NIGERIAN President Muhammadu Buhari has said the U.S. will help trace and recover funds from the sale of about 250,000 barrels of oil stolen on average each day in Africa’s biggest producer.
The U.S. and other developed nations are helping identify accounts where loot has been deposited and Nigeria will prosecute individuals involved, Buhari told an audience of Nigerians in Washington on Tuesday, according to a statement from his office on Wednesday. Some former ministers were selling a total of about one million barrels a day, he said.
“The amount involved is mind-boggling,” Buhari said. “A lot of damage has been done to the integrity of Nigeria with individuals and institutions already compromised.”
Buhari, who took office on May 29 after defeating Goodluck Jonathan in March elections, pledged during his campaign to clamp down on graft, including in the oil industry that provides Africa’s biggest economy with about two-thirds of government revenue and 90% of export earnings.
Buhari asked U.S. President Barack Obama this week to help locate and return $150 billion believed to have been stolen by corrupt officials.
While Nigeria’s economy has been battered by years of entrenched graft and a halving of oil prices in the past year, Buhari said he was skeptical about removing fuel subsidies.
Transport, housing and food prices will “go out of control and the average worker would suffer untold hardship” if gasoline subsidies were removed, according to the statement.
Buhari asked for patience because he hasn’t yet formed his cabinet and is trying to “put some sense into governance” and deal with corruption.
Nigeria’s government is also struggling to contain attacks and bombings by Islamist militants in the north, with hundreds of people killed in recent weeks and more than 1.5 million displaced by Boko Haram’s six-year insurgency.
Buhari said his administration would only negotiate with Boko Haram if genuine leaders of the rebel group came forward.
He said the government would engage in talks with the militants if it would help obtain the release of more than 200 schoolgirls who were abducted from the northeastern town of Chibok last year, causing an international outcry.
“Our objective is that we want the girls back, alive and returned to their families and rehabilitated,” said Buhari. “We are working with neighbouring countries.”