A new report has highlighted how Nigeria's political elites for years hid under the cover of the country's military to steal billions of dollars that would have been channeled into improving the living conditions of the citizens.
Corrupt officials over the years exploited the excessive secrecy of the country's defence budget to rip off the nation, says the report released Thursday in Abuja by Transparency International Defence And Security.
The 15-years-old war against Boko Haram insurgency has helped pushed up Nigeria's defence budget and corresponding increase in corruption within the sector, the report said.
A former National Security Adviser, NSA, Sambo Dasuki, is currently standing trial for allegedly mismanaging funds meant for the procurement of weapons to prosecute the war against Boko Haram.
The report repeatedly mentioned Mr. Dasuki's case as an example of how the country's defence sector leaves room for exploitation.
FILE PHOTO: Former NSA Sambo Dasuki and others arraigned over misappropriation at the FCT High Court in Abuja
The report also mentioned former President Goodluck Jonathan and the late military dictator, Sani Abacha, as some of the nation's leaders who profited from the inherent weakness in the sector.
According to the report, the stealing is usually done through inflating of procurement contract values and creating of "phantom" defence contracts.
"Such contracts are used as a vehicle for money laundering: facilitated via weak or corrupted Nigerian banks, illicit financial flows are often hidden in property in the UK, United States, South Africa and Dubai," the report says.
The stealing is done with the active connivance of the country's military leaders.
"With oil prices at a record low, defence has provided new and lucrative opportunities for the country's corrupt kleptocrats," says the report.
"Former military chiefs have stolen as much as US $15 billion - a sum equivalent to half of Nigeria's foreign currency reserves - through fraudulent arms procurement deals."
Former President, Goodluck Jonathan
The report, which was prepared in partnership with the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, is titled, Weaponising Transparency: Defence Procurement Reform As a Counterterrorism Strategy in Nigeria.
Corruption in the defence sector, according to the report, is a major threat to Nigeria's internal security and political stability.
"Largely unaddressed, it has weakened Nigerian counterterrorism capacity whilst strengthening Boko Haram," it said.
The report, though acknowledged President Muhammadu Buhari administration's effort to tackle corruption in the country's defence sector.
But it warned that, "Only a holistic reform agenda can deliver the deep, systemic changes and improvements in transparency and accountability needed to prevent the next US $15 billion quietly leaving Nigeria through the back door".
"Since coming to power in May 2015, President Buhari has taken some bold action in tackling defence sector corruption. Central to his approach have been two ad hoc, temporary audit committees: one investigating spending by the Office of the National Security Adviser and one investigating defence arms and equipment procurement.
"Taking on the defence establishment was a significant move: the evidence uncovered by these probes revealed that several of the country's former military chiefs, using dozens of companies, together stole as much as US $15 billion.
Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari
"President Buhari's anti-corruption drive is a rare example of senior Nigerian defence and security officials being exposed to criminal investigation. By signalling that military impunity is not without limit, it is undoubtedly a positive step forward," it said.
State governors in Nigeria are also known to have used the secretive "security votes" as an avenue to steal public funds, the report said.
The report recommends a unified anti-corruption strategy for the defence sector, the extension of public access to defence and security information, and the monitoring of confidential procurements as some of the ways of tackling the problem.
Other recommendations include the sharpening of international focus on fighting corruption in Nigeria, plucking off money laundering loopholes in banks, the extension of whistle-blower protection to cover the defence sector, and regulation of secretive security votes.
"Declassifying how the security vote funds have been spent, after a two-year information embargo, could also enable citizen oversight," the report said.
Katherine Dixon, Director Transparency International Defence and Security, called for a quick action against corruption in the Nigeria's defence sector.
"Corruption in Nigeria is not just a problem for Nigerians, but a concern for all of those looking to tackle violent extremism around the world.
"Entering into blind defence deals that ignore the rampant corruption in Nigeria's defence sector means international partners could inadvertently be giving rise to Boko Haram. Likewise, the doors to allow corrupt officials to launder their ill-gotten gains out of Nigeria should be slammed shut, through the active denial of visas and other domestic legislation that targets corrupt money.
"With Buhari's first term soon to end, the international community may soon find itself without a Presidential ally in this fight - now is the time to act," Ms. Dixon said.