- Ex-service chiefs may face probe as Reps vow to investigate allegation
- I was quoted out of context –Monguno
- Buratai, others didn’t steal funds –Lawyer
Controversy ensued on Friday after the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd.), alleged that $1bn funds meant to purchase arms to tackle insurgency during the ex-service chiefs’ tenure got missing.
This comes over a month after the ex-service chiefs’ resignation and replacement by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd).
The ex-service chiefs are the Chief of Defence Staff, General Abayomi Olonisakin (retd.); Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai (retd.); Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Admiral Ibok Ekwe Ibas (retd.); and Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Sadique Abubakar (retd.).
They resigned from their positions on January 26 after intense calls by many Nigerians over their perceived failure to tackle widespread insecurity across the country.
They were retired and immediately replaced by the President, who thereafter designated them as non-career ambassadors.
However, Monguno, in an interview with the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation early Friday, alleged that neither the funds nor the weapons the ex-service chiefs were meant to buy could be traced.
According to him, the President will soon order a probe into the matter.
In response to a question on why the Buhari regime was foot-dragging in the fight against banditry, Monguno said, “The President has done his best by approving huge sums of money for the purchase of weapons, but the weapons were not bought, they are not here. Now, he has appointed new service chiefs, hopefully, they will devise some ways.
“I’m not saying the former service chiefs diverted the money, but the money is missing. We don’t know how, and nobody knows for now. I believe Mr President will investigate where the money went.”
Monguno added that the Nigerian Governors’ Forum was also wondering where all the funds meant for arms went.
He said, “I can assure you the President takes issues of this nature seriously.
“The fact is that preliminary investigation showed the funds are missing and the equipment is nowhere to be found.
“When the new service chiefs assumed office, they also said they didn’t see anything on the ground.”
However, in a statement by his office later on Friday, the NSA recanted his earlier allegations, saying he was quoted out of context.
While he admitted granting the BBC interview under reference, he denied saying funds meant for the purchase of arms had gone missing.
The statement read in part, “We would like to state that the NSA was quoted out of context as he did not categorically say that funds meant for arms procurement were missing under the former service chiefs as reported or transcribed by some media outlets from the BBC interview.
“During the interview, the National Security Adviser only reiterated the Federal Government’s commitment to deal decisively with insecurity and stated President Muhammadu Buhari’s continued commitment to providing all necessary support to the armed forces, including the provision of arms and equipment.”
The NSA said in the interview, he clearly informed the BBC reporter that, “Mr President has provided enormous resources for arms procurement, but the orders were either inadequate or yet to be delivered and that did not imply that the funds were misappropriated under the former service chiefs.”
The NSA also said he informed the reporter that, “Mr President is following up on the procurement process as it’s usual with contracts relating to military equipment. In most cases, the process involves manufacturing, due diligence and tedious negotiations that may change delivery dates.”
The National Assembly had in 2018 approved a request by President Buhari, for the withdrawal of $1bn from the Excess Crude Account for the purchase of weapons to fight insurgency.
Buhari had earlier told the National Assembly that he already ordered the payment of $496m to the United States government for the purchase of 12 Tucano aircraft ahead of legislative approval.
Several members of the Senate and House of Representatives had at various times in 2018 described the anticipatory approval as an impeachable offence.
The House, particularly on November 27, 2018, resolved to investigate the finances of the Nigerian military, including how the $1bn was spent, as well as the implementation of releases to the military under the 2018 Appropriation Act.
Missing funds can’t happen under Buhari –Presidency
Also speaking hours later on Friday, the Presidency said no fund was missing under the watch of the immediate past service chiefs, adding that procurements had been made for military weapons but the arms had yet to be delivered.
According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, missing funds can’t happen under the regime of the President.
Shehu spoke on Friday on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’, monitored by Saturday PUNCH.
Shehu said the NSA was misquoted, stressing that Monguno did not accuse the ex-service chiefs of misappropriation of funds.
He said, “About the $1bn taken from the Excess Crude Account with the consent of state governors used for military procurements, I want to assure you that nothing of that money is missing.
“The reference by it in the interview of the BBC Hausa Service by the National Security Adviser has been misconstrued and mistranslated.
“NSA made two critical points – one is that we don’t have enough weapons, which is a statement of facts; and two, procurements made have not been fully delivered.”
