Many is­sues around the $1bn

Sunday Trust - - PAGE 3 COMMENT -

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

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