Nigeria has a serious AIDS problem. In fact, in all the world, only South Africa has more cases of AIDS than Nigeria. But the Global Fund to Fight AIDS just shut down a program to set up a digital data base of Nigerian aids cases because the fund’s inspector general says seven government workers and three information technology consultants stole $3.8 million from the program over five years between 2010 and 2014, the period before Gen. Muhammadu Buhari took over the Nigerian Presidency.
Cases like this one, and there was at least one other multi-million dollar embezzlement of AIDS relief funds, are why President Buhari has made the first priority of his administration combating corruption.
U.S. sources say he’s putting up a good fight, but they admit, while he’s chasing crooks out of government and society, both are being ruined by the global crash of oil prices and rampant violence, military, paramilitary and individual across Nigeria.
Oil sales produce 70% of Nigeria’s national revenue, so even with prices now back in the mid-$40-a barrel range after dropping into the 20s in January, all government budgets, from military and police to schools and health care have been cut to the bone. Unemployment has risen past 25% for all working age people, and above 45% for younger workers who have been entering the job market almost half again as fast as new jobs are being created.
Crime, as the bank robber Willie Sutton famously said, goes where the money is…so recent headlines in Nigeria have been about militant groups attacking oil installations in Nigeria’s South, forcing a couple to temporarily shot down. Part of the cause of this is President Buhari’s decision to cut the budget for protection money to these militant groups.
Then, there is Nigeria’s highly-organized crime, where the point seems to be not so much money as power. Thus Boko Haram, the Muslim terrorist group which now claims affiliation with The Islamic State is on a binge of suicide bombings in the country’s Northeast and across the border in Cameroon. Worse, the number of children used as bombers has jumped by ten times over the past year.
Boko Haram has sunk this low, in part, because it’s been taking a pounding by the Nigerian Army and a multi-national force of neighboring African armies and has lost control of much of the land it claimed for its so-called caliphate.
But this is Nigeria, so even the good news about the military has been compromised by credible reports of vicious Army attacks on civilians who happen to be Shi’ite Muslims. Hundreds were reportedly massacred in one campaign.
This all too typical breach of Nigerian military discipline, morality of sanity isn’t stopping the US Defense Department plan to sell Nigeria a dozen Super Tucano light attack aircraft for use in the war against Boko Haram. No price has been announced, but analysts say something over $250 million would be a good guess. Meanwhile, at least one American expert says the planes, while potentially useful, are actually exactly what the Nigerian military doesn’t need to combat Boko Haram.
Michelle Faul is an award-winning reporter and Bureau Chief for the Associated Press (AP) in Lagos, Nigeria.