Financial corruption scandal engulfs Nigeria’s top justice amid political turmoil

Code of Conduct Tribunal convicts Justice Walter Onnoghen

The Tribunal convicted Mr. Onnoghen of false asset declarations in foreign bank holdings.  The judge must now forfeit multiple foreign bank accounts and their (unidentified) contents to the Nigerian federal government.  He is further barred from holding public office for ten years.

Walter Onnoghen in court

Observers question the motivation behind the (sudden) accusation and (quick) conviction, all occurring within the short span of time from January, when President Muhammadu Buhari’s government charged the Justice with a 6-count indictment, until today, the reason being that the upcoming presidential election may be impacted by the conviction.

Notes white-collar and competition attorney Andreas Stargard with Primerio Ltd.: “The Tribunal’s three-person panel had previously rejected the Judge’s legal team’s procedural attacks on the jurisdiction to remove him from office (as he had voluntarily resigned earlier), with the Panel’s foreman noting that Mr. Onnoghen had amassed ‘huge amounts of money in his accounts’, which one may see as an indication of potentially corrupt sources of income by the Justice…”

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$1 billion per year lost to corruption: a Nigerian saga

A protester sports an anti-corruption T-shirt in Lagos.

$1 billion per year lost to corruption

Recently, AAF reported on the multi-faceted PR efforts of the new Buhari regime to clean up the soiled image of “corrupt Nigerian politics” — among other things, by staging photo ops with World Bank leaders, charging former government officials with bribery, and moving ahead on basic appointments.

Today, the Guardian reports that the Nigerian Minister for Information, Lai Mohammed, “kicked off a corruption awareness campaign appealing to Nigerians to join the fight,” noting that the previous regime’s embedded corruption had “enriched a small elite but left many Nigerians mired in poverty, despite the country being Africa’s top oil producer and having the continent’s biggest economy.”

AAF spoke with John Oxenham, a legal expert on anti-corruption measures with Africa advisory firm Pr1merio.  Oxenham comments:

“The Buhari administration is finally making good on its promises, it would seem, as it had thus far been slow to implement even the most basic of administrative tasks, such as appointing a proper cabinet.  As previously pointed out on your site, the visit with Ms. Lagarde and her advisors serves to enhance visibility and (hopefully) honest dedication to the anti-corruption efforts.  At Primerio, we work with several foreign private entities that express concern over doing business in Nigera, given its reputation.  While we can advise on compliance and risk-avoidance (keyword FCPA etc.), the Nigerian government’s efforts to stamp out corruption from within are helpful, as well, in developing a more robust foreign-direct-investment climate.”

That said, the Buhari camp must be careful not to create the appearance of using the “war against corruption” as a sham front for silencing the opposition under the guise of rooting out fraud.  “Employing the help of the courts — presumptively more impartial and fair than the political process — is therefore key to the government’s fight against graft in Nigeria,” says Andreas Stargard, also with Primerio.

“The estimated $1 billion per year lost to corrupt dealings over the past 7 years is staggering, especially when taking into account that these are merely the official figures — our Africa economists estimate that the actual loss to corruption amounts to an even larger share of the (significant) Nigerian GDP.”

And so the Nigerian saga continues…

Money laundering, $2bn phantom contracts, and Boko Haram

Nigeria moves on its anti-corruption promises: Former Defence Minister charged

Reuters and BBC have reported that former Nigerian Defence Minister, Bello Haliru Mohammed — a veterinarian by training who served in several ministerial positions, most recently under former President Goodluck Jonathan — has been charged with money laundering and related corruption counts.

He is no stranger to corruption allegations, as a German court named him in a 2007 bribery scandal involving communications company Siemens AG (Siemens was fined €201 million as a result).

Bellohalirumohammed

As AAF reported earlier, just this week, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, welcomed Nigeria’s anti-corruption campaign which has been significantly pushed by President Buhari, who was elected in May 2015.  The Buhari administration is moving towards developing a strong independent central body to root out wide-spread corruption in one of Africa’s wealthiest countries.

