Most corruption in arms procurement takes the form of bribes or kickbacks. In return for being awarded an arms contract, often as a result of having selection criteria manipulated in its favor, the supplier company pays bribes to officials involved in the decision-making process. Payments typically are channeled through an in-country middleman or agent.
But why be satisfied with bribes or kickbacks equaling 10% of the value of a contract when you can take the whole lot? In countries where oversight of military funds is at its weakest, or indeed non-existent, top officials and military officers have essentially free reign over how money is spent. In such circumstances, those in charge can simply misappropriate funds directly, needing only the thin cover of a fake contract for non-existent equipment.
In Nigeria, this practice is called, simply, “stealing”, and it appears to be a far more significant phenomenon than mere bribery. Such was the case with Nigeria’s ‘Armsgate’ scandal that broke in 2015 when a government-appointed independent investigation revealed a series of arms ‘deals’ in which Ministry of Defense funds were transferred to private accounts and no arms were procured. Rather than corruption, these ‘deals’ are more accurately classified as theft. The scandal, which is still unfolding, involves the alleged theft of at least USD 2.1 billion, and possibly as much as USD 15 billion of extra-budgetary funds between 2007 and 2015 intended for weaponry to aid the government’s efforts to defeat the insurgent group, Boko Haram. The deals allegedly benefited a number of senior military officers, politicians, government officials, and businessmen, and their families
Goodluck Jonathan – president of Nigeria (2010 – 2015); appointed Sambo Dasuki as National Security Advisor.
Mohammadu Buhari – president of Nigeria since 2015; ordered the Armsgate investigations.
Col. (retd.) Sambo Dasuki – national security advisor under Goodluck Jonathan (June 2012 – July 2015); the lynchpin in the armsgate scandal. Indicted by an investigating panel in November 2015, arrested Dec. 1, 2015. On trial on 32 fraud charges stemming from the theft of USD 2 billion in phantom arms contracts for 12 helicopters, 4 fighter jets, and ammunition.
Bashir Yuguda – former minister of state finance (2014-15); charged in December 2015 with 19 counts of fraud, money laundering, and criminal breach of trust.
Air Chief Marshall (retd.) Alex Badeh – former Chief of Defence Staff; arrested Feb. 8, 2016; assassinated Dec. 18 2018.
Chief Raymond Dokpesi – owner of a Lagos-based private TV station; arrested Dec. 1, 2015.
Summary of Corruption Allegationscontents
The transactions involved in the Armsgate scandal took place under the rule of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government of Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua, who ruled from 2007 until his death in 2010, and Goodluck Jonathan, Yar’Adua’s vice president, who took over in 2007 and subsequently won reelection in 2011.
At the center of the web of corruption is Col. (retd.) Sambo Dasuki, Jonathan’s National Security Advisor (NSA) from March 2012 to March 2015. Dasuki effectively controlled military procurement during his period in office with no supervision and virtually no input from the Ministry of Defence.
The first public details of Armsgate were presented in the interim report of a government-appointed investigative panel on Nov. 17, 2015. The numbers contained in official public statements on the report are somewhat ambiguous , due to the use of multiple currencies and what appear to be overlapping sums of money, but by any reading expose massive fraud in arms procurement. The report stated that between 2007 and 2015, there had been ‘extra-budgetary interventions’ for arms procurement totaling NGN (Nigerian naira) 643.8 billion, and that the ‘foreign currency component’ was USD 2.2 billion. These appear to be two separate sums involved in the corruption scandal, as over the period in question, the naira was never below 200 to the U.S. dollar. Thus, the total value of these ‘extra-budgetary interventions’ would have amounted to somewhere between USD 4.5 billion and USD 7.2 billion, depending on the timing of the naira transactions and the exchange rate at the time.
However, very little actual arms procurement resulted. According to the report:
“The committee also observed that of 513 contracts awarded at USD 8,356,525,184.32; 2,189,265,724,404.55 naira and EUR 54,000.00; Fifty Three (53) were failed contracts amounting to USD 2,378,939,066.27 and 13,729,342,329.87 naira respectively.”
