Buhari faces test over Dasuki’s corruption trial

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President Muhammadu Buhari is facing the first big test of his anti-corruption campaign with the politically explosive trial of a former security chief accused of diverting millions of dollars intended for the fight against Boko Haram.
Sambo Dasuki, national security adviser to former President Goodluck Jonathan, and four other former officials were granted bail on Friday after being charged with more than three dozen counts of money laundering and criminal breach of trust. All five men have denied the allegations.
The charges relate to N31bn meant for arms purchases, and stem from investigations into a total of $2.1bn said to have been withdrawn from the central bank and delivered to the former security adviser in the year running up to Jonathan’s departure from power.
The allegations, along with revelations from other graft probes launched since Buhari took office in May, have unleashed a political storm as Nigeria grapples with an economic crisis and struggles to end the Islamist insurgency. They may also have a bearing on the administration’s efforts to get to grips with porous state finances and recoup stolen funds — both pledges Buhari has made to Nigerians.
The case provides just a “snapshot” of what was going on during Jonathan’s tenure, according to a close ally to Buhari, before investigations into the alleged diversion of far greater sums from the state oil company have reached a conclusion. What makes it especially toxic are the questions it raises regarding the role of the former president.
Several officials who served under Jonathan said that the funds were required urgently to buy helicopters and other equipment, and to pay South African mercenaries who helped roll back Boko Haram insurgents after they had captured a swath of territory.
Dasuki has said that he was at all times operating lawfully under Jonathan’s instructions — a version supported by other officials involved in the saga. This included, Dasuki said in a statement filed to the court ahead of last week’s hearings, the $47m that was withdrawn from the central bank in cash and allegedly used to pay members of the then ruling People’s Democratic Party.
The implications of the allegations, if proved, are ugly, according to one former official. First, he said, amounts unprecedented since the restoration of civilian rule in 1999 were taken from the central bank’s balance sheet and delivered to an aide to the president, circumventing procurement and budgetary procedures and with no subsequent oversight.
Second, the allegations suggest that at least a part of the money may have been diverted towards the campaign to re-elect Jonathan.
There is a convention that you don’t go after former heads of state. So this is a real test. Will the president engage fully or back down? And does the state have the necessary capacity to follow through?
“At the time thousands of civilians were being killed, over a million people were displaced and on the back of that you postpone an election and divert money meant for the army,” he said, referring to the decision taken in February to delay the polls.
British and American diplomats have encouraged Buhari not to go after his predecessor, according to presidency aides, fearing that this could upset the positive precedent set by Jonathan when he accepted electoral defeat.
However, there is a strong faction within the administration that believes the former president should be held to account if it is established that laws were broken.
“There is a convention that you don’t go after former heads of state. So this is a real test. Will the president engage fully or back down? And does the state have the necessary capacity to follow through?” said one senior official.
It was not possible to reach Jonathan for comment and his former spokesman declined to respond to emails. He has denied any culpability.
“At the time what was important was to do the right thing. He always felt he did the right thing,” a close friend of the former president.
No documented evidence has surfaced from the investigation indicating that Jonathan either ordered the withdrawal of foreign currency in cash — potentially in violation of anti-money laundering laws — or requested that funds be diverted towards his election campaign.
Chidi Odinkalu, head of the Open Society Institute’s justice programme in Nigeria, argues that “political accountability” for Jonathan’s presidency was already handed down to the former leader when Nigerians voted him out of office in March.
But if prosecutors can prove that he received “material benefits” from the diversion of public funds “then legal accountability through the judicial process can be exercised”, Odinkalu says.
“This is not an easy thing”, he says. “Most prosecutions for graft to date have proved unsuccessful. Whether it’s a measure of corruption in the system itself or failure to rise up to the pressures of proof required, that’s where we are.” (FT)

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