ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s former national security adviser Sambo Dasuki was in court on Friday for fraud charges in the country’s first high-profile corruption trial since President Muhammadu Buhari launched a promised crackdown on graft.
Most Nigerians live in poverty despite the nation’s vast energy wealth and many are hoping that graft investigations will recover missing funds, a goal made all the more urgent because of the oil price collapse that has eroded government revenue.
Buhari, a former military ruler, was elected in March on an anti-corruption ticket and the prosecution of Dasuki and any other senior officials will be the first since Nigeria’s return to civilian rule in 1999.
Graft spiked under the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan though his supporters deny this and say Buhari is conducting a witch-hunt against members of the former president’s People’s Democratic Party.
Dasuki, Jonathan’s former security adviser, has been accused of fraud involving $68 million of defence spending, part of a wider $2.1 billion in arms deals that is under scrutiny.
He has been also charged with unlawful possession of firearms and money laundering. Dasuki denies the graft charges.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), an institution that in the past seldom had the clout to pursue top public officials or businessmen, has started investigating several former officials accused of graft.
It opened an investigation against Dasuki after it received a presidential committee report alleging his misuse of funds.
Last week, the same committee cast the net wider, accusing 38 former top military chiefs, officers and companies with detailed counts of arms procurement fraud dating back to 2007.
They are alleged to have siphoned off hundreds of millions of dollars via contracts for antiquated equipment such as 40-year-old ammunition, helicopters without rotor blades and jets that were paid for but were never delivered to the air force.
Dasuki’s trial was adjourned on Friday until Feb. 4.
Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Louise Ireland