by Michelle Faul
MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — Nigeria’s military says some officers are selling arms and ammunition to Boko Haram, indicating the corruption bedeviling the country’s fight against the Islamic extremists continues despite government efforts to halt graft.
The admission comes three weeks after the Nigerian army said a military tribunal is trying 16 officers and troops accused of offenses related to the fight against Boko Haram, including the theft and sale of ammunition.
Maj. Gen. Lucky Irabor, the theater commander in northeastern Nigeria, told a news conference on Thursday that military authorities have confirmed that some soldiers were selling arms and ammunition to Boko Haram. He called it a betrayal of the Nigerian people. He gave no more details.
President Muhammadu Buhari has blamed corruption for the deaths of thousands in the seven-year Islamic uprising that has killed more than 20,000. Children who escaped Boko Haram are dying of starvation in refugee camps in the northeast, where the government is investigating the alleged theft of food aid.
A soldier on the frontline of the fight told The Associated Press that his brigade commander is among officers standing trial at the court-martial in this northeastern city, which is being held in secret. He said the army is investigating what happened to 21 anti-aircraft guns assigned this year to his artillery brigade. He said they only received one gun. The soldier spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared he would lose his job.
In addition, a slew of retired and current military officers are being investigated for diverting hundreds of millions of dollars budgeted to help curb the Islamic uprising. Among them is Alex Badeh, a four-star general whom Buhari fired from his post as chief of defense staff. Witnesses have told a Federal High Court that Badeh stole the equivalent of $24 million budgeted for salaries in 2013 and built a shopping mall in Abuja, the capital.
Civil society groups are demanding the investigation of the current chief of army staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, for allegedly buying with cash two properties worth $1.5 million in Dubai. Buratai has said he bought the property on installment with savings.
Before Buhari took power, soldiers told the AP they were forced into battle with just 30 bullets each and no food rations. They said Boko Haram was better armed and that their officers were stealing parts of their salaries and allowances. Many ran away when the extremists attacked, allowing Boko Haram to take control of a large swath of northeastern Nigeria in 2014.
Under Buhari, a former military dictator, a multinational force has retaken most towns but Boko Haram remains active outside urban areas, carrying out hit-and-run attacks, suicide bombings and abductions of women and girls.