“At no point did the NSA say that money has been misappropriated and that no arms is seen. They have not been delivered, that is correct; these are things you don’t get off the shelves,” Shehu noted.
Reps vow to investigate
The ex-service chiefs may face probe if the Reps go ahead with their investigation.
Reacting to Monguno’s allegation on Friday, the House Ad Hoc Committee on the Need to Review the Purchase, Use and Control of Arms, Ammunition and Related Hardware by Military, Paramilitary and Other Law Enforcement Agencies in Nigeria vowed to investigate the “missing” arms and ammunition for which the former service chiefs were allocated funds to acquire.
The committee, at its first investigative hearing in Abuja on Friday, where the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru, was represented by the Commandant, Army War College Nigeria, Maj Gen Charles Ofoche, described the matter as sensitive.
The committee chairman, Mr Olaide Akinremi, in his opening remarks before the meeting went behind closed doors, noted that Nigerians were interested in the whereabouts of the funds and the arms and ammunition.
He said, “Before I give you the floor, you may be aware of the news going round. I got that as breaking news this morning (Friday) also. It says it seems the money released to former service chiefs by President Muhammadu Buhari to buy weapons to fight terrorism, banditry and kidnapping is missing because the new service chiefs have confirmed to us that they didn’t see where the new weapons were purchased in their handover notes.
“Apparently, the money is missing, and the money in question is in trillions of naira. And we must investigate (it). So, with all of these going on, coupled with international interest especially, the Nigerians we represent, they are all watching. So, we need to handle this issue with care. We all agree that it is very, very sensitive.”
When contacted to know if the House would investigate the allegation by the NSA, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu, referred Saturday PUNCH to the Committee on Defence.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Defence, Babajimi Benson, could not be reached as calls to his mobile did not connect.
A text message sent to his mobile seeking comments on Monguno’s allegation had also yet to be replied to as of press time on Friday.
Meanwhile, it was reliably learnt that Benson’s committee recently wrote to the Ministry of Defence to demand a breakdown of how the $1bn special security fund approved by the 8th National Assembly was spent.
A prominent member of the committee, who spoke to one of our correspondents on condition of anonymity, said the Ministry of Defence had yet to reply to the committee.
The source said, “On the $1bn, everybody in Nigeria knows that the procurement of the Super Tucano planes was a government-to-government transaction – Nigerian government with the United States government. The planes have not arrived because the Nigerian Air Force has to construct the appropriate base and other installations. That takes it to about $600m, which means about 60 per cent of the money is gone. The remaining 40 per cent; I don’t know if you saw some tanks that arrived sometime ago. They have been coming in piecemeal.
“About last week, we wrote to the ministry to give us an update on the arms, ammunition and equipment that they have taken delivery of and which ones were being expected, as well as those that international conspiracies have frustrated. Some laws were invoked against Nigeria.”
The source further disclosed that the committee planned to visit the US to inspect the fighter jets but for the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There has been a huge outcry on the $1bn. We were supposed to go to the US in November 2020, but the base in Atlanta was on red; they were not allowing visitors to come in,” he said.
The source added, “On the remainder, we are still waiting for the ministry to revert to us.”
Senate to look into allegations
Speaking with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, said the red chamber would investigate Monguno’s allegation against the ex-service chiefs.
He said, “I have not ascertained the authenticity of the claims credited to the National Security Adviser as published in the media.
“I have just read it in the newspapers. It is a very serious allegation and we have to confirm from the source first.
“We will find out as part of our oversight functions. We will meet as a committee to take a decision on the matter. But we will first find out the genuineness of the claims. We cannot just act on rumours.”
Buratai, others didn’t fiddle with arms funds –Ex-COAS lawyer
Debunking the NSA’s claim on Friday, the counsel for the ex-Chief of Army Staff, Buratai, Mr Osuagwu Ugochukwu, said the ex-COAS and other ex-service chiefs did not fiddle with arms funds.
In a statement titled, ‘Lt Gen TY Buratai and other ex-service chiefs never fiddled with arms fund,’ Ugochukwu said any attempt to tarnish the image of the former COAS would be resisted legally.
