The National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (Rtd), yesterday, said billions of naira approved for the purchase of weapons under President Muhammadu Buhari cannot be accounted for.
Daily Trust Saturday recalls that this is not the first time Gen Monguno is voicing out reservations on defence expenditure.
In 2019, the NSA said he was not aware of how the $1bn removed from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for arms procurement was spent.
Since their appointment in 2015 soon after Buhari took over as president, the immediate former service chiefs repeatedly cited dearth of equipment as the reason for their inability to defeat Boko Haram and other criminal activities.
The former service chiefs are Gen Abayomi Olonisakin (Chief of Defence Staff-CDS); Tukur Buratai (Chief of Army Staff-COAS)); Ibok-Ete Ekwe Ibas (Chief of Naval Staff-CNS); Sadique Abubakar (Chief of Air Staff-CAS).
Soon after President Buhari relieved them of their appointments which marked their exit from the military, the he appointed them as ambassadors.
Gen Munguno said when the new service chiefs assumed office few weeks ago they did not find the weapons that their predecessors ought to have purchased.
The new service chiefs are General Lucky Irabor (CDS); Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru (COAS); Vice Admiral Awwal Zubairu Gambo (CNS); and Air Marshal Ishiaka Oladayo Amoa (CAS).
What the NSA said
Although the office of the NSA issued a statement yesterday saying he did not say monies were missing, the transcript of his interview with the BBC Hausa Service on Friday revealed that he did.
Gen Monguno had said, “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.
“I am not saying that the past service chiefs have diverted the money, but presently we don’t know where the money is.”
He said the failure of the security personnel to get adequate weapons was a setback to the fight against insecurity.
On whether investigation has commenced on the issue, the NSA said, “I am sure the president will investigate this. As I am talking to you now, even the Nigerian Governors Forum has started questioning where the money is. So I assure you that the president is not playing with anything that has to do with the people.
“I can’t say the money was stolen, but we didn’t see anything, and even the new service chiefs said they didn’t see the weapons. It is possible the weapons are on their way coming. Maybe from America, England and other places, but as at now, I didn’t see anything and the service chiefs too didn’t see any weapons too.”
He further said President Buhari had directed the new service chiefs to end insurgency within a short period, adding that the president was committed to ending insecurity.
While retracting what the NSA said, a statement from his office read: “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 BBC interview.
“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 provide all necessary support to the armed forces, including the provision of arms and equipment.
Daily Trust learnt from credible sources that the rebuttal from the NSA office was because of serious pressure from “high places”. One of the sources said the interview had “embarrassed the government.”
Funds can’t disappear under Buhari – Presidency
The Presidency said yesterday that the funds allocated for procurement of weapons during the time of the former service chiefs were not missing, adding that procurements had been made but the arms were yet to be delivered.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said there was no way funds could disappear under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari. Shehu spoke on Friday on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’.
He also said the NSA was misquoted, stressing that Monguno did not accuse the ex-service chiefs of misappropriation of funds.
Shehu said, “About the $1bn taken from the Excess Crude Account with the consent of state governors used for military procurements, I want to assure you that nothing of that money is missing.
“The reference by it in the interview of the BBC Hausa Service by the National Security Adviser has been misconstrued and mistranslated.NSA made two critical points –one is that we don’t have enough weapons which is a statement of facts, and two procurements made have not been fully delivered.”
“At no point did the NSA say that money has been misappropriated and that no arms seen. They have not been delivered, that is correct; these are things you don’t get off the shelves,” Shehu noted.
Recall that on December 14, 2017, Nigerian governors approved the release of $1bn from the country’s excess oil account to the federal government to buy arms for the effective execution of the Boko Haram war.
The approval reportedly reduced the $2.3bn Excess Crude Account by half, a development that generated heated debate with some analysts saying the money would be stolen.
And even though some governors from the South rejected the approval, the Edo State Governor, Godwin Obaseki, who briefed the press on the decision after the meeting of the National Economic Council (NEC), said the money would cover the whole array of needs which included purchase of equipment, training for military personnel and logistics.
However, in 2019, Gen Monguno cried out that he did not know the whereabouts of the $1bn.
While controversies trailed the statement credited to the NSA, with many describing it as diversion of public funds, the presidency provided explanations.
Like what he did yesterday, Garba Shehu disclosed at the height of the controversy in 2019 that various procurements had been made for the purchase of critical equipment for the army, navy and air force, contrary to the allegations.
Shehu said, “The record we have is that the Buhari administration paid $496m for a dozen Super Tucano fighter aircraft for the air force in a direct government-to-government (no contractors or commission agents) transaction with the Government of the United States of America. They are due for delivery in 2020.
“Various other military procurements for critical equipment have been made. These are for the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Navy, amounting to $380.5m. These procurements include money for the purchase of Navy Lynx helicopters.
