ABUJA • Nigerian troops were denied weapons to fight Boko Haram and thousands of lives were lost because of rampant fraud in the procurement process, President Muhammadu Buhari has alleged.
The President has ordered the arrest of the country's former national security adviser, accusing him of stealing about US$2 billion (S$2.9 billion) received for phantom arms contracts.
The arrest order is part of a campaign by Mr Buhari, who was elected in March, to tackle graft that has enriched an elite but left most normal people in poverty.
Mr Buhari's office said former security adviser Sambo Dasuki had "awarded fictitious and phantom contracts" for jets, helicopters and ammunition for the army to fight Boko Haram which were never delivered.
Dasuki denies the allegations, said his lawyer Ahmed Raji.
The 60-year-old former army colonel is already facing charges of money laundering and illegal possession of weapons.
Security agents have so far refused to allow him to travel abroad for medical treatment, despite a court order that ruled in his favour.
Mr Buhari set up a 13-member committee to probe arms procurement between 2007 and this year and spoke out after receiving its interim report.
According to the statement from the President's office late on Tuesday, the investigation "unearthed several illicit and fraudulent financial transactions".
Some US$5.3 billion was provided to the Office of the National Security Adviser, Defence Headquarters and the headquarters of the army, navy and air force, the statement said.
"It was observed that in spite of this huge financial intervention, very little was expended to support defence procurement," it added.
Some 53 of 513 contracts awarded were "failed contracts" and Dasuki allegedly sanctioned huge payments without contractual evidence or explanations.
"The findings made so far are extremely worrying considering that the interventions were granted within the same period that our troops fighting the insurgency in the north-east were in desperate need of platforms, military equipment and ammunition," the President said.
"Had the funds siphoned to these non-performing companies been properly used for the purpose they were meant for, thousands of needless Nigerian deaths would have been avoided."
Mr Buhari, a retired army general and former military ruler, came to power in May vowing to crush the rebels whose insurgency has killed at least 17,000 people since 2009.
Front-line troops serving under his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan frequently complained the militants were better armed and they lacked the proper equipment, including bullets, to fight.
Dasuki said in response to the accusations that he had never been invited to appear before the 13-member committee and he was "surprised" and "embarrassed" at the allegations.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG