President Muhammadu Buhari made the fight against corruption one of his cardinal principles when he came into office on May 29, 2015. He promised to tackle corruption in the country head-on, without fear or favour.
His stand against corruption was partly responsible for his victory at the polls. The septuagenarian had run a campaign on three major premises: to fight corruption, combat terrorism/insecurity and create employment opportunities through sustainable economic policies and programmes.
Having been military head of state three decades ago, the Daura-born president was very upbeat about the need to fight corruption and his commitment to do so. “On corruption, there will be no confusion as to where I stand” he told a gathering at Chatham House, London where he gave a talk on February 27, 2015, weeks before the general election that brought him to power.
As soon as he came to power, he began a war against corruption that saw the probing of many agencies of government where officials had been accused of stealing or misapplying public funds.
On August 31, 2015 the government inaugurated a panel to probe arms procurements in Nigeria from 2007 to 2015. The panel, which is still at work, is made up of serving and retired military officers drawn from the three services of the armed forces namely; The Nigerian Army, Navy and Air force.
The committee quickly went to work. A few months later, it opened up a can of worms in defence procurement which was handled by the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) at that time.
Following findings made in its preliminary report submitted in November 2015, President Buhari issued an executive order for the arrest of former NSA Col. SamboDasuki (rtd.) who was indicted along with other people.
Over the course of the next eight months, the committee issued two more reports in which former service chiefs, top politicians and many businessmen were indicted for either stealing or misappropriating public funds. These officials include former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal, Alex S. Badeh, former Chiefs of Army Staff (COAS), Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah (rtd.) and Lt. Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika (rtd). Others are former Chiefs of Air Staff, Air Marshals Adesola Amosu and Mohammed Umar. Many other ex-military officers and politicians are currently facing trial over the looting of funds appropriated for defence procurement.
The arms probe committee is still in the trenches digging out more facts about the arms deal. It is expected to conclude its work very soon, and hopefully, all those found culpable will be prosecuted.
Now, what is next after the arms probe? When investigations are concluded and offenders are prosecuted, who will fix the rot in the system? What is the way forward? Should the ONSA continue to procure weapons for the armed forces or should the function go back to the Ministry of Defence (MOD). Should the services procure their weapons by themselves? Should the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) step in to vet all defence contracts? These questions must be answered in order for us to get a lasting solution to the challenges of corruption in this process.
The statutory role of ONSA is to coordinate the three intelligence bodies in the country namely; Department of State Services (DSS), National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA). It will therefore amount to an unnecessary distraction for the ONSA to be saddled with defence spending. Its institutional integrity will also be called to question.
The MOD is not any better than ONSA. While it can boast of having the statutory mandate of handling defence procurements, experience has shown that the ministry lacks the capacity to do this effectively. MOD is largely manned by civilians who have neither military experience nor understanding of technical needs of the various services.
Leaving the procurement to the three services or the Defence Headquarters is also not a very good option. With insecurity in the north-east, south-east and the south-south region of the country, defence spending could be a major source of distraction for the armed forces of Nigeria. They will be better off if left to concentrate on the task of fighting insurgents, militants and secessionists that continue to threaten our national security.
Many countries around the globe have special agencies that were set up to handle defence spending. They are manned by retired military officers who are then trained on procurement best practices so that they can better handle the buying of arms and other equipment required by the military. This model has helped many countries of the world overcome the dilemma of defence procurement. Nigeria can adopt this model by setting up a special parastatal under the MOD. The BPP can then assist in training the officers on procurement best practices. With such trainings, matched with the military experience of its personnel, the agency will be able to do a better job as has never been done in Nigeria before.
The current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has gone very far in the war against graft. But there is still a long way to go. Beyond probing previous crimes of the past nine years, the government needs to set up a strong institutional mechanism to ensure that previous mistakes are not repeated. Nigeria has lost so much due to corruption in defence procurement. The government must be decisive in solving this problem and the time to act is now.
—Danjuma wrote in from Lokoja
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