Nigerian president sacks senior official amid claims of corruption

The Guardian | Published: Wednesday 8 November 2017

Babachir Lawal removed from office after allegations that humanitarian aid was illegally diverted to companies he set up

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addresses a conference on tackling corruption in London in May 2016. Photograph: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images

 

By Emmanuel Akinwotu in Abuja

 

Nigeria’s highest ranking civil servant has been sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari following allegations that he diverted aid funds intended for the humanitarian crisis in the country’s north-east.

Babachir Lawal, secretary to the government of the federation, was suspended in April amid allegations that contracts to administer projects in refugee camps and areas affected by the Boko Haram insurgency had been awarded to companies that he set up.

A preliminary report by the Nigerian senate alleged that funds intended to cover the cutting of weeds to prevent flooding in refugee camps and other vulnerable areas had been diverted through companies set up by Lawal.

An internal investigation led by the vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, recommended the immediate dismissal of Lawal. The report on that investigation, which was submitted to Buhari in August, has still not been released.

Femi Adesina, the president’s spokesperson, said Lawal had been replaced following the internal investigation.

“Everything that the president ought to have done as regards the matter has been done already as per our statement,” said Adesina, who did not indicate whether Lawal would face criminal charges or whether the internal report would be released.

Lawal’s alleged actions have exacerbated concern in Nigeria, where a UN appeal for $1.05bn (£794m) to provide humanitarian aid to more than 6.9 million people had only been 64% fulfilled by the end of September.

Lawal is the latest casualty of a sweeping anti-corruption campaign that critics in Nigeria claim is partisan.

The Nigerian army’s recovery of north-eastern territories previously occupied by Islamist militants has left a humanitarian crisis that the UN has described as one of the worst in the world. Roughly 1.7 million people remain internally displaced and 5.2 million across the region are in critical need of food assistance.

The Nigerian government claimed in December that it had “technically defeated” Boko Haram, but attacks by the terrorist group have increased this year, killing hundreds of people. Buhari, who returned to Nigeria in August after months of medical leave for an undisclosed illness, has urged the military to step up operations against the terrorist group.

Babachir Lawal declined to comment on the allegations.

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