…plan to summon Olonisakin, Buratai, others for questioning
• Lawmakers, defence ministry meet over $1bn release
The House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on the Need to Review the Purchase, Use and Control of Arms, Ammunition and Related Hardware by Military, Paramilitary and Other Law Enforcement Agencies in Nigeria has invited the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu; service chiefs and other heads of paramilitary agencies.
The security and service chiefs are to explain the procurement and deployment of arms and ammunition in their respective agencies.
Sunday PUNCH also reliably learnt on Saturday that the House Committee on Defence has met with the Ministry of Defence on the $1bn special security fund released by the Federal Government in 2017, part of which was used to pay for 12 Super Tucano fighter jets in the United States.
Reactions had greeted the comments made by the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd.), who said during an interview with the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation on March 12 that $1bn funds meant to purchase arms to tackle insurgency during the ex-service chiefs’ tenure got missing.
In response to a question on why the Buhari regime was foot-dragging in the fight against banditry, Monguno said, “The President has done his best by approving huge sums of money for the purchase of weapons, but the weapons were not bought, they are not here. Now, he has appointed new service chiefs, hopefully, they will devise some ways.
“I’m not saying the former service chiefs diverted the money, but the money is missing. We don’t know how, and nobody knows for now. I believe Mr President will investigate where the money went. I can assure you the President takes issues of this nature seriously.
“The fact is that preliminary investigation showed the funds are missing and the equipment is nowhere to be found. When the new service chiefs assumed office, they also said they didn’t see anything on the ground.”
However, in a statement by his office later in the day, the NSA recanted, saying he was quoted out of context. It added, “We would 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
“During the interview, the National Security Adviser only reiterated the Federal Government’s commitment to deal decisively with insecurity and stated President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued commitment to providing all necessary support to the armed forces, including the provision of arms and equipment.”
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the ad hoc committee, Olaide Akinremi, at its first investigative hearing in Abuja, penultimate Friday, where the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Ibrahim Attahiru, was represented by the Commandant, Army War College Nigeria, Maj.-Gen. Charles Ofoche, had described the matter as sensitive.
Akinremi told one of our correspondents on Friday that following the resolution of the House to look into arms purchase in the last 10 years, incumbent heads of military and paramilitary agencies are to appear before the lawmakers on Monday.
Akinremi said, “We have invited them. This time round, it is not only the Chief of Army Staff. We invited the three components of the military – Chief of Army Staff, Chief of Naval Staff and Chief of Air Staff. They are all coming on Monday. There are others like the Comptroller-General of (Nigerian) Immigration (Service); Commandant-General, (Nigeria Security and) Civil Defence (Corps); Comptroller-General, Nigerian Correctional Service; Comptroller-General, (Nigeria) Customs (Service); they are also coming.”
The committee had the same day vowed to investigate the “missing” arms and ammunition for which the former service chiefs were allocated funds to acquire.
This came over a month after the ex-Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin (retd.), and the service chiefs resigned their positions and were replaced by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).
The ex-service chiefs are the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai (retd.); Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas (retd.); and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar (retd.).
“We are going to investigate the matter. As a matter of fact, we are also planning to summon the ex-service chiefs,” Akinremi added.
In a related development, the Chairman of the House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, told one of our correspondents on Saturday that the Defence Ministry had explained how the $1bn was spent.
“We met them (ministry) yesterday (on Friday). We went on an oversight visit and they gave us the true position of things,” he said.
Benson, however, declined to disclose the explanations made by the ministry.
Benson’s committee had written to the Ministry of Defence to demand a breakdown of how the $1bn special security fund approved by the 8th National Assembly was spent.
A prominent member of the committee, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, however, said the ministry had yet to reply to the committee.
The source said, “On the $1bn, everybody in Nigeria knows that (procurement of the Super) Tucano fighter jets was a government-to-government transaction – Nigerian Government and the United States Government. The planes have not arrived in Nigeria because the Nigerian Air Force has to construct the appropriate base and other installations.
“That takes it to about $600m, which means about 60 per cent of the money is gone. The remaining 40 per cent; I don’t know if you saw some tanks that arrived sometime ago. They have been coming in piecemeal.
“About last week, we wrote to the ministry to give us an update on the arms, ammunition and equipment that they have taken delivery of and which ones are being expected as well as those international conspiracies have frustrated. Some laws were invoked against Nigeria.
“For the amount of money that was appropriated, to some extent, we know what has happened to 60 per cent of it. On the other 40 per cent, an investigation is ongoing.”