The allegations against Mr. Mohammed (and his son) involve money-laundering charges and criminal breach of trust, relating to at least 300 million naira ($1.5 million) that were meant for spending on defence measures against the threat of Boko Haram spreading its terrorist agenda during the years Mr. Mohammed was Minister.

The Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission accused the Mohammed duo of colluding with former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki, who also served under fmr. President Jonathan and was likewise charged with money laundering and criminal breach of trust last month.  As Reuters reports, “Buhari called for Dasuki’s arrest in November, accusing him of stealing funds through phantom arms contracts …”

Andreas Stargard from Africa advisory firm Pr1merio notes that, “the recent strides in Nigerian anti-corruption efforts coincide with Ms. Lagarde’s visit, and are certainly welcomed by the anti-corruption community as well as international & domestic Nigerian businesses, who have seen their country’s vast natural resources drained — quite literally — by being diverted under corrupt government ‘oversight’ over petroleum and other valuables that make Nigeria the largest economy in sub-Saharan Africa by GDP.”

From Managing Director to President: Get rid of corruption!

IMF’s Lagarde to Nigeria’s Buhari: Country needs to strike balance, yet ensure long-term anticorruption measures

By Michael James Currie.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, welcomed Nigeria’s anti-corruption campaign which has been significantly pushed by President Buhari who was elected in May 2015.

The Buhari administration is moving towards developing a strong independent central body to deal with corruption in one of Africa’s wealthiest countries. The task will not be easy as their does appear to be a degree of consensus that the Nigerian judiciary is in itself corrupt and inefficient and cannot meaningfully tackle corruption without substantial reform.

An expert on African anti-corruption measures, Andreas Stargard, with Africa advisory firm Pr1merio, notes:

“The apparent inability by the Buhari administration to make timely ministerial appointments (which were over half a year delayed) and its failure to create a dedicated anti-corruption ministry do not bode well for a solely internally-driven strategy to combat governmental misconduct.  In our view, having Ms. Lagarde and her advisors (as well as privately outsourced firms) looking closely over the shoulder of the current administration would only serve to strengthen any existing anti-corruption efforts underway in Nigeria, and we’re happy to see the meeting took place as a first step in the right direction.”

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (R) shakes hands with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (L) as Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele (Far Right) and Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (Far L) look on after their meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria January 5, 2016. REUTERS/IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe/Handout

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde (R) shakes hands with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari (L) as Nigeria’s Central Bank Governor Godwin Emefiele (Far Right) and Nigeria’s Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (Far L) look on after their meeting at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigeria January 5, 2016. (c) REUTERS/IMF Staff Photo/Stephen Jaffe/Handout

A further challenge, however, in the fight against corruption is that Nigeria is on the brink of a credit crunch due to the low oil prices which brings about additional considerations that must be taken into account when developing and implementing anti-corruption policies.

One of the Buhari administration’s most dramatic moves in its fight against corruption was to issue a directive (which came into effect in September 2015) that all income generating federal institutions pay their revenues into the central bank as opposed to local banks. This would see an estimated $6.6 billion flow from local banks to the central bank.

Economists had warned that a move such as this may put pressure on the Country’s financial position in the short term given that Nigeria is facing a credit crunch and there is already minimal lending going on.

The IMF has also pointed out that Nigeria is overly reliant on oil and in order to ensure long term stability, anti-corruption measures must be coupled with a move away from relying so heavily on oil.

Nigeria’s fiscal situation must be closely monitored to evaluate the impact of Buhari’s policy changes on the economic landscape in Nigeria, however, it does appear at this stage that the anti-corruption campaign will bring about long terms benefits which outweigh short term fiscal concerns.

