Nigeria: Of $1bn and a Tiger By the Tail

Boko Haram.
20 December 2017

Last week, Nigeria's 36 Governors resolved to withdraw the sum of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account, and grant it to the Federal Government to be used in the ongoing fight against Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East. The Excess Crude Account had a balance of $2.317 billion as at the time of making the decision. It was a bold decision that took cognisance of realities in confronting terror and insurgency given our conventional armed forces.

In typical Nigerian fashion, this decision is being debated with shallow reasoning being the loudest, obviously because not much attention was paid to strategic communication of such a crucial development involving enormous public funds. My conscience tells me that the decision is in order. The Federal Government does need the money and for that purpose. So poorly equipped and poorly trained were our armed forces to confront the Boko Haram insurgents that our troops were overwhelmed in the most shameful manner. The once proud Armed Forces became the world laughing stock. Nearly all of the North East was occupied and it seemed there was no stopping what we thought was a rag tag army from advancing across the country. The US, France, and Germany preferred to deal with Niger in terms of locating a Military Base, providing equipment, and training military manpower and collaboration against the menace.

Nigeria has needed to address the equipping of our armed forces with the appropriate and up to date high technology implements of war. Equally important is the crucial need for the retraining, reorientation and refitting of the men of the Armed Forces in counter terrorism and current trends and demands of national security. Global security today has changed in definition and character. National security is no longer the threat against a nation by another nation state. National security has been transformed to become the once simple safety of citizens going to the markets, mosques, and churches to function and get home alive and safe. The enemy is today home grown, uncouth, and has no beliefs in the civilised norm. Demands of National Security today is a whole new architecture of challenges that require IT. Nigeria is in dire need of overhauling and modernising its armed forces, acquiring cyber technology and intelligent and unmanned weapon delivery systems, to include recruiting and training of young operators.

All the details considered make the $1bn indeed a paltry sum. Besides, the rest of the country should know that it is not a problem confined to the North East Sub-region. It can shift base to any part of the country with a different set of people but presenting exactly the same challenge to our armed forces. The North East sadly presents a training ground.

I am uncomfortable because I see snarling as the backdrop of this cash grant, a leviathan tiger called corruption, and I worry that we have only grabbed this tiger by the tail. It will devour the money and us. And Boko Haram will not only still be with us, it will have been fed by the $1bn to be a worse monster than we know.

Is it not worrisome that we announce with glee the prospect of spending $1bn on the fight against Boko Haram while we yet do not have a credible national narrative of what went wrong that Boko Haram came about? Whose error of omission or commission is it that a spectre occurred called Boko Haram that cost trillions of Naira to fight, displaced a reported over 2 million ordinary citizens and caused the death of over 350,000? If no one has been prosecuted for the beginning, gestation and growth of Boko Haram, it means the monster is only latent in the hearts of its sponsors, and will just as well devour these sums.

President Muhammadu Buhari has fought an impressive fight against Boko Haram and has earned the faith of the citizenry. With this alone, he outclasses critics and contenders. Happily he has extended the tenure of his Joint Chiefs of Staff (the Chief of Defence Staff and Service Chiefs). Our hearts go out to the men and women of our armed forces who have readily faced paying the supreme sacrifice to redeem our land. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to our armed forces, but the war has unfortunately lasted too long and should be finished conclusively.

If it gives us comfort, we have a threat from the Chief of Army Staff General Tukur Buratai to the effect that he will soon reveal the politicians behind Boko Haram! This should happen immediately. Failing this, I am afraid that corruption will defile and eat up the hard earned funds, and derail the counter terrorism effort

Do we recall that at the centre of our corruption probes in the country by the Buhari Administration is how the funds provided for the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency was literally looted by the people entrusted with the task to use the money and protect the country? Note the procedure through which the Central Bank of Nigeria funded the Office of the National Security Adviser from recovered Abacha loot as approved by President Goodluck Jonathan against the caution of his Minister for Finance Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. Note again that the Auditor General of the Federation has reportedly revealed that the huge cash sum of $43 million, £27,000 and N23 million In April 2017, that a whistle blower led the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to, was in effect part of $289,202,382 taken from the country's joint venture account belonging to the NNPC. Based on a request from the Director General, President Goodluck Jonathan is said to have approved the release of the sum to the National Intelligence Agency for overt operations. According to the report, the whooping $289,202,382 in cash was paid directly to the Director General. The procedure that required that the CBN would credit NIA's account at the apex bank for transparency was deliberately flouted. The details are sordid. Have we rectified the governance failure that enabled Ikoyi Cash and the Dasuki ONSA slush funds? I need to be convinced.

Whatever you say on abuse of office and pillage of public funds will earn you only one answer from his supporters, that the President Muhammad Buhari is clean and we are supposed to rest assured that with him, corruption is losing the fight. I believe. But really? While the misapplication of the Presidential Initiative on the North East is yet to be cleared, the National Assembly is again raising dust about the NNPC not having paid revenues of up to N50bn into the Single Treasury Account - on the reported verbal assertion of the Chief of Staff that it was a Presidential Directive! The over N50bn is again part of proceeds from joint venture contracts (JVC), an identical old road for those funds that wound up in the Ikoyi flat.

Now in the midst of an excruciating scarcity of petrol, oil rich Nigeria is told that some indigenous companies not registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) may have "lifted" Nigerian crude oil grades valued at $3.5 billion (about N1.1 trillion) in the last 10 months! Nigerians do believe President Muhammad Buhari is clean! But some developments in succession do shake our faith terribly. Corruption is the tiger you do not catch by the tail. It will devour, God forbid.

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