- Presidency dismisses report, says it’s full of inaccuracies
Tobi Soniyi with agency report
Hundreds of millions of pounds of British foreign aid given to Nigeria to help combat Boko Haram terrorists is instead being used to fund a witch-hunt against opposition politicians, it has been claimed.
Britain has committed to spending £860 million in foreign aid to Nigeria, which now boasts Africa’s largest economy, to help support the country’s efforts to crush the Boko Haram terror group.
Boko Haram is responsible for a six-year reign of violent attacks and suicide bombings leading to the deaths of thousands of persons, including the kidnapping of hundreds of men, women and children from their homes in the North-eastern part of the country.
The UK-based Telegraph reported on Tuesday that Western officials are now raising concerns that the government of the country’s recently elected leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, is misusing the funds to persecute political opponents.
But the presidency has denied the report by The Telegraph, stating that the article was not only full of inaccuracies, it also betrayed a “shocking sense of ignorance of Nigeria and the ongoing war against terrorism”.
According to the British newspaper, since Buhari came to power last July, a number of prominent members of the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have been arrested and imprisoned without charge. Among those detained was the party’s official spokesperson, Olisa Metuh.
Most of the arrests have been sanctioned by the government-controlled Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), which was set up to tackle corruption and receives funding from the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
But while Buhari’s government continues to use British aid money to target his political opponents, it is proving less effective at tackling the Islamist-run Boko Haram terrorist group, reported The Telegraph.
Much of the aid Britain provides to Nigeria is aimed at helping the country’s security forces to become more effective at tackling Boko Haram, which boasts of its links with the Islamic State and achieved international notoriety two years ago after kidnapping 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno State two years ago.
Scores of British military personnel – including members of the Special Forces – are based in Nigeria helping to train the military to tackle Boko Haram. But despite Buhari’s pledge during last year’s general election campaign that he would make tackling Boko Haram one of his top priorities, there is growing concern among Western officials that the Nigerian military is failing to take effective action against the terrorists.
This has resulted in Boko Haram now being regarded as the world’s deadliest terrorist organisation, responsible for more deaths than the Islamic State. There are now reports that the group is trying to train kidnapped children to act as suicide bombers.
“This is a scandal in the making,” explained a senior U.S. official. “There is no doubt the growing strength of Boko Haram is because President Buhari is far more interested in settling scores with his political opponents than concentrating his energy on defeating terrorists,”
“The result is that Nigeria is starting to look more and more like a police state while Boko Haram just goes from strength to strength.”
Another Western diplomat added: “If Buhari was serious about fighting corruption he would be focusing all of his efforts on targeting corruption that is impeding Nigeria’s ability to focus its efforts on tackling Boko Haram.”
Accusations that Nigeria is abusing British aid will add to the growing controversy over Downing Street’s commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on the foreign aid budget.
Last week the Telegraph reported that DFID was under pressure to cancel £200 million of foreign aid to Tanzania following concerns over a widely condemned election.
This resulted in Dr. Liam Fox, the former Defence Secretary, accusing the government of “spraying money around” simply to achieve the 0.7 per cent target.
Western officials have expressed concern about Buhari’s increasingly autocratic style of government since he came to power last year. A retired major-general, Buhari, 73, previously headed a brutal military dictatorship following a coup in December 1983, which lasted until he was overthrown by another coup in 1985.
Now political opponents claim he is returning to his old dictatorial ways, abusing British aid meant to improve Nigeria’s ability to tackle Boko Haram to consolidate his hold on power.
Apart from the concerns over British aid, American officials are also angry that $2.1 billion of aid given to the Nigerian military to tackle Boko Haram has not been properly accounted for.
Buhari’s claim that he is winning the war against Boko Haram – recently claimed the group no longer poses a serious threat – has been undermined by recent revelations that the Nigerian authorities have tried to cover up the fact that hundreds more schoolchildren have been abducted by Boko Haram.
Human rights activists have now confirmed that around 400 women and children were abducted last year by militants from the Nigerian town of Damasak.
It is now believed that some of these children may have been trained as suicide bombers. U.S. counter-terrorism experts say at least 105 women and girls trained by Boko Haram have taken part in suicide attacks since June 2014.
Reacting to the report yesterday, the president’s media aide, Mr. Garba Sehu, said the news report by The Telegraph was not only full of factual inaccuracies, it also betrayed a “shocking ignorance of Nigeria and the country’s ongoing war against terrorism”.
Shehu said the author’s tactic was to quote unnamed “senior officials” and “Western diplomats” and “Western officials” and “political opponents” making fact-free and unfounded statements.
He said: “It also appears that he sought out only those opinions which suited and reinforced his disgracefully false headline. Nowhere in the piece is there anything that suggests he attempted to contact the Nigerian government for its own side of the story.”
Referring to the $2.1 billion aid from the US government, Shehu pointed out that it did not occur to The Telegraph that the said amount he referred to was budgeted for and wholly spent by the government (Jonathan administration) that Buhari and his party defeated in the March 2015 presidential election, and that one of the president’s priorities has been the investigation and misuse of those funds.
He added: “It also does not appear to occur to the author that the ‘political opponents’ he is falsely accusing President Buhari of ‘targeting’ and ‘persecuting’ are actually facing trial on account of how they spent the $2.1 billion in question.
“The author is equally unaware of the fact that the investigating panel set up by President Buhari to probe the $2.1 billion recently published a preliminary report that confirmed that much of that money was indeed looted or mis-spent by the accused persons, and that the government has started to recover the funds.
“He accuses President Buhari’s government of attempting to cover-up the abductions of 400 women and children abducted last year by militants from the Nigerian town of Damasak.
“This is absolutely untrue. The Damasak abductions he’s referring to, which was recently widely reported, took place not ‘last year’ as he says, but in late 2014, well before Buhari was elected president of Nigeria. (And by the way, President Buhari came to power on May 29, 2015, not July, as he reported).
“A simple search by the author in his paper’s archives would have revealed these facts. A simple fact-check by his copy editors would have spared The Telegraph the embarrassment of publishing this drivel.
“There are several other inaccuracies and baseless statements in the piece, but the author is too enamoured of his anonymous sources to realise they might be misleading him, or he is as ignorant about the situation.
“The suggestion that Boko Haram is going ‘from strength to strength’ is an eminently laughable one; not even Nigeria’s opposition party would make such an absurd claim.
“Since President Buhari took office, schools in Borno State, shut for more than one year under the previous government, have reopened. The same applies to the airport in Maiduguri, shut down in December 2013 after a devastating Boko Haram attack near the Air Force base.
“Thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have now started returning home. Last Sunday, El-Kanemi Warriors Football Club played its first game at its home base of Maiduguri in more than two seasons. Until now they had been forced to play home games outside the region, on account of security concerns.
“There are several more examples of how the people of the region are finally getting a chance to rebuild their lives, as the Nigerian Armed Forces and a Multinational Joint Task Force continue their work of routing the terrorists.
“The author not only sounds like a spokesperson for the very people whose corruption and mismanagement allowed Boko Haram to bring Nigeria to its knees – and whose disastrous legacy President Buhari has spent the last one year redeeming Nigeria from – he is also guilty of failing to observe the most basic rules of responsible journalism.
“He needs a refresher course on responsible journalism as much as he needs a crash course on Nigeria. Until he submits himself to these, we’re afraid he will continue to embarrass not only himself, but also the revered British media institution that is the Telegraph.”