UPDATED: Benin's Boni Yayi apologises to Netherlands over stolen aid money, to send 800 troops to fight Boko Haram

Buhari left for Benin hours after at least six people were killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the northeastern city of Maiduguri.

BENIN President Thomas Boni Yayi apologised to the Netherlands for a corruption scandal involving Dutch aid money and said the authorities are prosecuting those involved.

The Dutch government cut all development aid to Benin in May after uncovering what it said was a serious fraud case in which grants worth at least $4.4 million disappeared.

The money was meant for drinking-water projects.

“I present the gratitude and public apology from all the people of Benin,” Yayi Boni said in a speech marking Independence Day in Benin Friday in the capital, Porto Novo. “All those involved in this dramatic scandal will be severely punished.”

Meanwhile Yayi announced he will send 800 troops to join a new multinational force tasked with fighting Boko Haram militants after meeting with his Nigerian counterpart Muhammadu Buhari Saturday.

Buhari, who was sworn in on May 29, is facing a particularly deadly surge of Islamist violence at home, with more than 800 people killed in north-eastern Nigeria in the last two months.

The violence has spread to neighbours Chad and Cameroon, both of whom have faced an unprecedented wave of suicide bombings on their soil in recent weeks. 

After a visit to Cameroon earlier this week to discuss the fight against the Islamist group, Buhari was in Cotonou to attend celebrations marking Benin’s 55 years of independence. Yayi told reporters after a meeting with Buhari that Benin will show “solidarity” with its “brothers in arms” in the region by sending “a contingent of 800 men… to permanently combat these outlaws”. 

Troops for the new multinational force, which includes soldiers from Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger and Chad as well as Benin, were set to be deployed at any time, according to its commander Major General Iliya Abbah on Saturday. 

The force, made up of 8,700 troops and headquartered in Chad, is expected to help with better coordination of the regional offensive launched in February, which has made a series of successful inroads against Boko Haram but has failed to neutralise the militants.

The extremist group has carried on its campaign of attacks on security forces, suicide bombings and bloody raids on villages across Nigeria’s north and eastern borders despite the military campaign against them. Boko Haram has kidnapped thousands of civilians, including women and children, with many either forced or indoctrinated into joining the extremists, rights groups say.

-Also reported by Michael Olukayode in Maiduguri. Bloomberg and AFP.

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