Saturday, 30th September 2023

 Military: Combating endemic corruption

By Emmanuel Onwubiko
17 May 2023   |   3:02 am
Nigeria has been waging a war on terror for 11 odd years. The terror group started off as ragtag armed bandits that sprang up from the then-Islamic sectarian group known as boko haram in Maiduguri, Borno State.

Boko Haram

Nigeria has been waging a war on terror for 11 odd years. The terror group started off as ragtag armed bandits that sprang up from the then-Islamic sectarian group known as boko haram in Maiduguri, Borno State.

Since this bunch of murderous gangsters began their campaign to overthrow constitutional democracy and establish an Islamic caliphate, over 50,000 citizens have been killed with some two million refugees and internally Displaced persons scattered all over the African continent, and around Nigeria.

One thing that has become mystifying, is the incapacity of the hitherto respected Nigerian military to successfully crush these Armed irritants.  One reason for this historical inability of the military to win this war on terror is corruption of the endemic species within the highest echelon of the Federal Ministry of defence and inside of the different segments of the military. Kleptocratic and selfish Generals have been fingered, indicted, and legally punished for groundbreaking crime of corruption and crude theft of resources meant for the purchase of vital military weapons to crush these terrorists.

Corruption such as procurement corruption is responsible for the buying of substandard weapons thereby exposing the fighters to the dangers of being constantly overpowered and killed by these terrorists. The danger in permitting the existence of corruption in the military is that the institution of the military or the armed forces will be inhibited from actualising the mandate of protecting the territorial integrity of Nigeria.

This is even worse when these violent attacks are targeted at soft targets at a time that democracy ought to be thriving. The truth is that the institutions of government are hobbled by corruption of the endemic type. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, a former cabinet Minister confirmed the existence of corruption in the top echelons of government in a book she did recently, which I will take the liberty to cite some excerpts that are relevant to this discussion.

She said truly that Nigeria is a fledgling- democracy patterned on the American style with a powerful elected executive president and vice president. There are several political parties, but the two main ones are the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC), which is currently the governing party.

Nigeria gained its independence from Britain in 1960 and briefly tried the British parliamentary style of democracy before going through a civil war (the Nigeria Biafra war) from 1967 to 1970 and lapsing into military rule for a long period. The current democratic period began in 1999 after almost three decades of military rule were interspersed with brief periods of civilian rule.

The country’s 1999 constitution provides for a federal government; a Federal Capital Territory where the capital, Abuja, is located; 36 states whose governors are elected; and 774 local governments. The states are grouped into six geopolitical zones-North West. North Central, North East, South West, South East, and South-South. Some of them, such as South East and South West, coincide with major ethnic groups such as the lgbo and Yoruba respectively, and others are home myriad ethnic groups. The legislature forms an important arm of government, with an upper house or Senate with 109 members and a lower House of Representatives with 360.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said too that due to its size and economic importance, Nigeria matters for West Africa, Africa, and the world. This is why good political and economic governance is essential for the country and why the world must pay attention and lend its support to ensure that Nigeria moves onto the right development path.

Discussing candidly, as this book does, where and why corruption happens, what is being done to fight it and what more needs to be done is an important part of clearing the way for Nigeria’s entrepreneurial people to fulfill their potential. Nigeria is one of the most interesting countries in the world. It is energetic and sometimes chaotic, and its people are wonderfully entrepreneurial. Nigerian women are particularly enterprising. The actions of a small percentage of Nigeria’s population have given the country a bad name-one associated with corruption and this book talks about that.

But the overwhelming majority of Nigerians are honest, hardworking citizens who want what citizens elsewhere want-for their government to provide peace, stability, and basic services and then get out of their way so they can live their lives.( see the book titled: “Fighting Corruption is Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines”. By Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala).

