Nigeria’s main anti-corruption body has arrested the country’s accountant general over an alleged 80bn naira ($190mn) fraud in connection with what it said was the “diversion of funds and money-laundering activities”.
The nation’s top accountant is responsible for monitoring the bank accounts of government departments and is one of the most senior officials to be arrested during the administration of Muhammadu Buhari, president since 2015.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, in a statement, said Ahmed Idris, the accountant general, had “raked off the funds through bogus consultancies and other illegal activities using proxies, family members and close associates”. He had consistently refused to respond to the commission’s inquiries, it said. Buhari appointed him in 2015 and reappointed him four years later.
Idris has been taken into custody in the capital, Abuja. He could not be reached for comment.
Buhari was elected president largely thanks to his reputation for personal integrity and his promise to “demonstrate zero tolerance for corrupt practices”. At an anti-corruption summit in London in 2016, he told his audience: “Corruption is a hydra-headed monster and a cankerworm that undermines the fabric of all societies.”
But critics said the president had failed in his campaign against graft, which has undermined successive Nigerian administrations.
Donald Duke, a former state governor who ran against Buhari in the 2019 presidential election, cautioned that other officials had been arrested to great fanfare without the accusations leading to prosecutions.
“Let’s see how this ends. They do these things and then they forget about it,” he said. “There’s a lot of fuss and then it dies down.”
Duke said he was pleasantly surprised that the EFCC was “baring some its fangs” in arresting such a senior official, but added that, if the allegations against him proved to be true, it was “an utter disgrace”.
Chidi Odinkalu of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, in the US, said the arrest had come far too late in the administration of Buhari, who will step down after elections early next year, to have any lasting significance.
“Maybe I am jaded but I’m not holding my breath for anything breathtaking to happen,” he said.
Last month, Buhari pardoned two former state governors who had been successfully prosecuted by the EFCC for diversion of public funds and fraud respectively.
Buhari had set the anti-corruption bar high but had failed to clear it, Odinkalu said.
BudgIT, a Nigerian civil society group that scrutinises government spending, said the president had recently made some progress by passing three bills, on the proceeds of crime, anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism funding. “It is now left for Nigerians to use this opportunity and see how we can implement these laws,” it said.
Wilson Uwujaren, EFCC spokesman, told local media that his organisation had dramatically stepped up its activity last year, securing more than 2,000 convictions. “We are very proud of the record that we have,” he said.