By Eddy Odivwri
Every year, the army gets a chunk of the national budget. Most times, the Defence budget is higher than even education or works, essentially because we value security. But we have not got quite a good deal in the issues of security. It all got worse with the advent of the Boko Haram terrorism in 2009. It has only worsened in recent years with the raiding of communities and mindless killing of innocent people. If nothing else, the rising cases of Internally Displaced Persons across the northern and even in certain southern parts of the country are eloquent testimonies that we are in danger.
So, when it got clear that the regular budgetary allocations were not enough to tackle the rising cases of insecurity, the decision to pull out $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) was taken. With the $1bn, more arms and ammunition would be bought to combat and over run the terrorists. That was the whole idea
I am aware that the former service chiefs once complained of having not received the said $1bn at a time. When it was eventually released, perhaps in tranches, the public was no longer carried along.
But what is perhaps key is that the money got released. Some arms were bought. How many? We do not know. Did the service chiefs buy the entire items on the weapons’ inventory list? Nobody is sure. What was the cost of the weapons bought thus far? Was the entire $1bn expended as planned on the arms and weaponry? No! Does anybody actually audit or oversee the activities and transactions of the service chiefs, except the Commander-in-Chief? Does our C-in-C bother about such details? Not sure!
The last check point is therefore the National Assembly which exercises oversight functions on every aspect of governance, include the military.
That, perhaps, explains why in recent times, the National Assembly had to invite (and later summon) the service chiefs to explain some of the fog surrounding the utilization of the $1billion. The trigger to this inquest must have been the alarm earlier raised by the National Security Adviser, Gen Babagana Mungono, to the effect that the sum of $1billion was missing as neither the money nor the arms can be seen. In an interview he granted BBC Hausa service, Mungono noted that, “We don’t know where the money went to. The president has given out some money for equipment but they are yet to arrive,” he said.
“The president has done his best by ensuring that he released exorbitant funds for the procurement of weapons which are yet to be procured, they are not there. Now the president has employed new hands that might come with new ideas. I am not saying that those that have retired have stolen the funds, no. But the funds might have been used in other ways unknown to anybody at present.
“Mr President is going to investigate those funds. As we are talking with you at present, the state governors, the Governors Forum have started raising questions in that direction. $1 billion has been released, that and that has been released, and nothing seem to be changing. So I assure you that the president will not take this lightly.
The tongue-in-cheek allegation of the NSA is that the money meant for arms is missing, hence the emphasis on Mr President’s determination to investigate the issue.
But the President’s spokesman, Mallam Garba Shehu, dismissed the “misinformation(?) that some money meant for arms purchase were missing. He explained that not all the arms procured by the former service chiefs have arrived the country. He noted that the sum of $536 million was paid directly “government-to-government” to the government of the United States of America for the supply of some arms. He noted further that the biggest catché of arms will soon come from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
So, is it that the NSA is not informed on such core and sensitive issue under his purview as to raise the alarm he raised?
Not surprisingly, the NSA had, a day after the interview was published issued a statement claiming that, as usual, he was “quoted out of context”, even when his subsequent explanation of what he purportedly said at the interview was not significantly different from what the BBC published.
But Nigerians had fallen back on the lawmakers to know the whole truth about the arms deal. However, efforts by the lawmakers to get to the root of the matter which has been suffering setbacks from the military chiefs who have refused(?) to honour the invitation from the lawmakers investigating the matter. They have been invited about three times without any of them (military chiefs) showing up at the National Assembly Committee room.
So why are the Service Chiefs shunning the lawmakers’ invitation? Are they afraid that their appearance before the lawmakers could reveal some classified information about the deal? Are they desperate to protect their predecessors from being further investigated? Are they guilty? Only the guilty are afraid! Or are the Service Chiefs shunning the invitation because they do not have the expected information? Were they not the ones who complained to the NSA that they can neither see the arms nor the $1 billion?
If the new Service Chiefs must make a difference in the fight against the terrorism menace, then the fog covering the $1billion arms deal must be cleared. Nigerians need to know. It should not and cannot be swept under the carpet.
Luckily, the members of the House of Representatives probing the arms funds said they have details of all arms procurements since 2016 and that they also have records of the many diversions that have taken place on the fund. Nigerians cannot wait to get the full details.
Thus far, only the Defence Headquarters, Civil Defence Corps and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) have co-operated with the lawmakers’ investigations.
This is even more important now as the Buhari administration , at its inception , had made a song and a dance over how some service chiefs in the previous administration stole huge sums of money meant for the prosecution of the war, leading to the endangering of the lives of soldiers in the front line including the lives of many civilians who could have been protected of the soldiers were better armed.
I recall how the sum of N3billion was traced to the accounts of Mrs Lara Amosu, the wife of former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Amosu, and even another $1 million found in a newly constructed septic tank in their Badagry country home.
How can I forget also how the former Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh who was said to have stolen N558 million and later converted same to $20 million. He was being tried, after one of his seized properties was gifted to Voice of Nigeria. He was later shot and killed on the Abuja-Keffi road by assailants.
So it is not enough believing the explanations of Mallam Garba Shehu, especially as the NSA do not know what Shehu is explaining. How many arms and weapons are being expected from the UAE? How many altogether have we received? What is the total cost of the ones received as well as the ones expected? And pray, what is the diplomatic impasse stalling the delivery of the said arms and weaponry from the UASE. Our soldiers are dying. Our nationals are dying! With better weapons the gallantry of our soldiers will be exceptional. We cannot layback and compromise on this. You cannot literally send soldiers to go confront charged terrorists bearing sophisticated weapons with “catapults”, so to say.
If the soldiers are not hiding anything, let them show up at the National Assembly and answer all questions that can help Nigerians reinforce their belief in the Nigerian system.