BY GEORGE OKOJIE and OLAJIDE FABAMISE, Lagos
The federal government yesterday described as unnecessary and uninformed, criticisms trailing the approval of $1 billion for the military to tackle the sundry security challenges facing the country.
According to it, the condemnations are uncalled for given the role the military is playing in helping to tackle the numerous security crises facing the country, which is further compounded by frequent Boko Haram attacks.
The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who said this while briefing journalists in Lagos said the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) deserved to be commended for their patriotic decision to endorse the withdrawal.
He said, “As you are very much aware, there has been an unnecessary, uninformed and highly-partisan criticism of the 1 billion dollars which was recently approved by the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) for the military to tackle the security challenges facing the country, including Boko Haram, illegal oil bunkering, kidnapping and cattle rustling.
“I said unnecessary and uninformed because everyone knows the role the military is playing in helping to tackle the numerous security crisis facing the states, not to talk of the war against Boko Haram.
“The fact that Boko Haram has been largely degraded does not mean the war is over. As we have said times without number, asymmetric wars like the one against Boko Haram do not end with an armistice. It is therefore curious that some of those who have criticised the 1-billion-dollar approval have hinged their argument on the fact that the Boko Haram has been degraded.
“Perhaps also, the critics do not know that fighting an asymmetric war is costlier than fighting a conventional war. In any case, wars, especially the war against terror, are never fought with budgetary provisions”.
The minister argued that it is a common knowledge that the annual budgetary allocation to the military is not commensurate with the internal security challenges rocking the country for which the country have had to continuously rely on the military to assist the police and the Civil Defence Corps.
He regretted that when insurgents take over a chunk of the nation’s territory, the country turns to the military, but when it is time to make resources available for the military to function, some people view it as waste of resources.
His words: “When the farmers, herders clash escalate, we turn to the military. When kidnappers up their game, we turn to the military, when illegal bunkerers and pipeline vandals are seeking to overwhelm our oil production and export, we turn to the military, when ethno-religious clashes occur, we turn to the military.
“But when it is time to give the military the resources it needs to function, we say it is a waste of scarce resources, we come up with spurious reasons to deny the military its due.
“The Scriptures say to whom much is given, much is expected. That also presupposes that to whom much is expected, much is given. The Nigeria Governors Forum acted wisely in approving the withdrawal of 1 billion dollars from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight Boko Haram and other security challenges in the country.
“Now, is 1 billion dollars too much for the military to tackle these challenges at this time? I say not by any stretch of imagination. After all, security of lives and property is at the core of the existence of any government, and the NGF understands this quite well, going by its action in approving the withdrawal from the ECA.
Getting down to what he tagged the brass tacks of the operations of Nigerian Armed Forces, Mohammed singled out the Nigerian Air Force to show how much is spent in tackling the Boko Haram insurgency.
Reeling out statistics of the resources needed to tackle the insurgents, he said, “The aircraft being used for the war, including fighter jets and helicopters, altogether consume 64,021.08 litres of fuel per day. With the aircraft flying a total of about 30 sorties a day, and at N275 per litre, it costs a total of 15,153,428.25 Naira daily to fuel the aircraft.
“The spares for the aircraft from January to November 2017 cost a total of 20,019,513,739.88 Naira, while consumables for the aircraft, and here I am talking of engine oil, plugs etc, amounted to 3,863,600 monthly and 46,363,200.00 Naira yearly. What about the cost of ammunition? Just for 42 days, from 5th November to 17 December, the cost of ammunition was over 5 million dollars!
“Since we are using the air force as a reference point here, what about the cost of acquiring air force platforms? For example, the 12 Super Tuscano aircraft recently approved for sale to Nigeria by the US Government costs a whopping 490 million dollars, yet this is Government to Government contract, and the costs of spares, munitions and other consumables are not included!
“Let’s remember that the costs stated above are for the air force alone and restricted to operations in the North East alone. We have not even talked of the army or the navy, which are also fully involved in tackling internal security challenges in the country.
“Neither have we included the operating cost of the Nigerian Air Force in the Niger Delta to curb pipeline vandalism, in the North West to contain cattle rustlers, in the North Central to curtail herdsmen and farmers clashes or kidnappings, armed robberies and separatism in other parts of the country”.
Mohammed averred that there is nothing wrong in the opposition offering constructive criticism, saying the ruling party understands this clearly because they were in the trenches until May 29, 2015.
He continued: “Democracy allows the citizens to freely air their opinions. But it is not a licence for anyone to distort facts, engage in crass sensationalism or bring partisanship to every issue, not the least one that concerns the security of the nation.
“Those who viewed this 1-billion-dollar approval by the NGF from the prism of partisanship are wrong. The military is undoubtedly the most national of all our institutions. It serves all Nigerians, irrespective of their religion, ethnicity or political party. It should never be dragged into the partisan arena”.
He pointed out that if the military been better equipped to tackle Boko Haram in the early days of the insurgency, thousands of lives, including service men and women, could have been saved.
The minister further observed that the war could have been over a long time ago if the funds meant to equip the military had not been diverted into private pockets.
He added that there wouldn’t have been any need to withdraw any money from the ECA for that purpose if the right thing was done.
Accordingly, he said, “On this note, we wish to commend the Nigeria Governors’ Forum for their patriotic action in approving the withdrawal of 1 billion dollars from the ECA for the fight against Boko Haram and other security challenges. Their action, which is not unprecedented, is right.
“Those who have imputed ulterior motives to the NGF’s action are wrong. Their action amounts to a disservice to our service men and women. Just because some people, under a different political dispensation, squirreled away money meant to equip the military in the past does not mean the military should be left to its own devices, or that every allocation to the military will suffer the same fate.”
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