A $31 million scandal with Nigeria’s ex-first lady shows the scale of Buhari’s anti-corruption battle

The former first couple.
The former first couple.
Image: Reuters/Benoit Tessier
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Patience Jonathan, the colorful wife of Nigeria’s ex-president, Goodluck Jonathan, has become the latest high profile Nigerian embroiled in a corruption-related scandal. Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), has frozen accounts containing $31.4 million controlled by the former first lady who claims some of the money was for payment of medical bills.

In a bid to regain control of the accounts, Mrs Jonathan is suing the EFCC, describing the blockage of access to the accounts as efforts to “indirectly harass or harangue” her. Patience Jonathan’s corruption scandal is the latest in a string of cases the EFCC has been involved in since president Buhari took office last year.

Buhari has made good on his campaign promise to launch probes into government agencies and institutions. Six months after taking office, Buhari’s administration arrested Sambo Dasuki, the former national security adviser for financial misappropriation of about $2 billion earmarked for military equipment amid the Boko Haram insurgency. Military chiefs have also been questioned and, in some cases, detained over similar charges.

But while the EFCC has been busy under the Buhari administration, it has little to show for its efforts so far. Despite instituting multiple cases of theft of state funds against several high profile Nigerians, the agency has not secured any convictions. Ibrahim Magu, head of EFCC, has blamed the lack of progress on lawyers who help money launderers  ”to escape justice.”

The agency’s inability to secure convictions has undercut the potency of Buhari’s anti-corruption campaign which has been dismissed by Nigeria’s main opposition party as being “investigated on the pages of the newspapers.” Given the prevalence of partisan politics in Nigeria, the presidency has also been forced to deny claims that its anti-corruption fight simply targets opposition party members.

While Buhari’s reputation as a leader with integrity probably remains intact for now, Nigerians’ early hopes  that he would be able to rapidly stamp out corruption and round up former perpetuators is beginning to fade.