Sunday, September 7, 2014 2:24 pm
On 9 May, t-he Civil Society Network Against Corruption, a coalition of over 150 smaller anti-corruption organisations which says its primary responsibility is to help fight corruption and ensure effective monitoring of the country’s anti-graft agencies, wrote a letter, in the form of a petition, to the Chairman, House of Representatives’ committee on Defence. The petition asked the Speaker and the House to immediately commence the probe of the country’s Ministry of Defence in relation to budgetary allocations to the Ministry from 2008 to 2013.
Signed by Olanrewaju Suraju, the coalition’s chairman, the petition emphasised that, unlike other sectors of the economy, Nigeria’s military budget allocation has enjoyed arithmetic progression in the years under focus.
For example, figures the organisation said it sourced from the website of Budget Office of the Federation showed that the six years between 2008 and 2013, showed about N1,581,052,990,000 as budget for defence and security. Put in words, that amounts to one trillion, five hundred and eighty-one billion, fifty-two million, nine hundred and ninety thousand naira. With such huge amount, the group said, any Nigerian would not cease to wonder about the poor mobility of men of the Armed Forces, low morale, deployment of non-serviceable equipment and the ultimate poor showing of these soldiers in the battle against the now dreaded Boko Haram insurgents that have recently announced winning part of Nigeria as their territories.
The CSNAC said it wanted the House “to launch an investigation into the utilisation of funds allocated to the Defence Ministry, especially for year 2008-2013, with a view to unveiling circumstances responsible for the inanity and inability of Nigeria’s military to respond appropriately to the insurgency and stem the loss of lives and current international embarrassment in the bud”. More heartbreaking was the organisation’s reference to a statement by Mrs. Hillary Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State, in which she said, referring to Nigeria: “They have squandered their oil wealth, they have allowed corruption to fester and now they are losing control of parts of their territory because they wouldn’t make hard choices.”
Like the civil society group, other Nigerians, groups and international figures are beginning to direct their focus on the Nigerian security system, with a deeper concern with how money disbursed to the Nigerian Army had been spent over time. For example, while appearing before a hearing of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee in May this year, Sarah Sewall, the United States Under-Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights, declared that Nigeria had failed to curtail terrorism in the north-eastern part of the country because of nothing other than corruption.
Sewall, who appeared at the committee hearing with Amanda Dory, a Pentagon top official for Africa, said for the Nigerian military to succeed in the fight against Boko Haram, it must first purge itself of entrenched corruption and incompetence. In spite of th $5.8 billion budget for security in 2014, according to her, there has been very low morale on the part of the fighting soldiers, many of whom are deserting the army. “Corruption prevents supplies as basic as bullets and transport vehicles from reaching the front lines of the struggle against Boko Haram,” she told the committee.
At the same period, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, an organisation that is fighting the government, while condemning the abduction of over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok, Borno State by the Boko Haram group, also condemned what it called the shameful corruption in the military.
“The Nigerian government have been slow in accepting help from the United States and other Western countries due to their attempt to cover up their ill-equipped and corrupt military, incapable of matching the firepower of the Boko Haram group. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, once again uses this medium to call on the National Assembly to rise up to their responsibilities to the nation and launch a probe into the Defence budget and make Nigerians understand how the military can justify their lack of military resources against the huge Defence budget allocated to the Defence Ministry each year.”
The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, while adding a voice to the call for a probe into the utilisation of the funds disbursed for the military operations in the country, decried: “We are disturbed that despite huge resource allocations to security, the issue remains a serious challenge in Nigeria with the recent ambush and assassination of the Emir of Gwoza, Idrissa Timta, who was in company of two other emirs on their way to Gombe for the funeral rites of their late colleague, the Emir of Gombe, Alhaji Usman Shehu Abubakar, who died earlier at a London hospital…We therefore call on President Goodluck Jonathan, as the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces to institute a full scale, transparent, thorough and unbiased investigation on the activities and challenges of our security forces, especially in the North-east.”
Nigerian human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, will not be happy until a probe is instituted into the disbursement of the over N3 trillion budgeted for security between 2010 and 2014. Falana, who also made futile attempts to get the recently ended National Conference to probe security spending and budget, lamented the lack of transparency and accountability in government as means to counter corruption and good governance. Falana, at a lecture delivered at the 18th National Delegates Conference of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, ASUU, at the University of Ibadan, said though the Nigerian armed forces have the capability to meet the current challenges and had brought peace to war-torn Liberia and Sierra Leone, it had become so ill-equipped while officers of the army have become less encouraged to confront the insurgents he called “rag-tag”.
