Nigeria’s notorious corruption was a centerpiece of the 2014-2015 presidential campaign of Muhammadu Buhari, and fighting it has been a centerpiece of his administration. Abuja is an important Washington partner, and a successful Nigerian campaign against corruption is in the American interest. However, Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow Matthew Page argues that the United States is not doing nearly enough in a hard-hitting, thought-provoking brief on corruption, “Improving U.S. Anticorruption Policy in Nigeria.”
Page deftly sketches out the magnitude of corruption in Nigeria and its threat to democracy and good governance. Then he turns to the heart of his brief, why U.S. help has been largely ineffective. He notes that U.S. policy since the restoration of civilian government in 1999 has largely been focused on security cooperation, economic growth and development, and democracy and governance. But, not corruption. In an important insight, Page sees a divergence of approach between senior administration policy makers and U.S. working-level officials. Hence, President Obama, Secretary Kerry, Attorney General Lynch and Treasury Secretary Lew have publicly stated that anticorruption efforts are a U.S. policy priority in Nigeria. Yet diplomats cultivate relationships with as wide a range of elites as they can, including those who are corrupt. There are also perennial issues of interagency coordination. Page’s bottom line: “U.S. anticorruption policy remains broad-based and untargeted, centered on modest assistance programs for police investigators and civil society watchdogs.”
Page’s specific recommendations repay careful consideration. They are all practical:
- Establish a U.S. interagency working group on Nigerian “kleptocracy” that would facilitate coordination and cooperation among the relevant U.S. agencies;
- Establish within the U.S. Embassy in Abuja a FBI special agent tied to the Bureau’s International Corruption Unit in Washington;
- Issue an executive order on Nigerian kleptocracy that would enhance efforts to restrict Nigerian financial transactions in the United States related to corruption.
A vigorous U.S. anticorruption policy requires the closest partnership with the Nigerian authorities. However, in the past, corruption – often blatant – infected the highest reaches of the Nigerian government. Too many high level officials were making too much money from corruption. Under Buhari, that has changed, but “corruption fights back.” Buhari has made it clear that he seeks outside assistance. That provides a special opportunity for a new U.S. anticorruption campaign.