Just over a year ago, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari took office. He had run on a platform of anticorruption and military reform and, while I wanted to be hopeful, I expressed measured skepticism that he would be able to make substantial headway on either issue. For all he has received his fair share of criticism over the past year, President Buhari has made considerable efforts to tackle corruption, including graft in the military. In addition to advancing somewhat controversial legal reforms aimed at whistleblower protection and anti-money laundering, among other things, the Buhari administration has stepped up prosecution of high-level officials for corruption-related crimes.
The most prominent case is that of Colonel Mohammed Sambo Dasuki, who served as former President Goodluck Jonathan’s National Security Adviser from 2012 to 2015. Following an investigation into arms procurement under the Jonathan administration, authorities arrested Dasuki in late 2015 and indicted him on numerous counts of fraud and money laundering. The initial investigation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), one of Nigeria’s anticorruption units, uncovered evidence that Dasuki had orchestrated a fraudulent $2 billion arms deal and had engaged in other criminally corrupt activity. The charging documents accuse Dasuki of funneling state funds to politicians of the former ruling party, real estate developers, consultants, and religious leaders. The money had been intended to purchase helicopters and military planes for the fight against Boko Haram, the terrorist group responsible for the death of thousands and the displacement of millions in northern Nigeria. The purported criminal conduct involved high-profile co-conspirators, including former Minister of Finance Bashir Yuguda and former governor of Sokoto State Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa. If the alleged facts are true, Dasuki and his accomplices are guilty of heinous crimes.
Given the severity – and plausibility – of the purported misconduct, I was not shocked to see that the case had reached the ECOWAS Court of Justice – a regional body with jurisdiction over human rights abuses committed by Member States. I was shocked to see that Dasuki was the complainant, and that the Court of Justice had issued a preliminary ruling in his favor. Upon taking a step back, though, I realized that the Court of Justice ruling is not outrageous; in fact, it has sent a critically important message to the Nigerian government that respecting the rule of law is just as important as convicting corrupt officials.