As aforementioned, the most spoken about factor militating against the rapid advancement of Nigeria and much of Africa is corruption. And as the former powerful minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala stated, what afflicts Nigeria, afflicts Africa. Due largely to corruption that has crippled the capacity of the Nigerian military to overcome national security threats, terrorists have overwhelmed the Nigerian North East and pretty much of the West African neighbouring nations. It is for corruption that the basic social amenities in all sectors of the national life of Nigeria have collapsed.

The endemic corruption that has hobbled development in the areas of the national economy, health education, roads, energy power and across all fundamental infrastructures that make life meaningful, has become a talking point all around the World. There is this comparison that most scholars make between Japan, which has zero mineral resources but is an advanced nation and Nigeria, which is extensively endowed with natural and mineral resources but the population are largely absolutely poor, that revelation from all angles, is pathetic and pitiable.

The fact that Nigeria with lots of natural resources houses the largest poor population in the contemporary global community is shameful. It is even more vexatious that many Nigerians who get into politics and have held one position or the other have ended up stupendously rich whereas the largest majority of Nigerians are poor, tells the story of endemic corruption. But the worst corruption is that which manifests in the military. Like I said earlier, Nigeria is notorious for corruption.

Of course, most African countries are still perceived to suffer from “endemic corruption,” according to an annual survey of perceptions of public sector corruption in nations across the world. The 2014 edition of the survey, published by the campaign group Transparency International, says that five of the 10 countries of the world in which administrators and politicians are perceived to be the most corrupt are in Africa. They are Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Libya and Eritrea.

The African country whose public sector is experienced as the least corrupt – Botswana – is ranked only at 31st place on a list of 175 nations surveyed, far behind those whose public sectors are perceived as the cleanest: the Scandinavian countries, New Zealand, Switzerland and Singapore. African countries are prominent among the countries whose performance has improved the most in the last year. Transparency International reports that Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Mali and Swaziland are among the seven most improved nations.

However, African nations are also among the worst backsliders: Angola, Malawi and Rwanda join China and Turkey as the countries whose performance has declined the most. Commenting on the results of the survey, Chantal Uwimana, Transparency International’s regional director for Africa and the Middle East, notes that the majority of African countries have a score of less than 50 on a scale of one to 100, “which in our view depicts a situation of endemic corruption.”

She adds: “In a continent with high levels of economic growth rates (compared to many parts of the world), the persistence of widespread corruption is one of the factors inhibiting the transformation of the economic growth into development dividends for all citizens…” However, she also notes that illicit financial flows from Africa – in which the private sector is deeply complicit – are “quickly draining the continent and depriving African countries of resources for investment and development.”

She adds: “Illicit financial flows are a serious threat to Africa’s economic growth and development. This situation needs to stop and it is a global responsibility to stop it.” After Botswana, the African countries perceived to have the least corrupt public sectors are Cape Verde (in 42nd place among 175 countries worldwide), Seychelles (43rd place) and Mauritius (47th). Lesotho, Namibia and Rwanda occupy joint 55th place, with Ghana (61st) and South Africa (67th) next.

Senegal occupies 69th place, Liberia 94th, Ethiopia 110th, Nigeria 136th and Kenya 145th place. Forty-seven African countries are on the list; Transparency International says there is no enough data on others to be included. Equatorial Guinea was in the list last year but has been dropped due to insufficient data. In the last few years, many Army, Airforce and Navy Generals have faced a series of prosecutions by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for large-scale theft of public funds meant for procurement of weapons to prosecute the eleven-year-old war on terror. Not long ago, the Nigerian Army court-martialed former GOC over alleged stolen N400 million.

Onwubiko is Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.

The story says that the Nigerian Army has commenced the trial of the former General Officer Commanding (GOC) 7 Division, Sokoto, Hakeem Otiki, a major general, over alleged stolen N400 million by some soldiers under his command. The then Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, while inaugurating the General Court Martial on Tuesday in Abuja, said the trial was in line with the Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Laws of the Federation 2014.

