Although the National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno, has denied his recent statement accusing former service chiefs of misappropriating funds meant for arms, the issues are now beyond his refutation with its many implications, write Deji Elumoye and Kingsley Nwezeh
The National Security Adviser, Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd), for the better part of last week, was in the news over the current security challenges facing the nation. For over two hours, he spoke to State House reporters about the present administration’s efforts to improve the security situation in the country.
In the course of the interaction with newsmen, he spoke with the BBC Hausa service, which quoted Monguno as accusing the immediate past service chiefs of not delivering on the security mandate handed them by President Muhammadu Buhari as there were no equipment procured by them to fight insurgency and other security problems facing Nigeria.
The NSA was, however, quick to recant saying he was quoted out of contest. The Office of the National Security Adviser thereafter put in proper perspective what Monguno told the BBC reporter and denied saying funds meant for the purchase of arms had gone missing.
The statement read in part: “We would like to state that the NSA was quoted out of context as he did not categorically say that funds meant for arms procurement were missing under the former service chiefs as reported or transcribed by some media outlets from the BBC interview.
“During the interview, the National Security Adviser only reiterated the federal government’s commitment to deal decisively with insecurity and stated President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued commitment to providing all necessary support to the armed forces, including the provision of arms and equipment.”
The NSA said in the interview, clearly informed the BBC reporter that, “Mr. President has provided enormous resources for arms procurement, but the orders were either inadequate or yet to be delivered and that did not imply that the funds were misappropriated under the former service chiefs.”
Monguno also said he informed the reporter that, “Mr. President is following up on the procurement process as it’s usual with contracts relating to military equipment. In most cases, the process involves manufacturing, due diligence and tedious negotiations that may change delivery dates.”
Unfortunately, the revelation by Monguno has elicited reaction from the National Assembly with a promise to look into the issues raised by the NSA.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, said the Senate would investigate Monguno’s allegation against the ex-service chiefs.
His words: “I have not ascertained the authenticity of the claims credited to the National Security Adviser as published in the media. It is a very serious allegation and we have to confirm from the source first.
“We will find out as part of our oversight functions. We will meet as a committee to take a decision on the matter. But we will first find out the genuineness of the claims. We cannot just act on rumours.”
On its part, the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee, spoke on the Need to Review the Purchase, Use and Control of Arms, Ammunition and Related Hardware by Military, Paramilitary and Other Law Enforcement Agencies in Nigeria, and also promised to investigate the “missing” arms and ammunition for which the former service chiefs were allocated funds to acquire.
The committee chairman, Hon Olaide Akinremi, noted that Nigerians were interested in the whereabouts of the funds and the arms and ammunition.
“It seems the money released to former service chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari to buy weapons to fight terrorism, banditry and kidnapping is missing, because the new service chiefs have confirmed to us that they didn’t see where the new weapons were purchased in their handover notes.
“Apparently, the money is missing, and the money in question is in trillions of naira. And we must investigate (it). So, with all of these going on, coupled with international interest especially, the Nigerians we represent, they are all watching. So, we need to handle this issue with care. We all agree that it is very, very sensitive.” The question is, what has really happened to the funds appropriated in the past by the National Assembly for the government to procure security equipment? This is a question begging for answer.
Among several approvals made in the past by the legislative arm is the approval in 2018 of the request by President Buhari, for the withdrawal of $1bn from the Excess Crude Account for the purchase of weapons to fight insurgency.
Buhari had before then told the National Assembly that he already ordered the payment of $496m to the United States government for the purchase of 12 Tucano aircraft ahead of legislative approval.
Will the National Assembly go ahead to ask questions on the update about the equipment that ought to have been bought in the last three years?
The leadership of the Assembly should summon courage and invite all those involved including the erstwhile service chiefs and the NSA to make public the different roles they played in the arms procurement saga.
The two chambers of the National Assembly should, as a matter of urgency, mandate their relevant security committees to jointly organise a public hearing for all stakeholders to discuss the contentious issues unravelled by the NSA.
During the BBC interview, the NSA had said: “No one knows what happened to the money but by God’s grace, the president will investigate to find out whether the money was spent and where the arms went.
