The brutal bombing that killed at least 13 people watching the World Cup in Northeast Nigeria is yet another reminder of the country’s  instability, and the government’s ineffective response to insurgents, most notably Boko Haram. What can they do to prevent this violence and save their citizens’ lives? Fight corruption.

The links between corruption and instability are rightly gaining increased attention. In Nigeria, allegations have surfaced that senior officers have been bribed to turn a blind eye to Boko Haram. The problem is not limited to Nigeria as recent crises have laid bare:  there are allegations that bribery allowed terrorists to enter Westgate mall in Kenya, for example, and that the Iraqi Army crumbled in front of ISIS because they were so hollowed out by corruption.

In too many places the public no longer trusts the security and defence forces that are supposed to protect them. They have good reason.  The 2013

Transparency International UK Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index, a global study of corruption risk levels in national defence establishments, detailed the many areas where corruption risks are high in Nigeria and analysed the consequences.

The research showed  that lethally armed criminal networks, operating with the tacit support of local and foreign business mafias, and chaperoned by powerful military “Godfathers,” illegally siphon off about US1 billion each year in petroleum.

There have also been a number of scandals surrounding so-called ‘security votes’, which allow politicians to appropriate millions of dollars behind closed doors simply by evoking ‘national security’. As a result, funds that are meant to buy equipment and even pay salaries go missing, leaving the military badly equipped and demoralised.   Former President Abacha is estimated to have siphoned off more than $1.1 billion using this system.

More recently the Army has been plagued by allegations that officials are routinely bribed by Boko Haram and have even colluded to coordinate attacks, not only for direct private gain but also to justify the 20 percent of the national budget that Nigeria allocates to the armed forces to fight terrorism.

An Amnesty International report highlighted a spate of extrajudicial killings by the police forces while fighting Boko Haram insurgents and the death of hundreds of people in police detention facilities in the Northeast of the country.

These are weaknesses that Boko Haram are known to exploit: its leadership draws attention to corruption within the police and the political system and high levels of youth unemployment to garner support, portraying themselves as an alternative.

The good news from these bleak scenarios is that there is a growing awareness of these links between corruption and instability. The next step is to take measures to counter corruption and build integrity. But how?

We believe that there are a series of crucial actions the government can and should take now.

First, it must speak out against corruption in the defence sector even though this is a sensitive topic and it must develop, communicate and implement a concrete plan to reduce it. The defence sector must open up to scrutiny, and invite civil society to help oversee spending on behalf of the people as a way to regain trust.

The defence ministry must publish the defence budget, and account for massive off-budget defence expenditure, including federal funds, revenue from peacekeeping and foreign aid. The Office of the Auditor General must be allowed access to accounts of the intelligence services and other secret programmes.

The Nigerian defence and security forces should also focus on training their personnel on how to tackle corruption, giving them practical guidance to navigate this complicated moral and logistical issue. To support personnel who expose corruption, they should ensure that existing whistleblower protection laws are enforced.

Good practice does exist in these areas and the Nigerian government can learn from other countries that have more accountable and transparent defence sectors.

But it’s not just the responsibility of the Nigerian and other African governments to change: it’s also up to their allies in the US and Europe, who provide them with arms and help to guide their strategic direction.

These states are increasingly focused on supporting local allies in Africa  to deal with terrorist threats rather than putting their own boots on the ground. But for such an approach to be effective, the money to support the armed forces needs to be put to good use and not used to line the pockets of the corrupt.   
For both Nigeria and its allies that want to see Boko Haram defeated, the focus must be on the long-term impact—not short term wins. That means these allies must make anti-corruption and accountability a component of bilateral security relations, and partnerships should be based on the condition of transparency and progress in fighting corruption.  Arms exporters must help ensure that weapons sent to put down terrorism are not be diverted into the wrong hands.

Governments that support the fight against terrorism must also use the powers they have within their own borders to tackle corruption’s international web. They must implement sanctions and visa bans on the corrupt. They must use their investigative capacity and prosecution powers to uncover corruption and they must enforce anti-money laundering regulations.

Fighting corruption isn’t easy, but reducing it in defence and security forces will strengthen these forces to protect citizens, and cut off a vital source of funding and arms for the terrorist group.

If the Nigerian people start to feel some of the effects of the economic growth that the country is experiencing— and the funds lost through corruption in defence are used to support citizens that need it—it will hinder Boko Haram’s recruitment policy of attracting disaffected youth, and give the government the legitimacy it needs to succeed long-term.

-Chantal Uwimana is Regional Director for Sub-Saharan Africa for Transparency International and Leah Wawro is Advocacy and Communications Lead for Transparency International UK Defence and Security.

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