New cabinet positions announced, but no anti-corruption minister in sight

Key Nigerian ministerial positions announced, with long delay

The swearing-in of Nigeria’s new members of President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet took place in his villa in Abuja, notably after an almost six-month delay (hence the popular moniker for the new leader, “Baba Go Slow”).

As Andreas Stargard, a director with African anti-corruption advisors Pr1merio, points out, “[t]he ex-military strongman had thus far only announced one cabinet position, that for the Minister of Oil & Petroleum, naming none other than himself to that post.”  Mr. Stargard added that President Buhari did name a “junior” petroleum minister in yesterday’s announcement, Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, who is the head of the state oil firm Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (image below).  Yet, Stargard says, this must be taken as an administrative, if not symbolic, act, observing that Buhari retained ultimate control over this — the most lucrative and strategically important — petroleum portfolio.

The new ministers are as follows, with the list notably missing any dedicated ministerial position for overseeing the #1 portfolio on which Buhari had grounded his bid for the presidency, namely anti-corruption.  As one might expect, most of his appointees were key supporters of the President’s election campaign.

1. Chris Ngige – (Anambra) – Labour and Employment
2. Kayode Fayemi- (Ekiti) – Minister of Solid Minerals
3. Rotimi Amaechi – (Rivers) – Transport Minister
4. Babatunde Fashola -(Lagos) Minister of Power, Works and Housing
5. Abdulrahman Dambazau- (Kano) Interior Minister
6. Aisha Alhassan – (Taraba) – Minister of Women Affairs
7. Ogbonaya Onu- (Ebonyi) – Minister of Science and Technology
8. Kemi Adeosun – (Ogun) – Minister of Finance
9. Abubakar Malami – (Kebbi) – Minister of Justice
10. Sen Hadi Sirika – (Katsina) State Minister of Aviation
11. Barr. Adebayo Shittu – (Oyo) – Minister of Communication
12. Suleiman Adamu – (Jigawa) Minister of Water Resources
13. Solomon Dalong – (Plateau) – Minister of Youth and Sports
14. Ibe Kachikwu – (Delta) – State Minister of Petroleum
15. Osagie Ehanire – (Edo) State Minister of Health
16. Audu Ogbeh – (Benue) Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
17. Udo Udo Udoma – (Akwa Ibom) – Budget & National Planning
18. Lai Mohammed – (Kwara) – Minister of Information
19. Amina Mohammed – (Gombe) – Minister of Environment
20. Ibrahim Usman Jibril – (Nasarawa) – State Minister of Environment
21. Hajia Khadija Bukar Ibrahim- (Yobe) State Minister of Foreign Affairs
22. Cladius Omoleye Daramola (Ondo) – State Minister of Niger Delta
23. Prof Anthony Onwuka (Imo) State Minister of Education
24. Geoffrey Onyema (Enugu) – Minister of Foreign Affairs
25. Dan Ali (Zamfara) – Minister of Defence
26. Barr James Ocholi (Kogi) State  Minister of Labour and Employment
27. Zainab Ahmed (Kaduna) State Minister of Budget and National Planning**
28. Okechukwu Enelamah (Abia) – Minister of Industry trade and Investment
29. Muhammadu Bello (Adamawa) – Minister of FCT
30. Mustapha Baba Shehuri (Bornu) – State Minister of Power, Works and Housing
31. Aisha Abubakar (unknown) – State Minister of Industry trade and Investment
32. Heineken Lokpobiri (Bayelsa) – State Minister of Agriculture
33. Adamu Adamu (Bauchi) – Minister of Education
34. Isaac Adewole (Osun) – Minister of Health
35. Abubakar Bawa Bwari (Niger) State Minister of Solid minerals
36. Pastor Usani Uguru (Cross River) – Minister of Niger Delta

Buhari to the rescue: Tackling corruption in Africa’s largest economy

“The wind of change is blowing through this continent…”

Perhaps reminiscent of the “Winds of Change” (the speech delivered in 1960 by British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to the Parliament of South Africa in Cape Town), the recent address given by new Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the United Nations represents a political milestone in seeking to eradicate corruption in Africa.

