Addressing the Risk of Corruption in the Humanitarian and Global Development Sector: The Case of the Buhari Plan

North East Nigeria is on the brink of a major humanitarian crisis. The region has historically been marked by poverty and underdevelopment, and more recently has been ravaged by Boko Haram. In an attempt to address both the current crisis and the longstanding poverty of North East Nigeria, on October 26, 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated the Presidential Committee on the North East Initiative (PCNI) to “serve as the primary national strategy, coordination and advisory body for all humanitarian interventions, transformational and developmental efforts in the North East region of Nigeria.” PCNI is chiefly responsible for overseeing and ensuring the execution of the Buhari Plan, a four-volume, roughly 800 page, five-year blueprint for the comprehensive humanitarian relief and socioeconomic stabilization of the North East. Projects include unconditional cash transfers and the deployment of mobile health units and will be linked with the current UNOCHA Humanitarian Response Plan. The total budgetary requirement is 2.13 trillion Naira (approximately US$6.7 billion), of which the Nigerian Federal Government commits an estimated 634 billion Naira and the remaining 1.49 trillion Naira is anticipated to come from “many DFI’s, International Aid Agencies, NGO’s and the Private Sector Stakeholders.” (PCNI also replaced previous initiatives launched under former President Goodluck Jonathan: the Safe Schools Initiative (SSI), which focused on making schools safer for children, and the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE), whose aim was to kick start the economies in North East Nigeria and reposition the region for long-term prosperity.)

On the surface, the Buhari Plan sounds like a step in the right direction. But given the controversies over fraud and corruption surrounding PINE, PCNI’s predecessor, there are reasons to worry. Even putting those past issues aside, there is inevitably a high risk of corruption in a large government plans like the PCNI—especially in an environment as notoriously corrupt as Nigeria—and the current mechanisms for mitigating the risk of fraud and corruption are insufficient.

In order to reduce the corruption risks associated with a project like PCNI, the Nigerian government—and the international donors and other stakeholders providing financial support for the project—should focus on reducing the opportunities for corruption in three principal ways: (1) embedding a fraud prevention strategy; (2) employing external, independent auditors; and (3) maintaining transparency of activities and funding flows. To its credit, the Buhari Plan has already integrated aspects of these approaches. Nevertheless, there is still room for improvement: Continue reading

When and Why Do Corrupt Politicians Champion Corruption Reform? A Character Study

Can corrupt leaders enact effective anticorruption reform? The brief answer seems to be yes: Leaders who are (perceived as) corrupt can initiate and support effective anticorruption reform efforts. For example, as this blog has previously discussed, President Peña-Nieto (who has repeatedly been accused of corruption and graft) supported constitutional anticorruption reforms in Mexico. Egypt’s current President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has similarly launched various anticorruption campaigns, even while fending off numerous corruption allegations.

But why do corrupt leaders institute anticorruption reforms? While there’s no universal explanation, there appear to be at least three archetypes that might help anticorruption activists identify and push unlikely reformers: The Power Player, The Top-Down Director, and The Born-Again Reformer. Continue reading

Due Process and its Discontents: Nigeria’s Case Against Sambo Dasuki Encounters an Unwelcome (but Necessary) Hurdle

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.

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Buyer Beware: What Does President-Elect Muhammadu Buhari’s Anticorruption Record Actually Mean for Nigeria?

In my last post, I tied the rampant corruption in the Nigerian armed forces to the military’s historically central role in the country’s politics. But on March 28 and 29, Nigerians went to the polls and voted against the status quo and corruption in the military. In doing so, they ousted President Goodluck Jonathan in favor of President-Elect Muhammadu Buhari, the candidate from the All Progressives Congress (APC) party. A number of factors – the threat of Boko Haram, plummeting oil prices, out-of-control corruption and, important in light of my last post, a fissure between current and retired army officers – aligned to bring about Nigeria’s first ruling party transition since the country’s adoption of multiparty democracy in 1999. It is a truly momentous time in the country’s history and many — from President Jonathan, to the Independent National Electoral Commission, to courageous voters in conflict areas — deserve recognition.

Although many see the recent election result as a blow Nigeria’s old guard, President-Elect Buhari is from an even older guard. A former major general in the Nigerian military, he acted as head of state from 1983 to 1985 after seizing power in a coup against the democratically elected leader, Shehu Shagari; Buhari himself was ousted by coup shortly thereafter. His track record during his brief prior presidency leaves one feeling decidedly ambivalent. He waged an infamous “War Against Indiscipline,” which aimed to instill order and integrity through public whippings, summary arrests and convictions, wildly disproportionate prison sentences, and humiliating penalties for minor infractions. He is also remembered for issuing draconian decrees curtailing press freedoms.

Yet Buhari has eschewed his authoritarian past, explaining “now I want to operate as a partisan politician in a multiparty setup. It’s a fundamental difference.” There is some evidence that this is more than just talk. He stood for election in the last three cycles and, despite accusations of incitement to violence, he accepted the unfavorable results each time. Additionally, President Buhari’s progressive party, the APC, will likely influence his agenda, as will Vice President-Elect, Yemi Osinbajo, the former Attorney General of Lagos State who is a staunch advocate for justice sector reform. It will also help that Nigeria has a mostly free press, robust civic engagement, and the attention of the world. A more positive aspect of Buhari’s record from his last stint as head of state is his regime’s reputation for honesty, dedication to the fight against corruption, and action against offending officials. In fact, the 1983 coup came about under conditions quite similar to those animating Buhari’s surge today – flagrant financial mismanagement by Shagari and depressed oil prices. Buhari’s short-lived regime imprisoned roughly 500 elite politicians and businessmen on corruption charges. Partly because of this legacy, there are now high expectations — perhaps unrealistically high — that President-Elect Buhari will be able to act effectively against corruption in Nigeria. After all, his campaign platform emphasized anticorruption (along with pledges to fight Boko Haram more effectively), and this theme had widespread appeal among voters. Given President-Elect Buhari’s record from his previous stint as Nigeria’s president in the early 1980s, many believe that he has the “political will” to fight corruption that President Jonathan sorely lacked.

Yet even if Buhari’s intentions are pure, and his will strong, there are a number of reasons not to get too excited too soon about what Buhari will be able to accomplish on this front. Indeed, the progress that Nigeria has made toward genuine multiparty democracy, exemplified by Buhari’s election, may — perhaps ironically or perversely — make it more difficult for him to pursue an anticorruption agenda now than it was the last time around.

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Who Calls the Shots?: Boko Haram and the Legacy of Military Leadership in Nigeria

When Boko Haram operatives attacked a Nigerian military outpost near the village where I lived in northern Cameroon in 2011, locals condemned the assault. But they admitted that something had to be done about soldiers who, they said, regularly apprehended people and held them for ransom. Boko Haram’s tenor and tactics have grown increasingly radical and destructive since, but the early perceptions of the group highlight, in part, the relationship between corruption and instability. In that case, alleged military corruption directly contributed to violent conflict. Indeed, many analysts have drawn connections between government corruption and the rise of Boko Haram (see here, here, and here).

Transparency International has weighed in on the situation, as well, detailing how corruption has both continued to fuel instability and hampered the response to Boko Haram attacks. TI calls on the Nigerian government to “speak out against corruption and … invite civil society organizations to take part in developing an anti-corruption strategy.” Each course requires significant political will. Nigerian leaders’ historic relationship with the military may do a lot to explain why the requisite political commitment has failed to materialize within past administrations. Continue reading