Late last week, there were widespread media reports, citing the National Security Adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, Babagana Monguno, alleging that no records of arms procurement under the immediate past service chiefs were available, suggesting that the funds may have been misappropriated. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on implications of the immediate intervention of the House of Representatives
The National Security Adviser had spoken to the BBC Hausa Service programme, and made the allegation, that the newly decorated service chiefs had not seen any evidence of arms procurement in their records and hand-over notes from their predecessors, now ambassadors-designate, waiting to be posted.
Reps moved in
The report, after generating a lot of reactions from Nigerians, especially, with the huge budgetary allocations involved, the Ad-hoc Committee of the House, raised to review the purchase, use and control of arms, ammunition and related hardware by military, paramilitary and other law enforcement agencies in Nigeria under the leadership of Hon. Olaide Akinremi ended up with a resolution to invite the Chief of Army Staff, Major-General Ibrahim Attahiru, to appear and provide explanations to the grave allegation.
Beyond the summon, there had been serious concern that procured weapons for the nation’s security forces, where they occur, were ending up in the hands of bandits, insurgents and other criminal elements.
After a closed a door session of about 15 minutes with representatives of the Chief of Army Staff, led by Major General C. Ofuche Akinremi who expressed the concerns of the lawmakers, also stressed the need for the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele to appear before the panel, adding that the intervention was a move for collective good of the country.
“Before I give you the floor, you may be aware of news going round. I got that as breaking news this morning also, it says, it seems the money released to former Service Chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari to buy weapons to fight terrorism, banditry and kidnapping is missing.
“Because the new Service Chiefs have confirmed to us that they didn’t see where the new weapons were purchased in their handing over, apparently, the money is missing. And the money in question is in trillions of naira. And we must investigate. So with all of these going on, coupled with international interest especially, the Nigerians we represent, they are all watching. So we need to handle this issue with care. We all agree that it is very very sensitive”, the lawmaker said.
Other members of the panel also expressed concerns over what they saw as breach of procedures as contained in the Public Procurement Act, 2007, and the nation’s constitution. On the specific provisions of section 88 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), Hon. Ifeanyi Momah coming through a Point of Order said: “I don’t think the representatives of the Chief of Army Staff can be held culpable or liable for any remarks made here because it is assumed that any remarks that are made are made by the Chief of Army Staff. So if he’s not the one making the remarks it’s very easy for him to actually engage in culpable deniability because he’s not the one making the remarks.”
Also, Hon. Al-Mustapha Aliyu who noted that the Ad-hoc panel was not a witch-hunt anybody stressed the need for the accounting officer of the Nigerian Army should appear in person to explain how weapons bought for the military and police ended up in the hands of bandits. “For the chairman and secretariat, there is no communication before that the Chief of Army Staff is having another schedule that may not allow him to be physically present here. That is a contravention to section 88, section 89 subsection 1, and of course section one of the Armed Forces Act 1994. So we are not witch-hunting but telling you what the law says.
“In line with the position of the previous speakers, I want to reiterate that this is a very serious and sensitive security matter. At least let us see the man, being that this is the first meeting with the Nigerian Army, the accounting officer of the Army should have appeared to give us his account, his position as far as the communications made to him.
“Basically, we are detailed not to be friendly, but to work to find fault. You can bear witness to the fact that Nigeria is now embroiled in serious security issues and year in year out appropriations were made and huge sums expended on procurement of arms and ammunition and yet most of the arrests made you find these arms and ammunition with some of these bandits and miscreants.
“Some of them can be traced back to the very Military or Police. It is a serious issue and the National Assembly is well-positioned to dig deep into the root of this issue and find solutions. As moved by my colleague, there is a need for a motion to allow the Chief of Army Staff to come and make his submissions personally to this Committee”, the lawmaker stated.
Absence of COAS explained
Representative of the Chief of Army Staff, Major General C. Ofuche however apologised, saying “He (the COAS) should have been here today and all indications to that was already in motion, but for several trips. If you watched the TV yesterday (Thursday), he was at Ibadan and Enugu, all for the same security needs.
“The country is embroiled in a lot of crises so they are moving around and he thought he could make it down here this morning for this meeting. And so the notice was quite short for me to come and represent him because he would have loved to do it personally and that is why there is no written note”.
The COAS still needed
With explanations on why the new COAS was not available, the brief closed door meeting was called by the panel’s chairman, Akinremi who later explained that the Committee will communicate its next hearing session to the public, suggesting that however that it was bent on seeing the COAS in person.
The NSA backtracked But later in the day, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Babagana Mongono, came public to explain that he was quoted out of context from the BBC interview, as he did not categorically stated that funds were missing under the former service chiefs.
“The attention of the Office of the National Security Adviser has been drawn to some media reports regarding Armed Forces equipment during an interview with the BBC Hausa service. 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.
“In the interview the National Security Adviser clearly informed the BBC reporter that Mr President has provided enormous resources for arms procurement, but the orders were either inadequate or yet to be delivered and that did not imply that the funds were misappropriated under the former Service Chiefs. The NSA also informed the reporter that, Mr President is following up on the procurement process as is usual with contracts relating to military equipment, in most cases the process involves manufacturing, due diligence and tedious negotiations that may change delivery dates.
“As the National Security Adviser conveyed during the Aso Villa Media Briefing, questions relating to Defence procurement should be channelled to the Ministry of Defence. All Security and Intelligence agencies are working together to bring an end to insecurity with the full support of Mr. President and Stakeholders including the media and civil society as part of a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach to address our security challenges”, a statement from the NSA’s office explained.
Though arguments were yet on over the truthfulness of the NSA’s denial, especially from listeners who have took time to listen and analyze his interview, but with the u-turn made, the expected engagement of the House of Representatives’ panel with the COAS, or the other Chiefs would to many, be a worthless venture.