Magazine article Newsweek

Boko Haram Is Growing Stronger in Nigeria Thanks to Corruption in the Military; Officials Have Stolen $15 Billion in Federal Defense Funds, Resulting in an Army That Is Ill-Equipped and Unprepared

Magazine article Newsweek

Boko Haram Is Growing Stronger in Nigeria Thanks to Corruption in the Military; Officials Have Stolen $15 Billion in Federal Defense Funds, Resulting in an Army That Is Ill-Equipped and Unprepared

Article excerpt

Byline: Mirren Gidda

Earlier this year, Nigerian Lieutenant Colonel T.J. Abdallah found himself under investigation by senior military officials. His offense: He criticized them on a WhatsApp messaging group. Describing them as "Nollywood actors" (Nigeria's version of Hollywood), Abdallah said they had failed to provide his men with the weapons and equipment they needed to fight Boko Haram, the militant group that has waged an armed insurgency in Nigeria since 2009.

But if the colonel's criticisms are right, his men's scarce resources are not for lack of military spending. The Nigerian government has been increasing defense spending for years in its effort to stamp out Boko Haram. In May, the country's Senate passed a record $24.45 billion federal budget that, once the executive approves it, will allocate $440 million for the Ministry of Defense . Yet for Nigerians in the country's troubled northeast, where Boko Haram is most active, the planned cash injection may not bring the resources they need. A culture of corruption in Nigeria, says anti-corruption organization Transparency International, has prevented much of that money from reaching the troops.

In a report published May 18, Transparency International found that "corrupt elites" have stolen billions of dollars over the past seven years through inflated or fake military contracts. The embezzlers, the organization says, launder the money out of the country and "often [hide it] in property in the U.K., United States, South Africa and Dubai."

As that money pours out of Nigeria, some military personnel say the lack of arms is putting the country's soldiers in danger. Although Boko Haram fights on a small annual budget of around $10 million, according to a 2015 estimate from Hassan Baage, deputy director of the U.N. Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee, it is reportedly better armed than the Nigerian military. Nigerian soldiers have told journalists they have faced Boko Haram militants when armed only with AK-47s, while Boko Haram's arsenal includes "rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns with anti-aircraft visors, automatic rifles, grenades and explosives," according to a 2012 U.N. report.

Though Boko Haram has lost strength, it is far from defeated. On May 15, three of the group's female suicide bombers blew themselves up in the northeast state of Borno, killing two people in addition to the attackers. Those deaths add to the group's increasing toll, now around 20,000 victims. The militants' actions have displaced a further 2 million people throughout Nigeria and across neighboring countries. …

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