Thus, according to the report, around USD 2.5 billion worth of ‘failed contracts’—that is, contracts for which no goods or services were delivered—occurred between 2007 and 2015. The total value of contracts awarded—which amount to at least USD 19 billion—is clearly far higher than the extra-budgetary interventions. Hence, it would appear that the figures for failed contracts relate to all contracts, from both budgetary and extra-budgetary sources, and include regular contracts for goods and services as well as for arms.
According to the report, Dasuki awarded ‘fictitious and phantom contracts’ worth USD 1.7 billion for the procurement of four Alpha jets and twelve helicopters, as well as bombs and ammunition, which were never delivered. Most of the value of these contracts went to just two (unnamed) companies, despite, as the report notes, their previous record of non-performance.
Moreover, the NSA directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to transfer USD 132 million and EUR 9 million to the accounts of a Nigerian company, Societé d’Equipements Internationaux (SEI), without any contracts to back them up.
The total amount stolen remains uncertain. In early May 2016, Nigeria’s chief anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) reported that a previously-quoted figure of USD 2.1 billion related to just one transaction, and in total USD 15 billion had disappeared. If correct, this would be almost as much as the total official defense budgets between 2007 and 2015. It was also said to equal half of Nigeria’s foreign currency reserves. However, no further details of this figure have been produced.
The beneficiaries of Armsgate, such as Dasuki himself, appear to have included a large number of senior military officers, politicians, government officials, and businessmen, and their families.
The mechanisms of corruption appear to have depended on a complete absence of oversight of funds within the military apparatus. According to one observer, the rot truly began under Dasuki’s predecessor as NSA, Gen. Andrew Awoye Azazi (retired, now deceased), appointed by Jonathan in October 2010. While the Ministry of Defence itself was hardly a model of probity before the appointment, during Azazi’s tenure as NSA the office started to usurp the ministry’s procurement authorities, apparently with Jonathan’s approval. The ready justification of fighting Boko Haram allowed the government to effectively write blank checks for funds, supposedly for arms purchases, which could then be diverted into private bank accounts. When Dasuki took over as NSA, contracts could be signed and funds allocated without detailing tenders, competitions, proper accounting, or indeed any actual acquisitions to show for the contracts. In some cases, as noted above, funds flowed without even the formality of a contract. The financial rewards could therefore be freely shared out between Dasuki, other officers, officials approving the fake deals, and heads of real or paper companies to whom contracts were awarded. It appears that the Central Bank of Nigeria collaborated in the plunder, approving large transfers of funds to individuals and companies on the say-so of Dasuki or other individual senior officials.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about Armsgate is that it came to light at all. Nigeria’s powerful military, which ruled the country for many years, had hitherto been effectively immune from investigation and prosecution for corruption. A few years ago, the website of Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) featured plenty of cases of prosecution of state governors, ex-ministers, civil servants, business people, and even police, for corruption, but none of military officers or Ministry of Defence officials. President Muhammadu Buhari, elected in 2015 on an anti-corruption platform, appears to have broken with this pattern of impunity. The background to the investigations that revealed the Armsgate scandal was the repeated failures of the Nigerian army in fighting the Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s northeast, with soldiers frequently running away rather than fighting. Troops and local commanders regularly complained that they lacked even basic equipment, and were indeed often outgunned by Boko Haram, despite large amounts of money supposedly spent on arms procurement. After initial denials of a problem, senior military figures were forced to admit that the military was severely underequipped. Sambo Dasuki himself admitted, “we bought equipment, but alas, it is still on the high seas.”
- May 2015
Investigations began shortly after President Buhari came to power in May 2015. On July 15, troops from the State Security Services raided Dasuki’s house, finding, among other things, twelve ‘exotic cars.’ Then on Aug. 24, Buhari appointed a panel of enquiry into arms procurement under the former government.