“It is not that we are not working to end the security challenge in the country. The president has done his own part and allocated huge amount of money to purchase weapons but they are yet to be here. We don’t know where they are. I am not saying that the past service chiefs have diverted the money, but presently we don’t know where the money is,” he said.
On the possibility of a probe into the alleged disappearance of the funds, he said: “I am sure the president will investigate this. As I am talking to you now, even the Nigerian Governors’ Forum has started questioning where the money is. So, I assure you that the President is not playing with anything that has to do with the people.
“I can’t say the money was stolen but we didn’t see anything and even the new service chiefs said they didn’t see the weapons. It is possible the weapons are on their way coming. Maybe from America, England and other places, but as at now, I didn’t see anything and the service chiefs too didn’t see any weapons too.”
Earlier on Thursday at a State House briefing in Aso Villa, the NSA said, the President had released a lot of funds for the military to purchase firepower and win the insurgency fight.
…Situating NSA’s Long Shot
The position of National Security Adviser (NSA) is very sensitive. The Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) is a clearinghouse for most security matters in the country. It is so important that it hosts weekly and, sometimes, emergency meetings with the military service chiefs and the Inspector-General of Police to thrash out pressing security issues.
With the spiraling violence across the country, the meetings are even more regular, with the NSA zooming the relevant security chiefs on several occasions.
Sounding the Alarm
Monguno declared on Friday that billions of naira voted for the purchase of arms for the fight against insurgency and armed banditry could not be accounted for. Monguno, who spoke in a BBC Hausa programme, said the new military chiefs had not seen any evidence of arms procurement in their records and handover notes.
The ex-service chiefs are former Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin (rtd), former Chief of Army Staff, Lt General Tukur Buratai (rtd), former Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas (rtd), and former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar (rtd).
President Buhari recently appointed the former military chiefs ambassadors after their retirement, and the Senate has since cleared them.
In an interview with BBC Hausa service on Friday, Monguno said the failure to provide arms to frontline military personnel was a setback to the fight against insecurity in the nation.
“It is not that we are not working to end the security challenge in the country. The president has done his own part and allocated huge amount of money to purchase weapons, but they are yet to be here. We don’t know where they are. I am not saying that the past service chiefs have diverted the money, but presently, we don’t know where the money is,” he said.
On the possibility of a probe into the seeming disappearance of the funds, Monguno said, “I am sure the president will investigate this. As I am talking to you now, even the Nigerian Governors’ Forum has started questioning where the money is.”
However, less than 12 hours after he spoke to the BBC, the ONSA issued a statement, obviously under pressure, claiming that Monguno was quoted out of context. Interestingly, the statement appeared to reinforce his earlier position during the BBC interview.
He said in the statement that the president had “provided enormous resources for arms procurement, but the orders were either inadequate or yet to be delivered”.
A Presidential Intervention
On the same day, the presidency was swift in its response. In an interview with Channels TV, presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, claimed that such funds could not be missing under Buhari.
Shehu stated, “I imagine that you are talking about the $1 billion taken from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) with the consent of state governors and was used for military procurement. I want to assure you that nothing of that money is missing.”
He said, “The reference to it in the interview with Hausa Service of the BBC by the National Security Adviser, I think, has been misconstrued and mistranslated.”
Shehu gave further insight into the arms procurement saga, and stated that the arms were yet to be fully delivered. He disclosed that $536 million of the money was paid directly in a government-to-government transaction with the United States government.
According to the presidential spokesman, “In August 2018, they allowed the Nigerian government to buy 12 Super Tucano aircraft suitable for the kind of war we are fighting in the North-east. In addition to that, other arms of the military have also made procurements.
“The Nigerian Navy has done nearly 100 per cent of their procured equipment delivered, the Nigerian Air Force has bought a number of attack helicopters, 35 i-helicopters from Ukraine.”
Shehu, however, admitted that there had been problems with the procurements made by the Nigerian Army. He asserted that the equipment was coming in bits and pieces.
The presidential media aide said Nigeria’s biggest procurement was recorded in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
He said, “As I speak to you, it is held up in a situation which only diplomacy will resolve. The Nigerian Minister of Defence actually had a meeting with the Ambassador of the UAE to Nigeria and the idea is to resolve this so that these equipment held up will be released.
“We need them here, all these procurements are on-going; nothing can be bought on the shelf, they are bought on order.