“The total amount spent so far is $876.8m. The equipment paid for has due dates of delivery of between six months to two years. Balance of the money that is unspent as at today is $123.1m.
“The entire expenditure involved in these exercises is on the basis of government-to-government procurement. In cases where the Nigerian government dealt with equipment manufacturers, their home governments have in all cases given guarantees to the federal government.
“Again, it is important to stress that no contractors or commission agents have been involved in the procurements under discussion.”
Speaking on the back and forth of the issue, a security expert said what was happening was reminiscent to the allegations heaped on Col Sambo Dasuki (Rtd), the NSA during the days of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
He said, “Though what Monguno said is like disquiet in the same family, it is just the replay of the #DasukiGate. In fact, the Dasuki case would be a child’s play by the time Buhari finally leaves.
“The NSA knows what he is talking about. He has all the details of requests/approvals and releases by the government to the service chiefs.
“As he stated, he was briefed by the new service chiefs on what they met on ground, which is at variance with his records.”
Another informed source told Daily Trust Saturday that to a great extent the former service chiefs did not give the office of the NSA the courtesy it deserved.
He said, “They felt too powerful during their time to the extent that they didn’t even refer their files to Monguno; some of them boycotted the NSA and manoeuvred their way to the table of the president for approvals.
“But as a former general, the NSA also knows his onions and therefore kept all the documents he could lay his hands on because some of the approvals could not be granted without his input. He is definitely talking from the position of knowledge.
“And the questions he asked are legitimate because some of the weapons ordered for since 2017 with a timeline of two years are still not here. Where are they? It was only last week that I read somewhere that one of the 12 Tucano fighter jets had been completed by the manufacturers and is being test run. I am sure something is wrong somewhere.”
A retired military officer who pleaded anonymity said the claim by the NSA should be thoroughly investigated and that those involved in any misdeed should be punished the same way some former service chiefs, including late Alex Badeh, were subjected to scrutiny.
He added that the NSA might have made the claim because of their frosty relationship with the former service chiefs when a former Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, was alive.
Another security expert, Kabiru Adamu, described the latest development as “unfortunate”, saying it was high time President Buhari used this period to clear his image and his anti-corruption stance.
Adamu said, “For the integrity of this administration, especially for President Buhari who has shown zero tolerance for corruption, it is important to see that a thorough audit is conducted. Procurement processes are very clear, you will know if they are complied with.”
Effort to get a comment from the Ministry of Defence proved abortive as calls to the mobile phone of the media aide to the minister, Kabir Bala, did not connect at the time of filing this report.
The Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Head of Transparency International in Nigeria, Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, said the unaccounted funds were approved for the procurement of weapons and that recurring denial by successive security chiefs of the existence of weapons was indeed connected to the high level of systemic corruption that dominated defence procurement.
According to him, defence corruption has done unforgivable damage to political stability, counter-terrorism effort, socio-economic development and well-being of the citizens.
He further said this effectually manifested in the fruitless outcome as operations in the North East were hampered by lack of equipment, materials and pay shortage despite increased defence budgetary allocations and spendings from 2011 to date.
Rafsanjani said, “As a result, funds that are meant to buy equipment and even pay salaries got missing, leaving the military badly equipped, demoralised and incapacitated.
“The current performance of the defence sector, coupled with intensifying insecurity across the country, raises a very big question on judicious utilisation of defence budgets. How these huge sums were spent remains unclear as there are no reliable performance reports by the security agencies.
“The Ministry of Defence’s refusal to make its spending public has further made it difficult to track the nation’s investment on the military and allied agencies. Effort of security agencies to contain violence, insurgency, banditry and kidnapping are hampered by deep corruption.
“Considering the growing concerns on performance of the ex-service chiefs in curbing insecurity, including the public outcry calling on the presidency and the National Assembly to withdraw and reject their ambassadorship appointments and confirmation, the collective decision of the two arms remains questionable.”
Also, the Executive Director of the Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim Zikirullahi, said the development was a clear case of history repeating itself in a very tragic way.
According to him, while the centre does not have exact details of what the NSA was talking about, there is the need for the ex-service chiefs to immediately and transparently render an account of their time at the helm of the nation’s security system.
Dr Zkirullah said, “It is most unfortunate that Nigeria will be on this path again; it shows we have learnt nothing from previous experiences.”
We only deal with facts – EFCC
The spokesman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Wilson Uwujaren, said he could not say whether the commission would investigate the immediate past service chiefs.
When contacted yesterday, Uwujaren said there was no fact before the anti-graft agency suggesting Buratai and other ex-service chiefs mismanaged money meant for ammunition as noted by the NSA, Gen Monguno.
“We don’t do projection. I say we deal with facts, not possibilities”, Uwujaren told one of our correspondents on phone.