Nigeria’s president orders probe into missing aid funds

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Muhammadu Buhari, Nigeria’s president, has ordered an investigation into a senior civil servant linked to missing funds meant to avert famine in the north-east of the country.

Mr Buhari, who pledged to fight widespread corruption when he won elections two years ago, suspended David Babachir Lawal, his cabinet secretary, pending the outcome of the probe into allegations that he had broken the law in awarding contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East.

The initiative was established by Mr Buhari to co-ordinate the government’s response to the humanitarian crisis but legislators claim the body was used as a vehicle to divert the funds.

A committee led by Yemi Osinbajo, the vice-president, will conduct the investigation and report to Mr Buhari within two weeks, the president’s office said on Wednesday. Mr Lawal could not be reached for comment.

“So much money has been made available by government with very little to show for it,” concluded a report by Nigeria’s upper house of parliament last year. The report also described the procurement process for aid supplies as “vague and corrupt”.

At a Senate hearing in December, the committee was unable to account for the equivalent of $7.9m in funds, according to local news reports at the time. Donor governments have also voiced their concerns to the Buhari administration that the committee was misusing the funds.

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The probe comes as the United Nations warns that 5.1m people face starvation in north-east Nigeria. About 450,000 children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, according to the UN.

On Mr Buhari’s watch, Boko Haram, the Islamist insurgency group, has been pushed off the territory it had seized. But as more areas have opened up for aid groups, the scale and severity of the famine have become more evident.

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