Equipping the armed forces for optimum performance
The revelation in the valedictory speech of retired Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, that the military forces with which he fought the Boko Haram insurgency were ill-equipped for the onerous and risky assignment is only a confirmation from the highest military level of what had been widely known within and outside Nigeria.
But it is useful information against any doubter and as an explanation of why the Nigerian military that fought so gallantly to rescue neighbouring countries from the control of warlords and possible disintegration proved for so long incapable of safeguarding its own territorial integrity.
The situation of insufficiently trained, under-equipped, and poorly motivated soldiers sent to confront well resourced religious zealots who, to boot, were better armed was enough to frighten many a soldier into desertion.
Not a few actually did and they are now on trial for unprofessional conduct. Not only the military forces but all Nigerians have been thoroughly disappointed to the point of embarrassment. Thankfully, President Muhammadu Buhari is poised to change the tide.
Marshal Badeh said he headed a military that ‘lacked the relevant equipment and motivation to fight [the] enemy’; that ‘fifth columnists in the military and other security agencies …leaked operational plans and other sensitive military information to the terrorists’, and that ‘the activities of these unpatriotic members of the military not only blunted the effectiveness of the fight but also led to the needless deaths of numerous officers and men…’.
On the other hand, with at least a billion dollars (excluding sundry allocations such as the tens of millions of dollars seized by the South African government) that was allocated by the Goodluck Jonathan administration to arm the military, the erstwhile National Security Adviser (NSA) Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) has insisted that although the military equipment procured in his time arrived late in the day, still it turned the tide against the insurgents and made it possible to regain most of the local government areas taken over by Boko Haram.
In reaction to Badeh’s admission, Borno State Elders’ Forum has called for a judicial commission of enquiry into the funding of the military. There is good reason for this. Defence spending has taken a huge chunk of the federal budget in recent years even though Nigerians, at least until now, did not see much to justify this expenses. In the 2012 budget of a N4.749 trillion, defence/security was allocated N921.91 billion. In 2013, N348.91 billion went to defence in a federal budget of N4.92 trillion.
The 2014 federal budget of N4.962 trillion allocated to the defence sector ‘about 20 per cent, totalling N968.127 billion because of the growing insecurity situation in the country’ in the words of the then minister of finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Besides this sum, the minister reportedly said that extra money was being allocated for other requirements that include those for joint task force and special operations against terrorism. ‘No amount of budgetary provision can be enough for the military (because) the military all over the world that engages in war does not always have enough particularly in this new type of war against terror which requires equipment to assist them,’ it was said then.
But firstly, put together over the past several years, these financial allocations constitute a very huge sum that, in a different clime, would make all the difference to whatever it was committed.
Secondly, the point cannot be made enough that defence spending as demanded by the exigencies of the moment must at all times meet the highest standard of probity, transparency, and value-for- money. Above all, public money spent on arms and other resources must translate to results on ground meaning that the nation’s military should be seen to record commensurate success against a relatively rag-tag band of fanatics. While not denying that the insurgency was contained in pitched battle confrontation, Boko Haram changed tactics to focus on soft targets – with terrible impact – in market places, motor parks and places of worship.
In sum, Nigerians simply did not witness battlefield achievement to match expenditure. That defence spending is considered a national security matter has become an excuse for blatant opacity in such transactions and for anyone with such inclination an opportunity for mindless corruption.
It is gratifying that President Buhari, armed with a military background and experience, has pronounced and even effected a change of tactics against Boko Haram. He has moved the military high command close to the theatre of action and he has taken personal charge of the diplomatic effort to secure the collaboration of neighbouring countries as well as strengthen the regional cooperation necessary for a more comprehensive and more effective engagement of the insurgents.
With a view to capturing the minds of local communities from where the fanatics recruit personnel, he has approved a substantial sum to alleviate the suffering of internally displaced persons. These commendable moves are just one aspect of the fight against Boko Haram.
The other is certainly to ensure that whatever funding goes for defence is in truth spent on the men and the materials required for defending every inch of Nigeria and its people. The latter may turn out the tougher than the former. If this government is to get the military to perform at its optimum against Boko Haram, Buhari must be prepared to take on and stop corruption in defence spending.