The statement read in part, “I can confirm that Lt Gen Buratai and other ex-service chiefs were never mentioned in the interview and neither was any arms fund missing under the stewardship of Lt Gen TY Buratai.
“Interestingly, NSA Babagana Monguno has denied making such accusations. We, therefore, urge members of the public to discountenance any such misquoted narrative suggesting sleaze on the integrity of retired Lt Gen TY Buratai.”
Ugochukwu added that anyone interested in knowing how arms were procured by the ex-service chiefs and, particularly Buratai, should channel such requests to the Ministry of Defence.
PDP, others demand probe
Despite the NSA’s recantation and the Presidency’s defence, the Peoples Democratic Party and other groups have demanded an open and transparent probe into the NSA’s initial claim.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, said, “We demand an open and transparent probe into the funds allocated for the purchase of arms and ammunition as well as the human rights records of the former service chiefs.
“We shouted to the rooftops that the appointment of the former service chiefs as ambassadors was a ploy by this regime to shield them from rendering an account of their stewardship in these areas. It is not too late; the regime can still save face by bringing them back to account for their actions. Nigerians deserve to know the truth.”
Also, the Executive Director, Centre for Public Accountability, Olufemi Lawson, said the NSA claim was not strange to those who had followed the “inadequacies” that had trailed the war against insurgency in the country.
“Successive administrations have turned the war against terrorism to a cash cow where they corruptly enrich themselves to the detriment of our national security,” Lawson said.
The Northern Youths Movement also demanded an immediate investigation into the NSA’s allegation.
In a statement issued in Abuja on Friday signed by its chairman, Mallam Ishaya Jato, the NYM said the revelation by the NSA should be clear to all discerning minds that insecurity in the country, especially in the North, had become more like a cash cow for top officials of the military.
The movement also said the NSA could not be exonerated from the missing arms fund.
Jato said, “With the revelation coming from the NSA, haven’t we now been vindicated? Isn’t it now clear enough that the reason the Boko Haram insurgency and banditry have refused to end in the North is that top military officials are feeding fat on it?
“It is, therefore, not enough for the NSA to just approbate and reprobate at the same time. Nigerians want to know where the $1bn taken from the Excess Crude Account is.”
However, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, Emmanuel Onwubiko, said the NSA must provide evidence for his claim.
“I think the NSA needs to convince Nigerians that he is not out for some mischief either against the ex-service chiefs, who were found meritorious to have been appointed ambassadors after their voluntary disengagement, or that he has no game plan against the national security of Nigeria?” Onwubiko asked.
Suspend ex-service chiefs’ ambassadorial posting — Falana
In the meantime, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana, has asked the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate the NSA’s allegation.
He said, “A probe is wasteful, diversionary and unwarranted. The case should be referred to the EFCC for investigation because it is a serious economic crime.
“The report of the Presidential Panel on Arms Procurement which probed the looting of $15bn earmarked for the purchase of arms was eventually forwarded to the EFCC.
“The ambassadorial appointments of the ex-service chiefs should be suspended by the President until they account for every dime of the fund.”
Group slams NSA for recanting claim
Meanwhile, a socio-political group, One Nigeria Movement, faulted the statement from the Office of the National Security Adviser denying the claim that $1bn funds meant for arms purchase were missing.
The ONM alleged that the NSA was acting desperately to secure his job in spite of his “seeming failure” and to also shield himself from investigations.
The ONM Convener, Ahmed Sodiq-Mugoro, and the Secretary, Babatunde Aliyu, said there was more to the denial of the NSA allegation by the ONSA and Presidency than meet the eyes.
The ONM said in a statement that what the NSA said on the BBC Hausa service was clear and unambiguous.
The statement read in part, “What he said was that neither the money approved for arms purchase nor arms was met on the ground when the new service chiefs assumed office.
“He went further to say that a preliminary investigation showed the funds were missing and the equipment is nowhere to be found.
“So how was the NSA quoted out of context? Or was he that the BBC Hausa Service aired a different interview entirely from the one it had with the NSA?
“To us, Nigerians want to know the truth. Nigerians want to know what happened to the billions of dollars released to purchase arms.”
By John Alechenu, Sunday Aborisade, Friday Olokor, Adelani Adepegba, Leke Baiyewu, Jesusegun Alagbe and Kayode Oyero