- 17 Nov 2015
Two weeks after the publication of the panel’s report on Nov. 17, 2015, Dasuki was arrested, initially on an illegal weapons possession charge.
- May 2018
By May 2018, the charges against Dasuki had been increased to 32 counts of fraud. The EFCC also arrested several other officials implicated in the affair, including: Chief Raymond Dopkesi, founder of Nigerian media house Daar Communications; former governor of Sokoto state, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa; Shuaibu Salisu, a former director of finance and administration in the office of the National Security Adviser; ex-finance minister Bashir Yuguda; and Saliu Atawodi, the former chairman of the Presidential Implementation Committee on Marine Safety. Since then, ongoing investigations by the EFCC have led to a steady stream of raids, arrests and charges, with dozens of military officers, federal government officials, state governors, senior political party apparatchiks, and businessmen implicated and billions of naira in money and property seized. Numerous military officers have been stripped of their commands.
Besides Dasuki, one of the highest profile people to be charged, in February 2016, was Air Chief Marshall (retd.) Alex Badeh former chief of Defence Staff. Badeh was investigated regarding the award of USD 930.5 million worth of contracts under his leadership. According to one report: “Badeh is also said to be answering questions on the non-specification of procurement costs, absence of contract agreements, award of contracts beyond authorised thresholds, transfer of public funds for unidentified purposes and general non-adherence to provisions of the Public Procurement Act.”
- 7 Mar 2016
Charges on Mar. 7, 2016, included using NGN 1.1 billion drawn from Air Force accounts to buy a mansion, NGN 650 million for another property, and NGN 878 million for construction of a shopping mall; total charges involved NGN 3.97 billion (USD 19.8 million). Much of this appears to have come from funds intended for salaries, rather than procurement funds. While his trial was still ongoing, Badeh was shot dead in his truck by unknown gunmen near his farm.
The full story of Armsgate is still emerging, and thus far the details revealed are incomplete. A comprehensive list of those implicated and charged does not seem to exist, but in total at least 36 military officers have been named in reports, as well as many more government and business figures. The EFCC report also named 241 organizations as recipients of money from Dasuki. Thus far there have not been any reports of convictions in relation to Armsgate, although many trials have started. Dasuki’s trial has been repeatedly delayed, and he was illegitimately detained for more than two years. Rulings by three Nigerian courts and an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) court eventually led to his release on bail in December 2019. His trial continues.
By 2020, in addition to those named above, the following individuals have also been implicated in the Armsgate affair: The list is not exhaustive: Attahiru Bafarawa, former Governor of Sokoto state, arrested Dec. 1, 2015. Continues to stand trial alongside Dasuki; High Chief Raymond Dokpesi, charged Dec. 10, 2015, on six counts related to receiving NGN 2.1 billion to run PDP media campaign. His trial is ongoing; Iyiola Omisore, former Deputy Governor of Osun State, arrested July 4, 2016, over receiving NGN 700 million in stolen funds from the Office of the NSA. He claims to have returned NGN 300 million and charges against him have subsequently been dropped. Former Chief of Air Staff Air Marshall (retd.) Adesola Amosu, arrested late January 2016. USD 1 million found in his apartment. His trial continues. Lara Amosu, his wife, arrested early February 2016. NGN 3 billion found in her bank accounts held in trust for her husband; Air Vice Marshal J.B. Adigun, Chief of Account and Budget of the Nigerian Air Force, arrested late January 2016. Currently standing trial alongside Amosu; Air Commodore O. Gbadebo, in the custody of EFCC. Standing trial alongside Amosu. Chief Olisa Metuh, spokesperson for the PDP, tried for receiving NGN 400 million under Armsgate. Convicted of money-laundering and criminal diversion of funds, sentenced to seven years imprisonment; Major General Yishau Mahmood Abubakar, property seized by the EFCC in January 2016. Died in car crash in March 2016. Colonel Ojogbane Adegbe, a former aide-de-camp to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, arrested February 2016 by the EFCC. Released shortly afterward and never charged. Adegbe later counter-sued the EFCC, claiming political motivation in his arrest; Haliru Bello, former Chairman of the PDP, on trial since April 2016 for receiving NGN 300 million into accounts of his companies. Waripamowei Dudafa, former special advisor to Goodluck Jonathan, convicted of sharing in NGN 10 billion taken from the office of the NSA and given to PDP candidates; Bala James Ngillari, former governor of Adamawa state, charged by EFCC for receiving NGN 450 million from Armsgate. Acquitted on appeal; Alhaji Aminu Babakusa, former Executive Director at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, allegedly received NGN 2.2 billion which he claimed he “shared out as instructed.” Continues to stand trial alongside Dasuki. An updated charge-sheet alleges responsibility for NGN 33.2 billion in misappropriated funds.