The omnipresent malaise of corruption: Buhari to the rescue?

Were $150 billion ‘stolen’ under aegis of President Jonathan?  Having previously attacked his predecessor’s regime from 2010-15, claiming it embezzled this staggering amount from the Nigerian state coffers and the private sector, Buhari already had made his anti-corruption stance a key component of his campaign against Jonathan.  For instance, back in 2011, he “urged President Jonathan to focus on tackling corruption in government instead of removing fuel subsidies.”

During his 2014 campaign, he lamented in his so-called “2015 Manifesto” that “[a]s a nation, we are paralyzed by … endemic institutionalised corruption,” speaks of “hyper-corruption,” and proposes as its solution that: “I, Muhammadu Buhari have now come to the rescue. This is success by design. It will overcome our failure by design matrix.”  Moreover, his 4th campaign promise has been to “Prevent the abuse and misuse of Executive, Legislative and Public offices, through greater accountability, transparency, strict, and implementable anti-corruption laws, through strengthening and sanitising the EFCC and ICPC as independent entities.”

More recently, the President had a slightly more sober message to deliver to the General Assembly in New York City, yet still zeroing in on the same target, namely corruption:

“Let me reaffirm the Nigerian government’s unwavering commitment to fight corruption and illicit financial flows. By any consideration, corruption and cross-border financial crimes are impediments to development, economic growth, and the realisation of the well-being of citizens across the globe.

“Nigeria is ready and willing to partner with international agencies and individual countries on a bilateral basis to confront crimes and corruption.”

Winds of Change?

Buhari took office only in June 2015, but is far from new to politics in Africa’s largest economy — he was Nigeria’s military ruler in the 1980s, was a former Minister for the key portfolio of Petroleum & Natural Resources, and has concomitantly extensive political and strategic leadership experience under his belt.  For him to have chosen the fight against corruption in Nigeria as a key topic in his U.N. speech foreshadows a major initiative, we believe.

Pr1merio co-founding partner, Andreas Stargard, likewise perceives President Buhari’s message to be an important one, especially for international businesses with Nigerian ties:

“Several African, and in particular West African, countries have historically been seen as far too lax on effectively countering corruption and bribery.  This can often have one of two results for international businesses, neither of which is good for the affected African economies, coincidentally: (1) either the foreign corporation weighs the risks and chooses to avoid Africa for fear of involvement in bribery and resulting liability risk, or (2) it actually decides to participate in the corrupt conduct and seeks to benefit from it, paying scant attention to local anti-corruption legislation, and risking FCPA-like prosecutions in its home country.”

Whether or not Buhari’s pronouncements in international diplomacy will have an actual and measurable impact in the short or even medium term remains to be seen.  Bayo Adaralegbe, also a Primerio advisor, agrees that President Buhari’s speech at the U.N. does heralds potential key turn-around point in West-African anti-corruption efforts.  Adaralegbe notes that, unlike his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, President Buhari is intent on fulfilling his election promises.  Buhari added in his address to the United Nations that:

“In particular, I call upon the global community to urgently redouble efforts towards strengthening the mechanisms for dismantling safe havens for proceeds of corruption and ensuring the return of stolen funds and assets to their countries of origin.”

As recently reported by AAF (e.g., “Just a math issue”: Anti-Corruption Efforts in Kenya take Center-Stage for Obama), many recent African administrations have attempted to bolster — or at least undertake public-relations efforts on behalf of — their enforcement efforts, particularly in recovering funds stolen by previous administrations.  Buhari’s statements are not different in this regard.  

It is of course difficult to gauge whether the messages above will result in substantial enforcement action.  That said, for many doing business in the region it is noteworthy that the message in fact comes from the top, i.e. the sitting President of Africa’s single-largest economy…