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EDITORIAL

Army’s Budget Can’t Be Made Public

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The Freedom of Information Act does not compel public servants to reveal state secrets or give information to the state’s enemy. Unfortunately, that is just what some civil society organisations (CSOs) are demanding from the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai.

Although the media has reported of the request the CSOs have made –details of the Nigerian Army’s budget from 2015 to 2017 – the demand should go no further.  Their threat to use court processes to compel Gen. Buratai to yield to their strange request, we believe, is an empty one, for no court will grant such. Everything considered, that is taking liberty too far.

The army is yet to respond to the preposterous request; it should not bother to do so. Our gallant men and women in the armed forces are at war with Boko Haram terrorists and other pockets of upheavals that pose challenges to our nation’s security. CSOs should not add to their burden.

The patriot in every Nigerian is needed at this time. Patriotism demands that in war situations –  the type Nigeria is currently in – all citizens should render their unalloyed support to not only the government but also to the men and women who put their lives in danger just to ensure that the rest of us sleep in secured peace. Asking them to account for the money they spend could be misunderstood.

We have every reason to believe that the CSOs love the country and would never be associated with anything that might expose the operational secrets of the army. They may not know it, but that is what they are asking for. There is no way any commander worth his salt would provide information about the operational readiness of his officers and men without exposing some of the plans on hand to be applied in areas of conflict.  We don’t know of any country that would willingly expose to the world details of the number of guns its army bought for any operation. That is one secret no commander, even when captured by the enemy, would be ready to divulge. In unfortunate situations like that, some even prefer death to compromising the entire military architecture of their country. Security information is, by its very nature, classified and available only to officers who need it for decisions relating to combat operations.

Nigerians and especially the CSOs ought to be worried over the rascality of the terrorists the armed forces are fighting. Were it not for the gallantry of our soldiers, especially their commanders who constantly read the nation’s security threat barometer and devise strategies to combat them, the terrorists would have since overrun a large part of the country.

This is our humble effort to educate the CSOs further. If they insisted, however, that security information in times of war, whether regular or irregular, is not a guarded secret and press forward with their demand, they would be unwittingly inviting trouble to themselves: they could be accused of anti-war activity and could face heavy penalties. The risk of being accused of harbouring unwholesome thoughts that are not in the nation’s interest is high indeed. The word for it is treason.

A line should be drawn between threat to national security and political grandstanding. Details of army expenditure in times of conflict are clearly outside the domain of those not involved in the management of the conflict. It is a military prerogative. And in the event that the army high command indulges in some excesses, there are codes of military justice to take care of the offence. There are also anti-graft agencies that could be assigned the role of finding out if there were acts of impropriety harmful to a proper conduct of the conflict in question. And if there are such suspicions, the investigation is done, though not before the media or CSOs.

Access to information is not absolute, we restate. Even at the best of times, military expenditure is not an area that CSOs are invited to examine. Requesting the budget of an army at war is tantamount to opening the flanks for the enemy to walk in, do damage and get away. Now that the CSOs have misfired, it is time for them to seek their advocacy elsewhere and allow the military to be as professional as it can be.

 

 


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