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Nigerian Government Accuses Groups, Army Officials of Graft

FILE - Soldiers are seen on a truck along a road in Maiduguri in Borno State, Nigeria, May 14, 2015.

A spokesman for Nigeria's president says hundreds of millions of dollars in redirected government payments have been discovered as a result of an investigation into the country's former national security adviser.

An investigative committee has accused 300 organizations, individuals and some army officials of financial malfeasance totaling an estimated $241 million in fraud and overpayments of contracts, says Garba Shehu, spokesman for President Muhammadu Buhari. Sambo Dasuki, who was national security adviser to former president Goodluck Jonathan has been accused of misappropriating more than $2 billion.

In an interview with VOA, Shehu says Nigerians have expressed shock at the enormity of embezzlement of money intended to help fight the Islamist extremists group Boko Haram. Boko Haram is blamed for the death of thousands and displaced many more in parts of the country where they often attacked civilians as well as military personnel.

Impact on military

Shehu said the embezzlement of funds in the national security adviser’s office contributed to the low morale of soldiers trained to fight the militants in parts of Nigeria’s north.

“[They] came up with this mind-boggling revelation that as they did with the money for the weapons, they just were sharing money all around. So far, the office of the national security adviser, under its new leadership, has recovered more than 7 billion Naira [$35 million] in... U.S. dollars, euros and in Nigerian currency. And they have asked that another sum of 41 Billion Naira [$206 million] be refunded immediately, and the veracity or ownership of yet another 45 Billion Naira [$ 226 million] would be determined by further investigations. At the end of which government will know whether all of that be returned to the government or perhaps be returned in part,” said Shehu.

“We are dealing with three sets of lines of corruption. One is a set of people who got money for doing nothing. They were just called and issued money from the office of the national security adviser — purpose not defined. Another set of people and companies, they signed contracts to do certain jobs or undertakings, they got money and they run away. Then the third group, which I said would now be investigated for verification; companies and individuals who got monies to offer services, they may have offered in part but there is no evidence of completion.”

Boko Haram

Shehu says since President Buhari’s election the militants face defeat. He also says the heavy security threat previously posed by the militants, has been reduced due to what he says has been a reinvigoration of efforts by security agencies.

“We are now at the finishing stage of the entire war [with Boko Haram] now. Because government has been able to free funds, monies that would have gone into pockets of military commanders and politicians. They are procuring weapons, they are paying salaries and allowances to military men and the spirit is very high, among our fighting men. So, much of Boko Haram has been minimized,” said Shehu.

The government has officially stated that it has “technically” defeated Boko Haram. But critics say the militants have not been reduced to just common criminality. They cited recent suicide bombings and cross border attacks in neighboring Cameroon as examples that the government is wrong in its assessment of the fight against Boko Haram.

Shehu disagreed. He says the fight against Boko Haram has achieved visible success for all to see under Buhari. Shehu also added that the current administration aims to plug loopholes by which former government officials siphoned funds meant to improve the lives of citizens.

“[Buhari] has succeeded in freeing 3 Trillion Naira [about $3 billion] available in the central bank by blocking several bank accounts and transferring them to the central bank of Nigeria.This is money that is available to be spent on the country. The government will unleash funds on the country the moment the budget is signed. Money to be spent, this money would have been shared by politicians and whatever at the end of the year as the practice used to be,” said Shehu.