Sani Tukur, “Why we raided Dasuki’s homes, and what we found — SSS,”, Premium Times (online), July 19, 2015, http://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/186903-why-we-raided-dasukis-homes-and-what-we-found-sss.html.
Soni Daniel, “Missing cash: defence hqtrs detains generals, recalls others”, Vanguard Nigeria (online), Nov. 30, 2015, http://www.vanguardngr.com/2015/11/missing-cash-defence-hqtrs-detains-generals-recalls-others/.
“Nigeria’s Dasuki ‘arrested over $2bn arms fraud,’” BBC News, Dec. 1, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34973872.
Usman Mohammed, “The armsgate in perspective”, The Nation (online), Dec. 7, 2015, http://thenationonlineng.net/the-armsgate-in-perspective/.
“EFCC files fraud charges against Dasuki, Yuguda, Dokpesi, Bafarawa, others,” Global Patriot Times (online), Dec. 9, 2015, http://globalpatriotnews.com/efcc-files-fraud-charges-against-dasuki-yuguda-dokpesi-bafarawa-others/.
Olu Fasan, “Armsgate: the scandal that ravages Nigeria’s critical institutions,” The Government and Business Journal, Jan. 25, 2016, http://govandbusinessjournal.com.ng/armsgate-the-scandal-that-ravages-nigerias-critical-institutions/.
Fidelis Soriwei and Eniola Akinkuotu, “Arms scam: EFCC detains Badeh, gets order to hold Amosu,” The Punch Nigeria (online), Feb. 9, 2016, http://punchng.com/arms-scam-efcc-detains-badeh-gets-order-to-hold-amosu/.
Nigeria Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, “Armsgate: how Badeh looted air force funds – witness,” Mar. 17, 2016, http://efccnigeria.org/efcc/news/1801-armsgate-how-badeh-looted-air-force-funds-witness.
Kevin Mwanza, “About $15 billion stolen in Nigeria in shady arms procurement deals,” Africa Insider (online), May 3, 2016, http://afkinsider.com/124855/15b-stolen-nigeria-shady-arms-procurement-deals/.
Abbas Jimoh, “’Grand theft nationale’: how elites stole Nigeria dry,” Daily Trust (online), July 2, 2016, http://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/general/grand-theft-nationale-how-elites-stole-nigeria-dry/153491.html.
Suleiman Lawal, “Arms deal: when did the rot begin?” Suleiman Lawal, Daily Trust (online), Aug. 6, 2016, https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/news/philosofaith/arms-deal-when-did-the-rot-begin/158030.html.
“Nigerian Government Insists On Secret Trial Of Ex-NSA Sambo Dasuki,” Premium Times (online), Jan. 31, 2017, http://saharareporters.com/2017/01/31/nigerian-government-insists-secret-trial-ex-nsa-sambo-dasuki.
 The value of the naira fell over the course of the Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations, from 125 to the U.S. dollar in June 2007, reaching a low of 117 in March 2008, before rising steadily to 199 by the time Jonathan left office in May 2015. As the bulk of the transactions occurred towards the latter part of President Jonathan’s time in office, it is likely that the total dollar value of the extra-budgetary spending was towards the lower end of the given range.