In the past few weeks since the voluntary retirement of the immediate past military service chiefs, the nation’s rumour Mills have swirled with all kinds of allegations against the service chiefs regarding the use to which the whopping sum of $1 billion USD in terms of procurement of sophisticated weapons for the prosecution of war on terror in the North East of Nigeria which has lasted over a decade, was deployed. However, both in methodology and strategy, the National Assembly has rather constituted a nuisance and a distraction to the war on terror than what they think they are trying to uncover. No nation that is at war, will have a parliament that will be more concerned about quarrelling like village cooks in a local funeral’s cooking event. No nation at war will continuously have the elites making unsubstantiated innuendos and accusation against the same military that is waging war to safeguard the citizens and the sovereign State of Nigeria. How can someone be chasing rats whilst his house is on fire?
To be fair to Nigerians, the bulk of the population have suffered deprivation due to crass incompetence of political office holders for decades who have failed to implement economic road map to advance the economic and social wellbeing of millions of Nigerian households who are now suffering mass poverty. When a population is unduly pushed to the periphery of absolute poverty, the likelihood that the citizens will progressively lose confidence and trust on the political class is high. After all when you push a human being with rationality to the wall, you have left him with no option but to either run away or stand and fight. So there is high risk that persons who hold public offices are seen with less trust by the majority of the people and the danger in this is that even if when a good man is in public office in our clime, he runs the risks of being bundled together with the rotten eggs.
So this perception made most people to think based on hear say that the immediate past service chiefs have indeed diverted the $1 billion released from the Federation account for the purchases of weapons to fight the Boko Haram terrorists.
The speculation gained a life of its own when the National Security Adviser Major General Monguno told the BBC Hausa service that the $1 billion USD released for purchase of weapons was stolen.
He later denied saying the same allegation he made to the hearing of millions of Hausa speakers who listened to that jaundiced interview he granted the BBC.
However, the Federal Legislature has continued to probe the use to which the money was deployed even as some of them made wild insinuations that pointed to the connection of the immediate past service chiefs to the ‘misappropriation ‘ of such a humongous sum. But is there truly any missing money? If there is, who is the person in charge of procurement for the military institutions and what is the parent ministry of the military which under the Public Procurement Act is the institution responsible for procurement? These are questions that the permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Defence has provided as can be seen before the conclusion of this piece.
Recall that the House of Representatives few weeks back, expressed what it described as deep concern over the lukewarm attitude of some top government officials of the ongoing investigation into the purchase of $1billion to fight insurgency activities in the country and summoned the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr Godwin Emefiele, and the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, to appear before a special Committee to answer queries over the purchase of arms.
The House Adhoc-Committee Committee being chaired by Hon Olaide Akinremi (APC, Oyo), currently investigating the purchase of arms and ammunition for the military and paramilitary in Nigeria handed down the order while expressing its displeasure over the refusal by the CBN Governor and the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ibrahim Atahiru, to appear before it.
The duo were ordered to appear before the House on April 7, 2021, by 2 pm
This decision was taken at the meeting of the House Ad-hoc Committee on the need to review the purchase, use and control of arms, ammunition and related hardware by the military, paramilitary and other law enforcement agencies in Nigeria.
Others to appear alongside the duo are the Ministry of Finance, Bureau for Public Procurement, Ministry of Defence, and Ministry of Interior.
Gen Attahiru Ibrahim the chief of Army Staff had sent a representative, Major General C. Ofuche, at the committee’s last sitting, but this was rejected by the members.
Members of the committee said the issue was a serious and sensitive one and needed the COAS to address them in person.
The motion to take a hard stand on the agencies beginning with a summon was moved by Hon Bede Eke, from Imo eliciting overwhelming support of other members, even as the committee chairman tried to tone down the resolution.
While moving the motion, Hon Bede said: “Mr Chairman, distinguished colleagues, I think we have got to a situation where we really have to take a very hard stand on this matter, the last time the Representative of the Chief of Army staff came, we told him that the Chief of Army Staff should appear in person, at least to come and deposit the documents requested by this Committee because he is the man in charge of that agency.
“Mr Chairman, CBN has been a problem to this House and they cannot operate the way they are operating because we approved that budget and this House will keep quiet. They think they can do it all the time and get away with it. By the way, what are we asking for? Come and tell us how much you have paid for the purchase of arms. We have given you the right to a fair hearing, are you hiding anything? We will not allow it, if there something you are hiding because you are CBN, we will not allow it
“People are killed every day, Mr Chairman, I want to move a motion, let me stop at this but I want this House and this Ad-hoc Committee, we don’t have time and we come here every day and we seat 3-4 hours waiting for a government agency, I want to move a motion that we summon, especially Chief of Army Staff and CBN, enough is enough, the CBN Governor and the Chief of Army Staff must be summoned, that is when they will know we are serious.”
