LAGOS, Nigeria — Fifty-five people, including former governors, Cabinet ministers and government workers, stole $9 billion dollars from Nigeria's treasury, the information minister said Monday.
Lai Mohammed made the allegations as he kicked off a "national sensitization campaign," appealing to Nigerians to join the fight against corruption that is crippling what should be a rich nation with Africa's biggest economy, population and oil production.
The looted 1.35 trillion Nigerian naira could have built 36 hospitals or educated 4,000 children through university, Mohammed said. He said it was stolen between 2006 and 2013, when the naira stood at about 150 to the dollar, half today's value. Mohammed did not identify the 55 accused but said bankers and businessmen are among them.
The funds include $2.1 billion meant to buy weapons to fight Boko Haram's 6-year-old Islamic uprising that has killed some 20,000 people but instead was diverted to the election campaign of former President Goodluck Jonathan and his party, Mohammed said. Jonathan lost March 2014 elections to former military dictator Muhammadu Buhari, who promised to halt corruption and the insurgency.
Buhari said Monday that a multinational force has driven Boko Haram into "fall-back positions" and uprooted them from all territory they held.
Mohammed denied that the war against corruption was a vendetta against the opposition. He said, "If we don't kill corruption, corruption will kill Nigeria."
Nigeria's judiciary is critical to the fight, he said. Three different courts have granted bail to Jonathan's former national security adviser, Sambo Dasuki, who is accused of being instrumental in the theft of the $2.1 billion and has said he diverted the money on Jonathan's orders. Buhari has said he will not allow Dasuki out of detention.