The General Court Martial is to be presided over by the Chief of Policy and Plans, Nigerian Army Headquarters, Lamidi Adeosun, a major general, as the president of the court. Members of the court are A.A. Tarfa from the Headquarters Training and Doctrine Nigerian Army, F.O Agugo from Department of Army Transformation and Innovation and J.S. Malu from the Headquarters Nigerian Army Engineers. Others are M.A. Muhammed from the Headquarters Nigerian Army Signal, C.T. Olukuju from Land Forces Stimulation Centre while C.C. Okonkwo will serve as a waiting member. All the members are of the rank of major general.

Buratai, a lieutenant general, also appointed A. Muhammed, a major, from the Headquarters Directorate of Army Legal Services as the Judge Advocate of the court. The prosecuting officers are J.A Orumo, J.A. Obot, from the Office of the National Security Adviser, I.A Suleman from Guards Brigade. They are all majors.

According to the convening order issued by General Buratai, the General Court Martial as composed is to assemble at Army Headquarters Command Mess Abuja for the purpose of trying the accused person. “The charges are to be served on the accused person or his counsel not later than 24 hours before arraignment. “Recommended books to be used are the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 as amended; Armed Forces Act Cap A20 Laws of the Federation 2004; Evidence Act number 18 of 2011; Rules of Procedures, Army 1972; the Holy Bible; the Holy Quran and any other relevant document,’’ he said.

The army authorities had in July begun the interrogation of the former GOC over the missing N400 million. Five soldiers had been confirmed to have carted away a consignment containing the money, while on an escort duty from Sokoto to Kaduna. On Thursday, August 7, 2014, the State department of the United States of America issued a media advisory that stated as follows: “U.S. Forfeits Over $480 Million Stolen by Former Nigerian Dictator in Largest Forfeiture Ever Obtained Through a Kleptocracy Action.

The Department of Justice has forfeited more than $480 million in corruption proceeds hidden in bank accounts around the world by former Nigerian dictator Sani Abacha and his co-conspirators.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Assistant Director in Charge Valerie Parlave of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement after a judgment was entered on Aug. 6, 2014, by U.S. District Judge John D. Bates of the District of Columbia.
“Rather than serve his county, General Abacha used his public office in Nigeria to loot millions of dollars, engaging in brazen acts of kleptocracy,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell.

“With this judgment, we have forfeited $480 million in corruption proceeds that can be used for the benefit of the Nigerian people. Through the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative, the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division denies kleptocrats like Abacha the fruits of their crimes, and protects the U.S. financial system from money laundering. In coordination with our partners in Jersey, France and the United Kingdom, we are helping to end this chapter of corruption and flagrant abuse of office.”

“We remain steadfast in protecting the U.S. banking system from becoming a tool for dictators to hide their criminal proceeds,” said Assistant Director in Charge Parlave. “This court order bolsters the FBI’s ability to combat international corruption and money laundering by seizing the assets of those involved. I want to thank the special agents, financial analysts and prosecutors whose hard work over the years resulted in today’s announcement.”

The forfeited assets represent the proceeds of corruption during and after the military regime of General Abacha, who assumed the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through a military coup on Nov. 17, 1993, and held that position until his death on June 8, 1998. The complaint alleges that General Abacha, his son Mohammed Sani Abacha, their associate Abubakar Atiku Bagudu and others embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions of dollars from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through U.S. financial institutions and the purchase of bonds backed by the United States.

The judgment is the result of a civil forfeiture complaint the department filed in November 2013 against more than $625 million in the largest kleptocracy forfeiture action brought in the department’s history. The forfeiture judgment includes approximately $303 million in two bank accounts in the Bailiwick of Jersey, $144 million in two bank accounts in France, and three bank accounts in the United Kingdom and Ireland with an expected value of at least $27 million. The ultimate disposition of the funds will follow the execution of the judgment in each of these jurisdictions. Claims to an additional approximately $148 million in four investment portfolios in the United Kingdom are pending.

