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Buhari Graft War Stumbles as Nigeria Security Agencies Quarrel

Bloomberg: When agents of Nigeria’s financial crimes body arrived this month to arrest a former intelligence chief fired by President Muhammadu Buhari for stashing $43 million in cash in his wife’s apartment, they were stopped by armed secret policemen.

After a 10-hour standoff, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission backed down in the upscale Asokoro district of the capital, Abuja, with its boss, Ibrahim Magu, vowing his agents would be back to arrest former National Intelligence Agency boss Ayodele Oke.

It was the latest in a string of incidents that have dented the credibility of Buhari’s war on graft. Propelled by pledges to tackle corruption, the 74-year-old former military ruler became in 2015 the first opposition candidate in Nigerian history to defeat an incumbent at the ballot box. The West African nation ranked 136 out of 176 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2016, the same as the year before.

Inter-agency rivalry has been a consistent feature of Buhari’s graft war. Twice he sent the nomination of Magu as head of the financial crimes commission, known as the EFCC, to lawmakers for approval, and on both occasions they rejected him based on state security police reports of alleged prior wrongdoing. That’s left the president’s anti-corruption czar in a weakened, acting capacity more than halfway into his tenure.

Lack of Clarity

“This clearly shows the lack of tactics and strategy in the approach of fighting corruption by the current administration,” said Oluseun Onigbinde, head of Lagos-based BudgIT, a civic group that lobbies for government transparency. “There’s no clarity on who’s directly responsible for arresting or prosecuting people.”

Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said he couldn’t comment on the clash between the two security agencies over the attempted arrest of Oke when contacted by phone, saying he hadn’t been briefed on the matter. Buhari says his administration is making progress.

“The gains of our initiatives over the past 2 1/2 years have been very obvious to all Nigerians,” he said Nov. 22 while setting up a committee to audit assets recovered in the anti-graft campaign. “This is clear from the level of investigation, prosecution and forfeitures involving both public and private sector officials in the country.”

Before the aborted Asokoro operation, the government had been at pains for weeks to explain how a senior government official, Abdulrashid Maina, was quietly reabsorbed into the civil service and promoted to a new position in the interior ministry even though the financial crimes agency declared him wanted in 2014 for allegedly embezzling pension funds.

Protecting Fiefdoms

The justice ministry, the civil service commission and the internal affairs ministry traded accusations over which agency bore the greater responsibility for Maina’s recall after the online publication Premium Times broke the story. A leaked memo, which the government hasn’t denied, by civil service head Winifred Oyo-Ita showed that Buhari was warned the appointment of the wanted man would tarnish his anti-graft stance.

“It’s very clear that the president isn’t in control and his aides are busy fighting to protect their fiefdoms,” said Cheta Nwanze of SBM Intelligence, a Lagos-based business advisory group. “The significance is that the anti-corruption war has failed.”

After the news about Maina broke, Buhari ordered his immediate dismissal. He also fired Oke from the National Intelligence Agency as well as Babachir Lawal from his post of secretary to the government. He’s accused of diverting funds for people forced to flee their homes by Boko Haram’s Islamist insurgency in the northeast.

Targeting Opponents

The administration’s critics say it’s showed more rigor in targeting its perceived opponents than its supporters.

On taking office, Buhari moved quickly against officials who served under his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, including the former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki, detaining and charging them with corruption. The financial crimes agency has pursued cases of alleged corruption by Jonathan’s oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, winning court rulings for her to forfeit money and properties worth about $59 million to the government.

‘Cross-Purposes’

Critics frequently cite the case of Musiliu Obanikoro, a former defense minister under Jonathan who’s faced allegations by the EFCC of receiving more than 4.7 billion naira ($13 million) in slush funds from Dasuki and who left Nigeria after Buhari took office. Returning more than a year later, he was detained briefly and released, and has now defected to the ruling party.

Similarly, 48 houses in Abuja seized by the financial crimes agency from Timipre Sylva, a former state governor and Buhari supporter, were returned to him last year after a federal court in the city threw out EFCC charges against him. Both Obanikoro and Sylva deny wrongdoing.

“It sends a signal to the public that there isn’t really a fight against corruption,” Idayat Hassan, executive director of Abuja-based Centre for Democracy and Development, said in a phone interview. “The agencies are working at cross-purposes.”

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