The Chairman of the Committee, Hon Akinremi, who claims versatility on security matters did all he could to play down the summoning aspect of the motion but all to no avail as members vehemently insisted the summon must remain.
Also speaking earlier after the chairman’s opening remark, Hon Samson Okwu, (PDP, Benue), said: “It’s very disheartening to see that this Committee that was set up by Mr Speaker to review the purchase of arms and ammunition to the military and we also know that we have been having sittings during which you said that we will not leave any stone unturned.”
“And here we are waiting to see the people from agencies such as the CBN to come and brief this Committee regarding its roles in the alleged arm purchase and they are nowhere to be found.
“The CBN should know that as a responsible agency created by law, the National Assembly has the powers to demand explanations on any fund spent on behalf of Nigerians
“But it’s unfortunate that the CBN did not turn up and yet didn’t deem it fit to write officially to explain or ask for an extension. I think it’s high time we made use of our constitutional powers to compel them to appear before.”
The federal House made heavy weather of seeking to rope in the immediate past service chiefs and primariy, the House committee kept mentioning the two last Army chiefs Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai and his predecessor Lieutenant General Azubike Ihejerika. These erstwhile service chiefs have said repeatedly that the records are there to show that they were accountable and transparent.
For me, and for most observers, these insinuations that the immediate past Army Chiefs diverted the fund meant for purchases of weapons made no sense to me and is mischievous because the appropriate channels to obtain the clear information on procurement of weapons is the parent ministry of the military institutions that handles procurement as of law.
The Federal House of Representatives went as far as creating serious distractions to the war on terror by making all manners of allegations on a matter that can easily be investigated without creating a media storm as the politicians have done even without consideration for national security interest.
However, after these legislative follies and beating about the bush and making wild attempts to stain the credibility and integrity of the erstwhile service chiefs who were found worthy by the same National Assembly of being honoured with a post retirement appointments as Ambassadors of Nigeria, the ministry of Defence has finally put a lie to all these speculative allegations against the service chiefs and now the ball is on the court of the parliament to behave well and stop the Channel noise that heavily distracts the ongoing war on terror.
The Ministry of Defence had few days back given breakdown and further insights into how the controversial $1 billion released by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to procure arms was expended.
The fund, it said, was released while waiting for the products’ arrival about three years after.
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Defence, Musa Istifanus, who stated this as a guest of honour at the Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) 2021 summit in Kaduna, added the procurement was to address the security threats bedevilling the country.
According to him, those raising dust about the funds were doing so out of sheer ignorance of how the funds were used for the purpose it was raised.
He maintained that “the Nigerian Government had spent $1 billion in acquiring weapons for the war against it is facing.
“Some ignorant people say that they have not seen any weapon. I know where the weapons are. They are yet to come.
“We paid $496millon to the American government and it is getting to three years now, the Super Tucanos are yet to arrive. Last week, we received an email that it will come by 21st of July,” he stated.
The permanent Secretary has spoken authoritatively. The House and the Senate should now look towards the ministry of defence for any clarifications not made at that public event in which local manufacturing of military hardwares was discussed.
To DICON the permanent Secretary had said, “manpower development which you identified as one of the key points which encompass training, is key to the success of DICON, especially where you will want to use research and development to chat the course of your success.
“The Federal Government and the ministry of defence looks forward to seeing DICON attain a highly productive and profitable cooperation in our collective national desire to attain self-reliance and self-sufficiency in our defence and security needs.”
Executive Vice Chairman of the National Agency for Science and Engineering Infrastructure (NASENI), Prof M S Haruna, who was represented by Engr Dr Ibrahim Onuwo Abdulmalik, called on business giants like Aliko Dangote, Femi Otedola and others to support the Nigerian Industrial Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) for the security of their investments.
New Director-General of DICON, Major General Moses Uzoh, noted that concerted efforts have been made in the past to achieve the objectives of DICON especially, as it relates to the establishment of a military-industrial complex in Nigeria.
DICON was established in 1964 Act of Parliament to produce defence materials for members of the Armed Forces and other security agencies.
As a response to the theme of this reflection, it is clear from the voice of the Ministry of Defence that the immediate past service chiefs are not guilty of any misappropriation of the $1billion USD voted for procurement of arms.
Now that the parliament have heard the ministry of defence through the Permanent Secretary who is the chief accounting officer of the ministry that supervises the military institutions, can the legislators please stop the distractions and support the fight against insurgency and terrorism with every legislative authority at their reach? I sincerely think so.
*EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and [email protected]