As alleged in the complaint, General Abacha and others systematically embezzled billions of dollars in public funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria on the false pretense that the funds were necessary for national security. The conspirators withdrew the funds in cash and then moved the money overseas through U.S. financial institutions. General Abacha and his finance minister also allegedly caused the government of Nigeria to purchase Nigerian government bonds at vastly inflated prices from a company controlled by Bagudu and Mohammed Abacha, generating an illegal windfall of more than $282 million. In addition, General Abacha and his associates allegedly extorted more than $11 million from a French company and its Nigerian affiliate in connection with payments on government contracts. Funds involved in each of these schemes were allegedly laundered through the United States.

This case was brought under the Kleptocracy Asset Recovery Initiative by a team of dedicated prosecutors in the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, working in partnership with federal law enforcement agencies to forfeit the proceeds of foreign official corruption and, where appropriate, to use those recovered assets to benefit the people harmed by these acts of corruption and abuse of office.

Individuals with information about possible proceeds of foreign corruption located in or laundered through the United States should contact federal law enforcement or send an email to

The investigation was conducted by the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Elizabeth Aloi and Assistant Deputy Chief Daniel Claman of the Criminal Division’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section, with substantial support from the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs. The department appreciates the extensive assistance provided by the governments of Jersey, France and the United Kingdom in this investigation.

However, corruption is not limited to either the Abacha, Abdulsalam Abubakar or Ibrahim Babangida military junta, but this has permeated all sectors of even the contemporary hierarchies of the Armed forces of Nigeria.  Most past Army chiefs and military heads of the Navy and Airforce, have faced corruption charges.
Specifically, on March 26, 2020, it was reported that justice Mohammed Liman made an order for the temporary forfeiture of the assets to the Nigerian Government following an ex parte application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

The Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday ordered the forfeiture of N293m, six parcels of land and 30, 000 MTN shares recovered from a former commander of the military Joint Task Force, Operation Pulo Shield, in the Niger Delta, Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Atewe (retd).
Justice Mohammed Liman made an order for the temporary forfeiture of the assets to the Nigerian Government following an ex parte application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

The EFCC alleged that the assets were part of proceeds of N8.5bn, which Atewe allegedly diverted from the military operation between September 5, 2014 and May 20, 2015. The landed properties were identified as 50 hectares of farmland at Plot No. FL746B Gaube Farmland Extension II Layout, Kuje, Abuja; a piece of land located at Commercial Layout, Yenagoa Gardens, Bayelsa State; one hectare of land in Kuje District, Abuja; Plot No. CP10, Sector Centre B Layout, Kuje, Abuja; Plot MF62 Outer Northern Expressway Cadastral Zone, Abuja; Plot No. 1228 Jahi, Abuja; four hectares of land designated as Plot No.CP6386 and Plot No.CP6387, Sabon Lugbe, Abuja.

An investigating officer of the EFCC, Adamu Yusuf, said Atewe purchased the 30,000 MTN shares for N170,350,000. Counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, said it would be in the interest of justice for the court to order the temporary forfeiture of the assets.
After listening to him, Justice Liman granted the prayers and ordered that the temporary forfeiture order be published in a national newspaper. The judge adjourned until April 20 for anyone interested in the assets to appear before him to show reasons why they should not be permanently forfeited to the Nigerian Government.

The EFCC had since 2016 been prosecuting Atewe alongside a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi; Kime Engozu and Josephine Otuaga.

They were accused of conspiring to divert N8.5bn of the military Operation Pulo Shield in the Niger Delta. What should happen therefore, is that the incoming government must allow the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission the latitudes and the required autonomy to massively investigate cases of corruption in the military because procurement corruption in the military is same as terrorism given the consequences of not buying the right kind of weapons which enabled boko haram terrorists and sundry other Armed bandits to continue to attack Nigerians and public assets.

The case of endemic corruption in the military must be surgically fought to a logical conclusion as a way of strengthening the military to play their constitutional duties in defending Nigeria from external terror attacks and internal banditry, insurrection and vicious violent campaigns such as the attacks on farmers by armed Fulani terrorists and killers.

Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, and was National Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria.