April 19, 2017 / 1:27 PM / in 4 months

Nigeria's Buhari orders corruption probe over humanitarian funds

FILE PHOTO - Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during German President Joachim Gauck's visit to the State House in Abuja, Nigeria February 11, 2016.Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari on Wednesday ordered an investigation into corruption allegations against a senior civil servant related to the use of funds intended for handling a humanitarian crisis in the northeast of the country.

The director general of the National Intelligence Agency was also ordered to be suspended after the discovery of more than $43 million in an apartment complex in Lagos in what the presidency described as a "related development".

Buhari suspended David Babachir Lawal, secretary to the Nigerian government, and ordered a probe into contracts awarded under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE), his spokesman said in a statement.

Lawal, a Buhari appointee, told reporters he had not been informed of his suspension until asked about it by the media. He made no further comment. PINE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

PINE was set up to coordinate the government's response to the humanitarian crisis in the northeast where 4.7 million people, many of them refugees from the Islamist insurgency by Boko Haram, are on the brink of famine and survive on rations.

Alleged corruption and mismanagement have threatened to intensify the situation, one of the world's largest humanitarian crises, say critics of the government's handling of the northeast.

Analysts warned for years the insurgency - which has killed more than 20,000 people and forced 2 million to flee their homes since 2009 - would spill over, but critics say authorities and some aid agencies were slow to address humanitarian issues.

The presidency statement said it had also ordered an "investigation into the discovery of large amounts of foreign and local currencies" by the financial crimes agency in a residential property in commercial capital Lagos, in what it called a "related development", without giving further details.

It said the National Intelligence Agency, Nigeria's equivalent of the CIA, had said the money belonged to it. It said the investigation would inquire "whether or not there has been a breach of the law or security procedure in obtaining custody and use of the funds".

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said last week, on its official Facebook page, it had discovered $43.4 million, 27,800 pounds and 23.2 million naira in cash in the same Lagos apartment complex identified in the presidency statement.

The presidency statement said Buhari, who took office in May 2015 on promises to crack down on corruption, ordered the suspension of the director general of the NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Reuters could not immediately reach Oke for comment. The NIA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A three-man committee, headed by the vice president, is to conduct both investigations and submit its report to the president within 14 days.

Reporting by Felix Onuah and Alexis Akwagyiram; Additional reporting by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alison Williams

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