President Muhammadu Buhari recently returned from the United States of America where he engaged with President Barack Obama and other top functionaries of the United States government on issues of mutual cooperation and assistance. President Buhari seized the opportunity to solicit the assistance and support of the US government in two critical areas, to wit, the fight against insurgency and corruption. During his election campaign, President Buhari pledged to Nigerians that he would address the twin problems of Boko Haram inspired terrorism and the nagging problem of corruption, both of which assumed alarming proportions during the regime of former President Goodluck Jonathan, bringing the security and economy of the country to a very low ebb, as it were. Buhari’s election was largely predicated on the perception by a majority of Nigerians that he has what it takes, given his antecedents, to effectively tackle the intractable monsters of Boko Haram and corruption.
Two months after President Buhari’s inauguration, the Boko Haram insurgents are far from relenting on their macabre agenda of bloodletting, and the Buhari administration seems already at its wits’ end on how to contain their fiendish escapades. Hence, the visit to the United States offered President Buhari an opportunity to renew the plea for assistance from the global ‘chief policeman’. In the past few years, however, the United States government has failed or refrained from rendering any tangible assistance to Nigeria in the struggle to overcome Boko Haram. Some attributed this non assistance or non-committal attitude to a sour relationship between the White House and former President Goodluck Jonathan. The pertinent question is whether the United States would now harken to President Buhari’s request and run to the aid of Nigeria to defeat or at least subdue this menacing sect that has defied the combined forces of the military regiment and police troops that had hitherto been unleashed against it.
The prospect of the United States changing its mind to assist Nigeria in combating terrorism is very bleak to say the least. The decision by the US government to render any form of military assistance to a foreign nation is always weighed against the strict criterion set down by the LEAHY AMENDMENT.
The Leahy Amendment is a US Human Rights Law that prohibits the US Department of State and Department of Defense from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity. Pursuant to this law the US government would normally vet potential recipients of security assistance, and if such a recipient is found to have been credibly implicated in or indicted for gross violations of human rights, assistance is denied and such a country is labeled untrainable forever, unless and until the government of that country takes effective steps to bring those responsible for such violations to justice.
The US State Department has interpreted ‘gross human rights violations’ to mean a small number of the most heinous acts such as murder of non-combatants, torture, enforced disappearance, and rape as a tactic. On what is considered ‘credible evidence’ the standard of the State Department is that evidence of the alleged gross human rights violations need not attain the same standard as would be required to admit evidence in a US court of law. Therefore, to blacklist a country as a violator, as it were, reliance is placed on a wide array of sources including the Annual Department of State Country Report on Human Rights, records of US Government Agencies, human rights reports by NGOs, and information garnered from the press.
There is no gain-saying the fact that the Nigerian military and Police have been consistently indicted for human rights violations by Nigerian and international NGOs, local and international media, lawyers and US State Department Annual Reports on Nigeria. Indeed, the Nigerian media is constantly inundated with a plethora of allegations of human rights abuses by the military and police. Recently, Amnesty International made an allegation of gross human rights violations against the Nigerian military forces engaged in the war against Boko Haram. As dire as the situation foisted on the country by Boko Haram might be, and as difficult as the job of the military and police in trying to combat terrorists might be, under no circumstance is gross and wanton violation of human rights justifiable or acceptable. The military cannot hide under the umbrella of fighting terror to unleash untold human rights abuses on innocent citizens, even the terrorists themselves must not be treated without any regard to human rights, because the State is the custodian of the law and must not condescend to the same level of impunity and lawlessness that characterise the activities of the terrorists. The Nigerian Police is even worse, with an unenviable record of extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances.
The evidence of gross violations of human rights against the Nigerian Military and Police is therefore overwhelming, and the United States government had no difficulty in applying the Leahy Amendment to refuse repeated appeals for military assistance from Nigeria – be it training of military personnel, provision of necessary intelligence and most importantly, supply of weapons and other military hardware. The argument is that such equipment if provided for such an indicted country would ultimately be used by it in furthering its agenda or practice of human rights violations.