Even though this demand for probe of the budget points towards instigating President Jonathan to take action, such anticipated action could well be a mirage, according to Comrade Debo Adeniran of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, who, last Thursday berated the President for allowing such level of corruption done with impunity in his government. He and his colleagues from the civil society organisations urged the President to quickly tender his resignation as he had failed as the Commander-in-Chief of the country. Under the auspices of the Action Team Against Conscription and Kidnap, ATACK, he noted that while the country’s soldiers are on foreign mission, they are successful but in Nigeria, they have turned victim of some corrupt elements within the country.
Again, Falana and his likes may just have to jettison the struggle to get the authorities to do the right thing. The President may not be bothered by the complaint for now. The National Assembly is also not on the same lane with those clamouring for the probe of how the security budgets have been spent so far.
Recently, the chairman of the Senate committee on Petroleum, Downstream, Senator Magnus Abe, confessed that the desired probe could not be carried out because the National Assembly would not want to further demoralise the soldiers. “The military right now is involved in a sensitive operation to stabilise the country and provide adequate security.
If we start any form of public probe and the military thinks we are only interested in the money and not the efforts at combating insurgency, that may become counter-productive. The troops would not feel supported. However, clearly there are issues dealing with the ways our security funds are being expended. We have more money than Boko Haram, we have more personnel than them, so if we spend our money properly, it should show in the field.
“People can’t go into Maiduguri and Chibok, drive for about 200 kilometres without seeing military personnel on ground. That shows that our money is not working for us. I think it is rather between the Commander-in-Chief and the military authorities that should go back to the drawing board, find out what happened to the money that is being released for security operations and how well the money was being spent,” he said.
Nigerians had always thought that among the country’s security institutions, the police had the tag that relates to corruption. In the past many local and international organisations including the Human Rights Watch had rated the Nigeria Police as the most corrupt government institution in the country. It is no longer strange to see officers of the force demanding for various amounts from motorists. What is new, however, could be found in a statement credited to Col. Abubakar Umar, former military governor of Kaduna State recently. A statement he reportedly issued concerning the state of the military and other security agencies, noted that soldiers now handle local police jobs as well as stand on the road to extort drivers. He warned against what the statement called a “service-wide revolt”.
Just like it is not easy to adopt a good character without seeing one, it is the argument of some analysts that the corruption in the military did not begin with the current administration. Most people still link corruption in the military to the era of the then maximum ruler, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida. This set of people still question what happened to the $12 billion oil windfall of that period. An article on Huhuonline.com says: “Analysts believe that corruption in the Nigerian Army was worsened by sharp practices such as over-inflation of contract values, diversion of pension funds, drug trafficking, intimidation of contractors, withholding allowances and sundry other vices.
Senior officers heading the financial branch of their arm of the armed forces usually become instant billionaires on retirement. Successive Chief of Army Finance, Chief of Air Finance or Chief of Naval Finance respectively never retire from the service without billions of naira in their accounts or stashed somewhere.”
The article cited the mutiny that happened in Akure, the Ondo state capital, on 4 July, 2008 when soldiers who were from a peacekeeping mission held the town to ransom and went wild in protest against the non-payment of their allowances. “Authentic sources claimed that instead of the $1,228 that the global body approved for them on monthly basis, authorities of the Nigerian Army were short-changing them by paying them only $3,000 for the six-month period,” the online medium reported. “Corruption has also emasculated the potency of the military. Until the Niger Delta insurgency, the Nigerian Air Force could only boast of about two battle-ready MIG fighters and few helicopters…the Navy on its own cannot boost of any Class A warship except NNS Aradu that should have been disengaged from the service as most of its gunnery cannot even function again. The Navy has no single submarine in this 21st century while Libya can boost of about three. The implication is that the Army has only obsolete arsenals,” the medium lamented.
With this impression in mind, Nigerians who have reacted to the request by the President for the National Assembly to approve $1 billion loan facility believe the money is aimed to shore up the Presidency’s budget ahead of 2015 as nothing has come out of the huge spending on security except disillusionment, death of soldiers and protests by their wives.