Monguno: Nigeria bleeds with Secrecy on defence budget amidst missing funds, arms shortage
If there is one area that has remained opaque in the ongoing fight against insurgency, apart from the number of slain troops, it is the amount of money that has been expended on the counter-terrorism campaign by the Federal Government.
From 1999 till date, billions of naira have been spent on national security but successive administrations have failed to give account of the security spending, which has remained shrouded in suspicious secrecy. Those benefiting from this lack of transparency by the Federal Government will readily proffer the hackneyed but tenuous argument that defence spending is not meant for public consumption.
It is hard to ascertain the Nigerian defence budgets, but according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the defence budget for 2019 was $1.86bn, an 8.95 per cent decline from 2018, which was put at $2.04bn. In 2017, the nation reportedly spent $1.62bn on its military, while defence spending for 2016 was $1.72bn. The figures, however, could not be confirmed.
When the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), came to power in 2015, one of the first things he did was to order a probe into the $2.1bn arms fraud under his predecessor. The former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), and a coterie of officials and Peoples Democratic Party members were indicted and arraigned.
Many Nigerians believed that such mind-boggling stealing could not happen under Buhari, the ECOWAS anti-corruption champion. But the bombshell by the NSA, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd.), appeared to have dissolved all doubts that this regime was ‘graft-proof’.
Monguno had in an interview with the BBC Hausa Service last week claimed that funds meant for the purchase of arms to strengthen Nigeria’s anti-terror war got missing under the ex-service chiefs. Following criticisms from powerful forces in the Presidency, the NSA recanted, saying he was quoted out of context.
During the BBC interview, the NSA clearly 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 amounts of money to purchase weapons, but they are yet to be here. We don’t know where they are.”
In what could be described as a jejune rebuttal, the NSA office said, “We will 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 restated President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued commitment to provide all necessary support to the Armed Forces, including the provision of arms and equipment.”
But jumping into the fray, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, stated that the arms fund could be accounted for. He noted that the procurements had not been fully delivered and about $536m of the money was paid directly in a government-to-government transaction to the United States Government.
The presidential aide submitted, “In August 2018, they (the US) 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 its procured equipment delivered; the Nigerian Air Force has bought a number of attack helicopters – 35 helicopters from Ukraine.”
He said there have been problems with the procurements made by the Nigerian Army, stressing that the equipment had been coming in bits and in pieces.
Nigerians, however, are not buying the perceived sophistry by Shehu and Monguno. A global anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission to investigate the allegations of missing $1bn arms procurement fund.
TI also said the National Assembly should conduct an investigative open hearing on the missing fund, noting that denials by government officials were unacceptable to Nigerians.
The Chairman, TI Nigeria, Musa Rafsanjani, stated, “The EFCC and the ICPC should begin to investigate this; they don’t need the President to direct them to do this. They have the power and responsibility to do that. We expect that the National Assembly should carry out their investigative and public hearing, which should be transparent and accountable.”
Noting the worsening insecurity across the country, the activist observed that the impact of the missing fund would have been felt in internal security if it had been expended on arms and armament as planned.
He stated, “The truth is that if the money had been utilised, you would have seen improvement in security in Nigeria; $1bn is not a joke. The security in the country is deteriorating and if Nigerian security personnel are having the necessary equipment and incentives, they would have done things in a better way.
“Because the government had accused the previous administration of misappropriating money for arms under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, it is only morally right for this government to ensure that the money they have allocated is seen to have been spent on equipment, but you cannot condemn the previous regime for lack of provision for security and now, you have got this money and Nigerians have not seen the effect.”
Rafsanjani further argued that the Buhari regime was carrying a moral burden, insisting that Nigerians expected the President to immediately order a comprehensive probe of the alleged theft of the money.
He added, “It is only fair to investigate where this money is as they have done with the previous regime under Jonathan, where it was said that the money was used for elections and some people benefitted from it.
“In this case also, it is only right for the President to investigate the whereabouts of the money. But if they kept quiet and played the politics of silence and denial like Garba Shehu and Lai Mohammed always do; by the time they leave office, the next administration will investigate and know what happened.”
The Executive Director, Patriots for the Advancement of Peace and Social Development, Dr Sani Shinkafi, similarly called on the President to immediately direct the anti-graft agencies to investigate Monguno’s Freudian slip.
He knocked the NSA, saying, “Monguno has once again proven his incapacity to perform and has by divine providence exposed his selfish agenda at the most difficult and challenging time for Nigeria.
“Perhaps, that explains why the late Chief of Staff (to the President), Abba Kyari, did not allow the NSA to take full control and exercise the powers of security-related issues, because the tendency of undermining his employer for purely selfish reasons has been manifestly clear. Managing security related crises is not about ability to fluently speak good English or rhetoric.”
Despite the clamour for a fact-finding probe, the anti-graft agencies did not appear to share the enthusiasm of Nigerians demanding details of the arms fund spending.
The spokespersons for the EFCC and the ICPC simply said they did not know if there would be a probe.
Analysts said their lacklustre responses might be an indication of the prostrate state of the anti-graft fight by the Buhari regime.
ADELANI ADEPEGBA writes on the controversy surrounding the alleged missing funds meant to purchase arms for the armed forces to fight insurgency in the country and its implications.