The politically explosive trial of a top former official in Nigeria was adjourned on Friday, the UK Financial Times said this raises questions about the government’s anti-corruption drive.
In a packed courtroom in the capital on Friday, lawyers for former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki said their client’s continued detention was illegal because he was granted bail last month.
The legal team representing Mr Dasuki have not been allowed access to their client and have filed a motion to the court for the 19 fraud-related charges he faces in this trial — one of three — to be dismissed due to procedural violations. The judge adjourned the trial until February 4, saying “the matter cannot proceed today”.
Some activists and lawyers worry that any mishandling of the sensitive court case could jeopardise the credibility of President Muhammadu Buhari’s push to investigate former officials he alleges stole “mind-boggling sums” from state coffers under previous governments, the Financial Times Stated.
The government “needs to see to it that this becomes an important opportunity to build a legal process. We won’t systematically get rid of corruption otherwise,” says Clement Nwankwo, head of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre.
The People’s Democratic party, the former ruling party, calls the investigations a “witch hunt”, but the Minister of information and Culture, Lai Mohammed on Friday said 21 individuals and companies received a total of N54.659 billion from the former National Security Adviser, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd) from the $2.1 billion meant for arms purchase.
Mr Dasuki, a retired army colonel and a long-time rival of the president, was not handcuffed in court and wore a grey kaftan and black hat. He denies all the charges.
Mr Buhari has pledged to recoup “mind-boggling” sums of money he alleges were looted on the watch of past leaders. Posters with his face and the words “if we don’t kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria” hang in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, one of the agencies leading the new president’s drive.
Charges against Mr Dasuki and several associates allege the officials diverted funds for the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency to former President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election campaign, among other alleged misuses of funds that amount to “criminal breaches of trust”, according to the charge sheet seen by the Financial Times.
A committee examining the deals has said a total of $2.1bn is under investigation. Last week the presidency ordered the EFCC to investigate another 38 former top military officers for arms procurement fraud.
All of the publicly announced probes to date involve defence spending with no declarations to date about examinations of how billions of dollars in state oil revenues in Africa’s top crude-producing nation went missing during Mr Jonathan’s administration.
The former national security adviser and arms deals “are only a piece of the puzzle in the larger picture of oil and all things coming from NNPC”, says Mr Nwankwo, referring to the state oil company.
“There are a number of cases that we are working on,” EFCC spokesman Wilson Uwajaren said, when asked if authorities were conducting any oil-related probes locally.
Former petroleum minister Diezani Alison-Madueke was arrested in London in October on suspicion of bribery and money laundering but was quickly released on bail. Sources familiar with the matter say that it may be months before a decision on whether Ms Alison-Madueke should face charges, given the scale and complexity of the investigation into billions of dollars in state oil revenues that disappeared from state coffers on her watch.
“Military cases are front and centre in the government’s anti-corruption drive at the moment. From the outside, it’s difficult to see whether they’re also mobilising to pursue oil sector cases, or if foreign authorities are taking the lead in this area,” says Alexandra Gillies, of the New York-based Natural Resource Governance Institute.
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