Many issues around the $1bn
Maybe it was the quantum of the money that excited Nigerians to go into overdrive over the $1 billion recently voted for security spending. Not only the quantum of the money but the history, timing, the process, the circumstances, the scope as well as details or lack of them of the intended purchase have all combined to raise dust in this matter.
Minister of Defence Brig-Gen Mansur Dan Ali announced last Wednesday that President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the release of $1 billion for the procurement of security equipment to fight Boko Haram insurgency in the northeast and unrest in some parts of the country. This matter has been in the offing since December when the National Economic Council [NEC] approved that one billion dollars be withdrawn from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) for the fight against insurgency and other violent criminal activities across the country.
To begin with, the Armsgate scandal of the Jonathan era has made weapons procurement a suspect activity in Nigeria. Hundreds of billions of naira in foreign currencies were wasted and or stolen in that era in the name of arms purchases. Yet, we have to be patient because weapons must be purchased to address the very serious internal security problems that we have in this country, Boko Haram being the biggest one.
The process is also of dubious legality. The Excess Crude Account belongs to all three tiers of government. State governors approved the withdrawal but it is not clear if their state assemblies did, not to mention local governments which own more than 20% of the money. Besides, as the National Assembly quickly said, the President cannot even spend the Federal part of the money without appropriation by the legislature. Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said at the weekend that National Assembly appropriation will indeed be sought via a supplementary appropriations bill.
The opposition PDP then alleged that the ruling APC is trying to steal the money in order to fund its national convention and Buhari’s re-election bid. Surely the timing of the withdrawal lends some credence to the charge, though we do not believe it. We can only say here that the Presidency must go the extra mile and prove to Nigerians that this process is handled with the utmost transparency and integrity. It should also bear in mind that a future government will be stampeded by public opinion to probe these purchases.
Given the nature of military and other security equipment, we do not expect the government to tell us everything that it wants to purchase but it should brief a select National Assembly oversight committee at every turn. As for us citizens, the final proof for us is to see the weapons quickly deployed and to see them make a quick difference in the fight against Boko Haram and other bandits all across the country. Then also, Malam Garba Shehu’s explanation that the money will be used not only for military equipment but for wares for all security agencies requires re-examination. If stretched too thin, this money will not have the desired impact. It should be used only for the most impactful military and intelligence hardware while government should address the other security needs from the regular budget, which is also big.
As for us citizens, the final proof for us is to see the weapons quickly deployed and to see them make a quick difference in the fight against Boko Haram and other bandits all across the country