Therefore, given the status quo, rather than hope on the US government for military assistance, the Buhari administration should look inwards or to other climes for such assistance. Better still, it should embark on a total overhaul of the Nigerian Military and Police by taking steps to uproot the many bad eggs in the forces, investigate all reported cases of gross human rights violations by them, and ensure that all those indicted sequel to such investigation are brought to justice. If the Nigerian Military and Police are properly sanitised, we do not really need the assistance of the United States government to win the war against a small and faceless sect such as Boko Haram.
On the issue of corruption, President Buhari during his visit to the White House requested the assistance of the US government to recover over $150 billion stashed away in different US banks or otherwise invested in the United States by corrupt Nigerian government officials.
This is a legitimate request, and the US government has no reason not to assist Nigeria in recovering this humongous loot of public funds domiciled within its jurisdiction. Nigeria and the United States are signatories to the United Nations Convention against Corruption (General Assembly Resolution 58/4), and both countries have ratified that Convention.
Article 31 (1) (a) of the aforesaid Convention provides that “each State Party shall take, to the greatest extent possible within its domestic legal system such measures as may be necessary to enable confiscation of proceeds of crime derived from offences established in accordance with this Convention or property the value of which corresponds to that of such proceeds.” One of the offences created by the Convention under Article 17 is “embezzlement, misappropriation or other diversion of property by a public official.” Article 51 of the Convention emphasises that the return of confiscated assets is one of its fundamental principles, and State Parties must therefore afford one another the widest measure of cooperation and assistance in that regard. It goes on to provide under Article 57 that assets or property confiscated by State Party shall be returned to the legitimate owners thereof.
By virtue of the foregoing provisions of the UN Convention against Corruption, the United States Government is bound, in the spirit of international cooperation which underscores the Convention, to take all necessary and reasonable steps to discover, confiscate and return to Nigerian government all funds, assets and/or property illegitimately imported into its jurisdiction by Nigerian government officials. President Buhari may consider presenting before the Conference of the State Parties created under Article 63 of the Convention an official report to the effect that there is about $150 billion of Nigeria’s assets sitting in US banks or otherwise invested in that country. This may serve as a stronger persuasion on the US government to investigate, discover, confiscate and return such funds or assets.
Article 66 (1) & (2) of the Convention stipulates that disputes between State parties as to interpretation or application of the Convention should be settled by negotiation, failing which the parties may resort to Arbitration. If after six months and there is no agreement as to the organisation of Arbitration, either or both State parties may refer the matter to the International Court of Justice.
It must however be recognised that the main fight against corruption in Nigeria does not rest with recovering looted funds by past government officials nor with probing previous administrations; the crux of an effective war against corruption lies in putting in place measures to restore discipline, probity, transparency and sanity in public service and thereby forestall and prevent future acts of corruption. While corruption has many causes, it is strongly inter-related to poor governance failure in economic policy limits opportunities, weaknesses in public administration result in a decline in the probity of public servants and inadequate legislative oversight of government.
All of these factors contribute to an environment favourable to the growth of corruption. In turn, corruption erodes the authority and effectiveness of public institutions. Indeed, the Preamble to the UN Convention against Corruption recognises that corruption poses a grave threat to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice and jeopardising sustainable development and the rule of law. There is therefore no gainsaying the fact that the institutionalised culture of corruption is to blame for relentless insecurity and perennial underdevelopment in Nigeria. The correlation between corruption in Nigeria and the menace of Boko Haram is therefore not far-fetched.
During his tete-a-tete with President Obama, President Buhari was eulogised by the American president as a man of proven integrity with zero tolerance to corruption. It is indeed mainly for this reputation of integrity that President Buhari finally got the mandate of the Nigerian people in the last presidential election. The ball is therefore in the court of the President to live up to the great expectations of the Nigerian people that he would wield the magic wand that would put paid to the monster of corruption and its sibling that is insecurity.
Francis Chigozie Moneke is the Executive Director of Human Rights & Empowerment Project Ltd/Gte.