Nigeria is very rich. Otherwise the level of graft in high places would have been enough to render the country bankrupt. The Acting President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, indicated this much when he said, recently, that the previous governments stole some $15 billion of public money through fraudulent arms deals. He also said that investigations into Defence spending proved that the said amount was unaccounted for, with no guarantee that the nation will ever be able to recover it.
Since the coming into office of the Buhari administration, the extent of exposition of corrupt enrichment by officials of government and their collaborators in the private sector is mind-bugling. This latest figure is part of the money that was lost to corrupt practices in security equipment spending allegedly during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
But Osinbajo gave the assurance that no public officer can steal the resources of this country and expect to escape even as he pointed out that preventing corruption was better than fighting it as recovering stolen funds was costly because the process involved engaging the services of forensic consultants and other experts. He further lamented that many countries are reluctant to return proceeds of corruption by introducing legal obstacles of different kinds to ensure that the money did not come back to the money.
The tragedy of the situation is that if that quantum of money outside the system had been judiciously deployed in the nation’s economy, it could have given a boost to the nation’s foreign reserves and the exchange rate will not be where it is today.
However, it is imperative, in our opinion, to assert that corruption in the Defence system pre-dates the Jonathan administration. In the Second Republic, it was alleged that the old Ministry of Defence building on Marina, Lagos was bombed down to cover-up extensive irregularities in defence contracts. In the early days of the Obasanjo administration, the first scandal the newly elected President had to face involved his nephew who was a high up official in the ministry. He was alleged to have made away with the sum of N400 million in the naira value of those days. These were before Dasukigate and the arms gate.
What this proves is that Defence has always been a goldmine in terms of contract scams for the simple reason that because of its sensitive nature which latches on national security, most of the deals are not put on the bar of public opinion. So, it is easy to do outrageous under- the – table deals. Defence spending attracted public attention because of the insurgency in the North east and the irritation that Boko haram became.
Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that most corruption in arms procurement takes the form of bribes or kickbacks. In return for being awarded an arms contract, often as a result of having selection criteria manipulated in its favour, the supplier company pays bribes to officials involved in the decision-making process. Payments typically are channelled through an in-country middleman or agent.
At some point, the government officials became greedy and were no longer satisfied with bribes and kickbacks of ten per cent or thereabout of the contract value. They began to demand for the entire budget or something close to it. For them it is this way: why be satisfied with bribes or kickbacks equalling 10 per cent of the value of a contract when one can exploit the contrived loopholes in the system and take the whole lot? In countries where oversight of military funds is at its weakest, or indeed non-existent, as it is in Nigeria, top officials and military officers have essentially free reign over how money is spent. In such circumstances, those in charge can simply misappropriate funds directly, possibly with the thin cover of a fake contract for non-existent equipment.
Already, the Buhari government has arrested a number of former and serving military officers involved in the sleaze. We know that arms procurement is top secret transaction everywhere not just in Nigeria. We also know that a little transparency in the process will reduce the tendency by any official to try to play smart. While that is being pursued, we commend the government for exposing some of the deals that embarrass the nation and harm how she is perceived in the international community. At the same time, we are persuaded to insist that loopholes that make such malfeasance possible must be effectively plugged. It can be done.
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