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James Entwistle
James Entwistle

How US Diplomats, Embassy Officials Support Corruption In Nigeria -Report

Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu

The Council on Foreign Relations, a United States of America (USA) think-tank on relations between the country and its partners, has said the posture of US officials at the country’s embassy in Abuja, works against efforts of the Barack Obama administration to combat corruption in Nigeria.

It noted that despite efforts by the US government to help tackle corruption and stop flow of illicit funds into the United States, officials at the US Embassy in Abuja often find comfort and accommodation among corrupt Nigeria’s elite, and especially, persons accused of corruption.

In a position report authored by Matthew T. Page and titled ‘Improving U.S. Anticorruption Policy in Nigeria’, the author said part of what had hindered effective US-backed anti-corruption fight in Nigeria was approach of embassy officials who are found in company of corrupt Nigerian elite.

Page said the development has hindered US efforts and reduced it to merely offering assistance.

He wrote: “U.S. anticorruption policy continues to be ineffective in Nigeria for four reasons. First, the interests of senior U.S. policymakers and working-level officials diverge. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew have defined anticorruption efforts as a U.S. policy priority in Nigeria; they see it as part of a global effort to combat illicit finance, poor governance, and violent extremism. Yet officials serving at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja—diplomats, military liaisons, and intelligence officers—are mainly concerned with cultivating strong relationships with a wide range of elites, including those complicit in corruption. As a result, U.S. anticorruption policy remains broad-based and untargeted, centered on modest assistance programs for police investigators and civil society watchdogs”.

The report highlighted other challenges which had hindered US efforts in fighting corruption in Nigeria including what it said was a strong alliance between US embassy officials and diplomats and corrupt Nigerian officials, which it said is more visible in the visa section where officials work to prevent enforcement of visa restriction to corrupt Nigerian officials.

It stated: “One area where this tension occurs is visa sanctions under Presidential Proclamation (PP) 7750. Local U.S. diplomats insist visa revocations unnecessarily antagonize their Nigerian counterparts and should be used sparingly. In 2013, an attempt to revoke the visa of a corrupt former minister was derailed by a senior embassy official who claimed that doing so would put U.S. oil companies’ business dealings at risk. Little evidence supports this argument, however, given that when the United States revokes visas, the target is not made public. And at least one state governor still routinely meets with U.S. diplomats even though he allegedly had his visa revoked under PP 7750 nearly a decade ago.

“Second, U.S. officials are not using existing tools—such as consular databases, local law enforcement records, or online searches to conduct basic due diligence—to identify and avoid enabling corrupt officials. As one example, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) funds a rice cultivation project owned by a former attorney general whom the United States sanctioned for corruption in 2010. In April 2016, the U.S. ambassador and USAID officials visited and toured the farm with the owner.

“Third, the anticorruption work of U.S. law enforcement agencies is under-resourced given the size and scope of corruption in Nigeria, its destructive impact on U.S. policy interests, and its role in fueling illegal financial transactions in the United States and Europe. Although the FBI’s International Corruption Unit recently tripled in size, its worldwide focus, heavy caseloads, and long prosecution timelines mean that it can only investigate a handful of the many potential cases involving corrupt Nigerian elites.

“Fourth, as with other policy efforts, anticorruption action is hindered by interagency divides. The U.S. Department of State, Department of Justice, Department of the Treasury, and the U.S. intelligence community rarely collaborate to combat corruption in Nigeria. For example, the State Department and the intelligence community do not routinely provide tips, background information, or expert advice to Justice Department investigators working to locate and seize assets stolen by Nigerian kleptocrats. Further, frequent personnel turnover has hindered attempts by some working-level officials to improve communication and policy coordination”.

The report however made some recommendations on how US could enhance its anti-corruption efforts in Nigeria including the location of a Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) unit in Abuja.

The recommendations also include: “Formalize an interagency working group on Nigerian kleptocracy. This internal discussion forum would be useful for sharing information and improving coordination between Washington and the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, as well as among policymakers, law enforcement, and the U.S. intelligence community. Better communication at the working level could facilitate stronger vetting of potentially corrupt Nigerians and discourage insulated decision-making.

“Establish a permanent FBI special agent corruption investigator position at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja. In doing so, Washington would send a clear signal that it is upping its anticorruption commitments and moving away from its hitherto non-confrontational approach. Though subordinate to the U.S. legal attaché in Abuja, this investigator would operate free from diplomatic interference in support of the International Corruption Unit at FBI headquarters. Collaborating closely with the EFCC, this investigator would be able to provide Washington with unbiased reporting on corrupt individuals. The United States should also encourage the EFCC to field a senior liaison at the Nigerian Embassy in Washington, DC, to enhance information sharing.

“Promulgate an executive order on Nigerian kleptocracy. The United States should craft an executive order on Nigerian kleptocracy similar to EO 13660 on Ukraine and EO 13692 on Venezuela. Although it would require a months-long interagency effort, an EO would facilitate and streamline efforts to restrict financial transactions by individuals and corporate entities involved in official Nigerian corruption. It would also have a deterrent effect on Nigerians accustomed to investing their illicitly gained wealth in U.S. real estate. Passage of the bipartisan Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, now under deliberation in the U.S. Congress, would likely obviate the need to develop a separate EO by imposing financial and travel sanctions on foreign government officials implicated in “acts of significant corruption.” If passed, Congress should require the State Department to use its authority under Global Magnitsky, ensuring it becomes a forceful anticorruption policy tool”.


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