As Buhari probes arms deals

Buhari-Assembly-CopyTHE Investigative Committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to inquire into arms and ammunition procurement and contract relating to military ordnances, is at once timely, and an appropriate lead to interrogate the performance of the Nigerian military and assess the state of national security these past few years.

In the light of conflicting information about the absence of transparency in the business of logistics and ordnances, the thriving culture of indiscipline amongst the rank and file of the military, the growing trend of poor management of the soldiers, and the embarrassing state of the nation’s military command structure in the fight against Boko Haram, this investigative panel presents an opportunity to enlighten the public on the business and politics of national security.

It should also be a confidence builder for the Buhari administration, and, therefore, must be executed to its conclusion.

The investigative committee arose from allegations of controversial arms deals and materials for the military in the past administrations. In this regard, the committee’s span of investigation covers the period 2007 to date.

The investigative committee has the mandate of identifying irregularities and making recommendation for streamlining the procurement process in the armed forces.

It would also investigate allegations of non-adherence to correct equipment procurement procedures and the exclusion of relevant logistic branches from arms procurement leading to sub-standard and unserviceable tools.

What could Buhari have seen that prompted him to convene the committee? Perhaps, being a former high ranking military officer himself, the President might have reckoned that the systemic failure that has paralysed the economy has also found a home in the military.

He must also have been confounded and embarrassed by media reports that Nigeria contracted its fight against Boko Haram to South African and East European contractors, consequent upon an ill-motivated, depressed and deprived Nigerian military.

Military formations nationwide are positioned to safeguard the nation’s territorial integrity, and thereby, ensure citizen’s safety. Yet it beats the imagination how the nation’s institutionalised military formations in that area could be so easily overwhelmed by the insurgents.

In the thick of the Boko Haram onslaught, former President Goodluck Jonathan created the Nigerian Army Special Operations Command – an elite command known the world over to carry out commando type special operations at short notices. Military strategists attest to the existence of one of such special forces, whose operations transcend those of regular troops.

Was this special force neither trained nor equipped to tackle Boko Haram? Was it deliberately incapacitated to pave way for foreign fighters, in concert with Nigeria military contractors, to make a fortune from the country? Of course, Buhari might have read from the eyes of history the gradual deterioration and shameful emasculation of the Nigerian military through dubious procurement regimes, the indiscriminate use of non-logistic contractors to procure military hardware and he must have been privy to the tension between the civil procedures and the military procedure of acquiring arms.

In all this, the armed forces have suffered seriously, for as it concerns the actual job of soldiering, the procedure for procuring and dispensing arms have been convoluted by bureaucratic tension between the Ministry of Defence and the actual military establishment, so much so that the Minister of Defence was routinely bypassed by the President and service chiefs on crucial defence matters.

No regime has been so visibly complicit in this regard as the Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan administrations, wherein a blatant disregard for transparent arms procedure was given free rein.

On their watch, what prevailed was a total collapse in the defence procurement structure, a rot so endemic and systemic that it has become a national emblem of failure.

What can the Buhari government do? Firstly, given the effect of the controversial arms deals on an ailing economy and a demoralised military, and thereby on the security situation of the country, the Terms of Reference or brief of the Air Vice Marshal J.O.N. Ode-led panel should be expanded to accommodate more and varied persons in the committee’s composition and also, the span of their investigations should be enlarged to include more former administrations.

This argument rests on the fact that the arbitrary, plunder-laden, unprofessional state, and blatant abuse, of the nation’s arms procurement structure goes beyond the immediate past. Moreover, many have criticised the span of the investigation, that is 2007 and 2011, and have questioned the criterion on the basis of which the selection of the Yar’Adua/Jonathan administration was made.

In sympathy with these sentiments, the question may be asked: why not extend the span of the investigation to include the Obasanjo administration, that is from the onset of democracy in 1999, even if this means overlooking the military era when, it is often claimed, the de-professionalisation of the army attained the status of statecraft? Secondly, the tradition of professionalism respective to both the civil institution and the military establishment should be entrenched, for this is one way of ensuring accountability and transparency in logistic contracts and arms procurement.

The present security situation has shown that the soldier of the Nigerian Armed Forces achieves a lot from the little he is given, through his own grit. Whatever successes have been achieved in the fight against Boko Haram, the Nigerian soldier has come amidst extreme deprivation.

The young, vibrant, determined Nigerian soldiers are saddled with a daunting task that requires lavish morale booster, but they are ill-motivated by needless politicization.

Besides the low morale, they are sent to face managers of sophisticated hi-tech terrorism with outdated second-hand weapons. As the Nigerian Armed Forces Act stipulates, for the military to carry out its constitutional function effectively, it must of necessity have needs.

Beyond ordnance comprising combat, communication and mobility equipment, the Nigerian soldier also requires rations of survival: healthcare, housing, food supplies, medicals, clothing, pension and others.

Thirdly, outside the purview of the Investigative Committee’s mandate, the National Assembly must ensure that due process, probity and transparency prevail in their oversight functions.

Thus, even though the military, for security reasons, distinguish between budgeted expenditure and non-budgeted expenditure, the procurement committee and budget committee of the National Assembly should safeguard the integrity of the armed forces by displaying appreciable standard of ethical conduct in matters relating to arms procurement.

In this regard, the military should be allowed to make request for their needs, and this should be published in the appropriation bill through the Ministry of Defence.

It must be emphasised that the Armed Forces had remained the bastion of national unity, until dubious politicisation and plundering intentions posed a threat to it. By its administrative processes and disciplined structure, it has been a cohesive force for a one Nigeria. This system that has broken down must be rebuilt; for this is one way to ensure that this corruption is stopped.

If President Buhari stands convinced that this committee is one peg poked in those leakages of corruption, the directive to convene it is consistent with his power and authority as the Head of State, on whom, as Commander-in-chief of the armed forces, lies the onus of ensuring effective defence structure and an economically virile and stable polity.

Consequently, though Buhari’s anti-corruption crusade comes in torrents with promises of cleansing, this administration should not confine the findings of this investigative committee to the archives of forgotten reports.

Rather, for the sake of the grievous anomalies and monumental disgrace caused the people of this country, the Buhari government should not only guarantee prompt, speedy exercise and public presentation of the findings of the panel, but also ensure that the recommendations are promptly implemented.

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1 Comment
  • utolason

    Guardian editor, the sum total of your report is fine except one aspect, concerning your question about extending the investigation to Obasanjo regime. With your question you have fallen victim to lack of understanding of the issues here. Your claim is that the current rot in military was the same under Obasanjo. I wouldn’t have minded if you have provided evidence to support your allegation. If you were aware that was the case, what stopped you from making this known at the time? Isn’t that part of your responsibility as a newspaper organisation?

    Even the blind can see that the level of corruption and how it permeated every facet of life in Nigeria under Jonathan govt was unprecedented. Besides, it was the responsibility of Jonathan to looked into Obasanjo govt misappropriations, if any. And evidence on record showed Jonathan did probe Obasanjo govt. So it is deceitful and ill-motivated to ask Buhari to devout the few years he has in office to repeat the probe.