“The NSA did not make accusations of misappropriation because there is none in dealing with this matter.”
Buratai Steps Forward, Denies Allegation
Buratai (rtd) has reacted to Monguno’s alarm. In a statement the former Chief of Army Staff issued through his lawyer, Osuagwu Ugochukwu, he denied that funds meant for procurement of arms were missing under his command.
Ugochukwu said in the statement, “My attention has been drawn to an interview granted BBC by National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno, wherein he was alleged to have accused former service chiefs of filtering arms fund away.
“I can confirm that Lt. General Buratai and other ex-service chiefs were never mentioned in the interview and neither was any arms fund missing under the stewardship of Lt. Gen T.Y. Buratai.
“Interestingly, NSA Babagana Monguno has denied making such accusations. We, therefore, urge members of the public to discountenance any such misquoted narrative suggesting sleaze on the integrity of Rtd Lt Gen T.Y. Buratai.
“Anyone interested in knowing how arms were procured by the ex-service chiefs and particularly Lt Gen T.Y. Buratai should channel such request for information to the Ministry of Defence.”
NSA’s Spat With Former Service Chiefs
This is not the first time Monguno is taking a swipe at the former service chiefs. Monguno had on December 9, 2019, in a widely publicised memo, fired a warning shot to the late Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, accusing him of interference with national security matters.
He accused the service chiefs of holding meetings and taking directives from Kyari.
Monguno warned the former service chiefs not to take any further directives from Kyari, accusing the former Chief of staff of “unwarranted meddlesomeness”. He said Kyari’s directives to the service chiefs were sometimes issued without the knowledge or approval of the president, a practice he said added to government’s failure to contain insecurity.
Monguno had stressed in the memo, “Chief of staff to the president is not a presiding head of security neither is he sworn to an oath of defending the country.
“As such, unprofessional practices such as presiding over meetings with service chiefs and heads of security organisations as well as ambassadors and high commissioners, to the exclusion of the NSA and/or supervising ministers, are a violation of the Constitution and directly undermine the authority of Mr President.”
Monguno further noted, “Such acts and continuous meddlesomeness by chief of staff have not only ruptured our security and defence efforts but have slowed down any meaningful gain that the President has sought to achieve.”
National Assembly Moves In
The National Assembly has also weighed in. Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, said the senate would investigate Monguno’s allegation against the ex-service chiefs.
Ndume said, “I have not ascertained the authenticity of the claims credited to the National Security Adviser, as published in the media.
“I have just read it in the newspapers. It is a very serious allegation and we have to confirm from the source first.”
Ndume assured that the senate would get to the root of the matter. He said, “We will find out, as part of our oversight functions. We will meet as a committee to take a decision on the matter. But we will first find out the genuineness of the claims. We cannot just act on rumours.”
Understanding the Military Budgets
Over N3.5 trillion has been voted for the defence sector since 2015, a major part of which was committed into the war against insurgency, armed banditry, and other criminalities.
In the 2021 budget, the federal government earmarked N675 billion for the procurement of arms and equipment and training of 8,000 soldiers to end the Boko Haram insurgency and banditry in the North East of the country.
The insurgency has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives of civilians, security personnel and aid workers in 12 years, with property worth over N3.42 trillion destroyed in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States.
Speaking recently, Ndume stated that of the N675 billion military budget, N500 billion was for the procurement of arms and ammunition and operational fighting equipment. He said “Operation Lafiya Dole” in the North-east was allocated N75 billion for counter-insurgency operations in Sambisa forest and Lake Chad region.
“The N100 billion was for the on-going training of 8,000 soldiers in Zaria and Falgore Forest to match modern warfare against insurgency,” he said.
Ndume said the position of the NSA could not be taken for granted. This is, apparently, the general position of Nigerians on the arms procurement issue. The occupant of the NSA’s office cannot be flippant. In spite of Monguno’s denials, his statement issued on Friday largely reinforced his interview with the BBC, part of which was also reiterated by the presidency in its own denial. All these, many believe, present compelling grounds for further inquest by the National Assembly and the anti-graft agencies.
As it is, the next few weeks and months will be interesting as all eyes are already on the Nigerian government.
PIX: NSA-Monguno-and-Buhari.jpg and Buhari and former service chief.jpg