April. Buhari made it clear to the world that security and corruption were his first two national policy priorities and he wanted to be seen to act on both early on. That led to Dasuki quickly being put under house arrest.

Dasuki had played a prominent role in helping to destroy public faith in Nigeria’s once internationally respected army and it is to be hoped that the trial will shed more light on exactly how he did this. Buhari certainly thinks that Dasuki knows much more about large-scale corruption in the military and the theft of money than he will admit. This is money that was meant to help ordinary soldiers fight terrorists in the North-East of Nigeria, on the borders with Chad and Cameroon.

For his part, Dasuki had been the senior military officer responsible for advising President Goodluck Jonathan about national security and spending on the armed forces.  It appears that he had advised him of the need for a massively increased budget for the army in 2014 – all well and good, but, again, where precisely did all that money go? There is very little evidence that it was spent on new equipment, much needed weapons or vehicles (see here).

Dasuki’s job had also been to explain what the military were doing to fight terrorism, and, as became increasingly clear, to push any blame for failure on the part of the government on to others such as the main opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC).  The APC are dominant in the northern states of Nigeria where Boko Haram are most active and so are very much in the middle of Nigeria’s gruesome battle with a hard to pin down terrorist group. The then government’s (and Dasuki’s) argument was that the military could not defeat Boko Haram while APC Governors in the northern states supported Boko Haram and undermined President Goodluck Jonathan. This was a serious accusation that was understandably not taken lying down by the APC whose reputation was on the line in the run up to a national election in March 2015.

It also looked as if Dasuki may have gained traction in the UK with his defence of the Nigerian military’s obvious failure in the north, and his thinly veiled accusation against the APC. In the UK Parliament, for example, Andrew Rosindell MP asked the then UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, how the UK was engaging with Nigeria’s leading opposition party (the APC).  This followed a debate in parliament in which Labour MP Sandra Osborne sought to examine allegations of links between the APC and Boko Haram (see here).

Was the APC part of a conspiracy funded by the northern states? Lai Mohammed, APC Press Secretary (and now Minister of Information), came to London at very short notice in September 2014 to argue the opposite case in the UK Parliament (see here for his reply to Dasuki). Dasuki’s pamphlets, meanwhile, describing how Boko Haram had increased its’ operations, were distributed by Nigerian Consulate officials in Portcullis House during Lai Mohammed’s speech.  Quite where this will all end is not clear, but it is a story that is worth following.  The trial is ongoing in Nigeria and this episode will tell us more about how the new president intends to deal with serious corruption allegations in the military.

Martin Brown

MA Student

Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption (SCSC)


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One comment on “The challenge of dealing with military corruption in Nigeria
  1. Mark Lowe says:

    Very interesting Martin.

    Far from being a blog posting for a niche or very focused interest group, your comments have to be read in the context of the greater picture: will Buhari reach his stated objectives?

    National stability and security concerns make targeting the military a delicate task in any country; this is particularly accentuated in Nigeria. One of Buhari’s first actions was to replace the heads of the three principal armed forces, a very drastic action indeed.

    Colonel Dasuki’s trial will serve the purpose of testing support for Buhari’s anti corruption stance and policy as well as putting a number of the former administration’s players in some difficulty.

    It is unlikely that the current President’s interest in the former Colonel stems from any desire to avenge Dasuki’s role in the August 1985 palace coup that led to Buhari being replaced, however, many will believe quite the opposite.

    In any case the outcome of Dasuki’s trial will send observers a very clear signal and it is in this sense that Martin’s article is of interest to a much wider circle.

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