Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Nigeria's theiving military elite

Fifty years ago, on January 15, 1966, the Nigerian military staged the first coup in the country led by Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu. Last Friday, January 15, was this year’s Armed Forces Remembrance Day. President Muhammadu Buhari and top military officers and other high ranking government officials marked the day in Abuja with the laying of wreaths in honour of the “unknown soldiers” who fought gallantly to keep Nigeria united. There were prayers for the repose of their souls, the release of pigeons as well as fundraisers for the legionnaires. One of the key reasons the five Majors, the masterminds of the January 15, 1966 coup, took over the rein of government from the elected civilians of the First Republic, is corruption. They accused the politicians of graft, nepotism, election rigging among other vices.
Over the years, Nigerian military elite ruled for an added period of 28 years out of the country’s cumulative 56 years of nationhood. In fact, this Fourth Republic has been the longest that civil rule has been sustained. From 1999 to date, Nigeria has had five general elections in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015. Truth be told, military credentials in governance have been worse than those of the civilians they torpedoed in 1966, 1983, and 1993. The soldiers were never accountable to the public, did not have respect for the rule of law; no checks and balances; and governed by proclamation via decrees and edicts and were bigger thieves than their civilian counterparts. Even if none of their thieving had been proved in any court of law, the one committed by the late Head of State, Gen. Sani Abacha, is on record as being preposterous, mind-blowing and unprecedented. Till date, some of the stolen funds traced to Abacha are still being returned to the country’s coffers 18 years after his mysterious demise in 1998.
If the esprit-de- corps of the military did not allow the Nigerian public to have irrefutable facts about their looting of government treasuries, the recent armsgate or better still Dasukigate has given the Nigerian public irrefragable facts about the military elites’ penchant for stealing. In the last few weeks, the media have been regaling the world with how a whopping $2.1bn meant for procurement of arms and ammunition to combat insurgency had been diverted for personal aggrandisement and electioneering. At the epicentre of this whole corruption scandal is the immediate past National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.).
The hen has come home to roost. It is now patently clear why Dasuki went to Chatham House early last year to call for the postponement of the February 2015 General Elections using the Independent National Electoral Commission’s unpreparedness as an alibi. Dasuki said INEC had not distributed enough Permanent Voter Cards and as such should postpone the polls. Meanwhile, as of the time he said that, about 20 Local Government Areas were under the control of Boko Haram terrorists. He never made an issue of that. Even when Prof. Attahiru Jega, then INEC chairman, said they were ready to go ahead with the elections, Dasuki wrote to the INEC leadership that the security agencies would not be able to guarantee security for the polls because of the counterinsurgency operations going on in the North-East.
Yes, the six weeks postponement afforded INEC time to better its earlier shoddy preparations. However, recent revelations have shown that most of the monies doled out to opposition political parties like the Accord Party and Social Democratic Party as well as some of the chieftains of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party were made during those six-week period. It can thus be said that though the ostensible reason for the shift of polls was INEC’s unpreparedness, the actual reason was to buy time and use slush funds to get former President Goodluck Jonathan back to power. Indeed, the “removal” of President Muhammadu Buhari’s academic certificates and military credentials from his military file was to get the former Head of State technically disqualified by the courts. Had that been achieved, Jonathan would have won the 2015 presidential election and the current armsgate would never have blown open as it would have been treated in the usual PDP way as a “family affair”.
Now the jigsaw puzzle has fallen into places. While a chunk of the funds meant for the purchase of the arms to fight insurgents were diverted for illegal election, the larger part was spent to buy obsolete weapons at highly inflated prices. A statement issued on Friday, January 15, 2016 by the Senior Special Assistant to President Buhari on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said a number of offences were outlined by the military panel established to audit the procurement of arms and equipment in the Armed Forces and the defence sector from 2007 to 2015 against 17 top military brass, both serving and retired, as well as against certain other non-military individuals and companies.
Such breaches as identified by the audit committee included “non-specification of procurement costs; absence of contract agreements; award of contracts beyond authorised thresholds; transfer of public funds for unidentified purposes and general non-adherence to provisions of the Public Procurement Act.” It added that “the procurement processes were arbitrarily carried out and generally characterised by irregularities and fraud. In many cases, the procured items failed to meet the purposes they were procured for, especially the counterinsurgency efforts in the North-East.”
Shehu stated further that the Nigeria Air Force capriciously bought non-recommended helicopters at vey exorbitant prices. Besides, the helicopters were not even air worthy. The report also revealed that under the former Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall Adesola Amosu, the NAF bought four Alpha Jets also at inflated prices but of the number, only two were delivered. The NAF also reportedly paid out over N4.402bn for contracts not executed. The audit committee was said to have uncovered insider dealings by military officers in procurement activities undertaken by the Office of the National Security Adviser and the NAF. The officers were found to have misused or abused their offices for personal gains by influencing award of contracts to private companies in which they have substantial interests. The First Interim Report of the Committee on Audit of Defence Equipment established that the sum of N643bn and $2.1bn interventions were received for defence procurements by the Defence Headquarters and the services between 2007 and 2015. Shehu’s statement said of this sum, the nation spent N29bn and $2bn on the NAF procurement activities alone.
Given the highlighted sharp practices and malpractices, any wonder Nigeria has failed woefully to win the war against insurgency? How would we have won when the sustenance of that insurrection is the conduit and honey pot for top military brass of Nigeria? I am in agreement with human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, that all those court-marshalled and dismissed for mutiny and desertion in the Nigerian Army should be granted state pardon and reinstated into the armed forces. It is the thieving military elite that should be court-marshalled and also prosecuted in civil courts. They should be made to forfeit their loot to the Federal Government. I await the report of the audit panel on the procurement for the Nigerian Navy to fight militancy in the Niger Delta. But for the 2010 amnesty programme which led to about 60,000 militants laying down their arms, the relative peace in the Niger Delta region would have been a mirage as the so-called Joint Task Force were just unwilling to decisively prosecute that campaign, probably for the same reasons the Nigerian Air Force sabotaged the insurgency war in the North-East.
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