The lawmaker further disclosed that the committee planned to visit the US to inspect the fighter jets but for the COVID-19 pandemic. “There has been an outcry on the $1bn. We were supposed to go in November 2020 but the base in Atlanta was on red; they were not allowing visitors to come in,” he said.
The source added, “On the remainder, we are still waiting for the ministry to revert to us.”
The House had on December 8, 2020, resolved to audit the arms and ammunition procured and deployed by the Nigerian Armed Forces, especially to “investigate the quality and quantity of arms” in the last 10 years.
The House had also urged the Federal Government to review the policies, protocols and procedures for the purchase of arms, ammunition and related hardware by military and paramilitary agencies in the last 10 years.
In addition, the House urged the Federal Government to review the guidelines and systems for training officers and men of its security outfits, while asking it to appraise the armoury and weapons control mechanisms currently being implemented by the military and paramilitary agencies.
Those to be affected include the Nigerian Army, Navy, Air Force, Nigeria Police Force, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Customs Service and the Nigerian Correctional Services, according to a motion unanimously adopted by the lawmakers, titled ‘Need to Review the Purchase, Use and Control of Arms, Ammunition, and Related Hardware by Military, Paramilitary and Other Law Enforcement Agencies in Nigeria.’
The committee had held its inaugural meeting with security and safety agencies in Abuja on February 11, 2021.
At the meeting were representatives of the National Security Adviser, security and service chiefs, Nigeria Police Force, Federal Fire Service, Independent Corrupt Practices (and Other Related Offences) Commission, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and Central Bank of Nigeria, among others.
On November 13, 2020, the immediate past Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar, had said the Nigerian Air Force had taken delivery of 22 aircraft while expecting 17 more.
Abubakar also said the 12 Super Tucano fighter jets ordered from the United States of America were billed for delivery by the second quarter of 2021.
Abubakar made these known while appearing before the House of Representatives Committee on Air Force to defend NAF’s budget proposal for 2021.
The President had in 2017 sought the approval of the National Assembly for the withdrawal of $1bn from the Excess Crude Account for the fight against insecurity.
Buhari, who told the legislators that the National Economic Council had approved withdrawal, announced that he had already ordered the payment of $496m to the United States Government for the Tucano aircraft ahead of legislative approval.
Several members of the Senate and House of Representatives had at various times in 2018 described the anticipatory approval by the retired general as an impeachable offence.
The House particularly on November 27, 2018, resolved to investigate the finances of the Nigerian military, including how the $1bn was spent as well as the implementation of releases to the military under the 2018 Appropriation Act.
A civil society group, United Global Resolve for Peace, has called on the President to order an investigation into the allegations of the missing arms funds (by the NSA) before the money trail grows cold.
The Executive Director, UGRP, Olaseni Shalom, said the fight against corruption must be total without regard for affiliations.
He stated, “The President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration came into power with claims to integrity and prioritisation of the fight against corruption as central to his agenda. The fight against corruption must, consequently, be prosecuted without regard for affiliations, be it filial, familial or professional.
“Let’s recall the prosecution of the Dasukigate arms deal where over $1.5bn budgeted for the purchase of weapons to prosecute the insurgency war was allegedly frittered away by cabinet members of the former president (Goodluck Jonathan) and this has been central to this administration’s record in the fight against corruption.”
Shalom added, “When we take into consideration the fact that a lot more has to be done with regards to successfully defeating the bandits and insurgents terrorising the land and borders, we arrive at the indispensable fact that allegations such as the extant one must be taken up and investigated before the money trail grows cold.”
Also, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Mike Ozekhome, said Monguno should be summoned together with the ex-service chiefs to confront each other.
He said, “As the NSA, I reasonably presume he could not have made such weighty allegations in a most frivolous manner, without facts, figures and data to back them up. It is not everything in Nigeria that can be swept under the carpet, no matter how deep we have sunk into the abyss of infamy and ignominy.
“This is one of such. The National Assembly must diligently and thoroughly investigate these dirty and scandalous money-for-arms deals that have all but reduced Nigeria to a state of nadir, mired in unprecedented insecurity of lives and property. They have the oversight powers to do so under sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution. It has never ever been this bad.”
The Senior Programme Officer, Human Rights Law Service, Collins Okeke, said he would entertain no fear because if the current administration failed to investigate the allegation, another administration would do it.
He added, “If you recall, not too long ago, the Goodluck Jonathan administration failed to investigate allegations that money meant for fighting Boko Baram was being diverted. It was the current administration that investigated the allegation and is prosecuting the matter. I have no fears. It will be investigated.”