MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
We head overseas now, where Nigeria's president made a bold claim last week. In an interview with the BBC, President Muhammadu Buhari said the military has, quote, "technically won the war," unquote, against Boko Haram, the radical Islamist insurgence perhaps best known in the West for kidnapping hundreds of schoolgirls. In a few minutes, we are going to assess that claim. But first, a report about Nigeria's former national security advisor, who is now on trial for money laundering and breaching the public trust. President Buhari alleges that the former official stole staggering amounts of money and in doing so, crippled the Nigerian military's fight against Boko Haram. Reporter Nick Schifrin begins this story in the capital, Abuja, on the street in the city's most expensive neighborhood.
NICK SCHIFRIN, BYLINE: President Buhari's campaign against high-level corruption began on this street and in this house - or more like this mansion. This is where the former national security advisor lives, and armed soldiers arrived here and took away five bulletproof cars, seven assault rifles and arrested the former national security advisor for having them, which is kind of like arresting Al Capone for tax evasion.
That's because Sambo Dasuki, the former national security advisor, isn't only accused of hoarding his own weapons. He's accused of stealing more than $2 billion from the military when he was supposed to be supplying them with weapons.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: They make money instead of fighting the bad boys.
SCHIFRIN: That's an active-duty Nigerian soldier who fought the bad boys, meaning Boko Haram. He was shot through the knee.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: People firing from both left and right. We had so many casualties.
SCHIFRIN: The soldier spoke on condition we not use his name. He says he and his men were so short of resources, their weapons didn't have bullets and their trucks didn't have gas.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: There wasn't fuel in the vehicles.
SCHIFRIN: You had to donate money even just to fill the truck with fuel.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: The commanders came out categorically tell us that there is no fuel and they don't have money.
SCHIFRIN: No fuel and no money and almost no ability to fight Boko Haram. One year ago, Boko Haram militants controlled an area the size of Belgium. In Nigeria's northeast, thousands of Nigerian civilians were dying. But this soldier and many other soldiers were so out-gunned, they fled.
UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: You will see the Boko Haram, your man will start thinking, can I face them, or I should find my way out? Because without the supplies, we are doing nothing.
SCHIFRIN: At the time, the former national security advisor, Dasuki, was in charge of weapons procurement, and it appears he had the money for arms and ammunition. An official government document obtained by NPR shows a money transfer request by his office for $47 million. A senior Nigerian official tells NPR all the money left the Central Bank in cash at night in armored vans.
So is there a belief the formal national security advisor took money that was supposed to go to the frontline troops fighting Boko Haram and instead channeled it elsewhere?
BOLAJI OWASANOYE: This is the allegation, and it remains an allegation until proven. However, as they say, there is never smoke without fire.
SCHIFRIN: Bolaji Owasanoye helps lead President Buhari's anti-corruption committee.
OWASANOYE: The security forces have been weakened. There is no doubt that that situation is strongly linked to corruption. Corruption weakened and escalated our insecurity because money that was appropriated for weapons, for welfare, it wasn't getting to base. And if it wasn't getting there, how are you going to fight insurgency?
SCHIFRIN: Dasuki has pleaded innocent and declined to be interviewed. His lawyer, Raji Ahmed, told me, quote, "the procurements were made at the request of the military." He added, "his client was acting with the approval of the former president." But the new government says Dasuki can't get away with shifting the blame.
OWASANOYE: It is no longer business as usual. Those who have looted public funds are going to be prosecuted, and those funds are going to be recovered, so this is top priority.
SCHIFRIN: In the last nine months, the Nigerian military has purchased new weapons. And with the help of foreign mercenaries and neighboring countries' armies, it's retaken Boko Haram strongholds. But the Islamist insurgents still launch deadly attacks, which is why President Muhammadu Buhari says unless Nigeria kills corruption, corruption can kill Nigeria. For NPR News, I'm Nick Schifrin in Abuja.
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