At the end of the National Security Council meeting of April 4, 2018 presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, the Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, told the nation that the president has approved the release of $1 billion from the excess crude account for the purchase of military hardware to effectively combat the murderous campaign of the extremist Islamist group, Boko Haram.
The National Economic Council (NEC) had in 2017 granted approval to the federal government to draw the amount from the excess crude account and enhance the capacity of the armed forces to fight the Boko Haram insurgency.
Expectedly, Dan-Ali’s announcement has elicited outright condemnation from sections of the political leadership and lawmakers. The outrage is borne from the contention that President Buhari will be going beyond his constitutional powers if he unilaterally approves the disbursement of $1 billion on the strength of the recommendation of the National Economic Council.
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Comparisons have been drawn with a similar expenditure made by President Goodluck Jonathan who in 2014 sought and obtained the approval of the National Assembly to obtain a loan of $1 billion to strengthen the military’s capacity to fight the Islamist insurgency. It was contended that just as President Jonathan obtained the approval of the Senate at the time, President Buhari cannot embark on the expenditure of $1 billion even though the fund is being drawn from the excess crude account.
Although presidential spokesman, Femi Adesina, 24 hours after Dan-Ali’s pronouncement explained that the National Assembly’s approval will still be sought, the seeming finality of the defence minister’s statement may make Adesina’s intervention seem like a public relations damage control.
Without prejudice to the moral propriety or otherwise for embarking on the expenditure to combat a group that had, by the federal government’s claims, been technically defeated or operationally degraded, it is imperative that the president is not seen to be going beyond his bounds in the arms procurement venture. More importantly, the Senate’s evaluation of what should at this stage be considered a proposal should not just be to approve the expenditure.
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In the 2014 Senate approval given to the Jonathan administration for arms procurement, the red chamber’s joint committees on finance, defence, local and foreign debts had evaluated the loan request and made a written report presented at plenary. The committees were furnished with the details and specifics of the range of munitions and hardware to be procured before approval was granted. This is a procedure that should be a template for such exercises. From the point of mooting the idea of drawing from the excess crude account, the Senate as well as any other organisation or authority involved in approving the purchase ought to have been given as much insight into the entire transaction as possible.
Notwithstanding that the presidency may have decided to seek the Senate’s approval, it must not be granted as a fait accompli. Since the Buhari administration began its crackdown on corruption and corrupt practices, the country has been inundated with sordid tales of unwholesome and scandalous deals associated with arms procurement. Under the cover of security privileges, the transactions were executed with almost no oversight or transparency, leading to situations where equipment with wrong or sub-standard specifications were supplied or none was acquired at all after funds had been disbursed.
Without prejudice to whatever level of secrecy that usually goes with such procurements, there are sufficient reasons for the Senate to exert a measure of oversight and supervision on the entire transactions. We urge the Senate, whenever the presidency seeks its approval for the withdrawal of the fund, to insist on being provided with as much of the details of the arms procurement as possible. They should also be part of the vetting process and require the military to provide evidence of supply and certification that all supplied equipment are of the appropriate specifications and in good working condition.
On the part of the presidency, the pronouncements of its key officials and the fact that the decision to seek Senate approval only came after outcry from Nigerians have unnecessarily created an ambience of suspicion and distrust. The amount of money involved – $1 billion – is a huge part of our common wealth for the entire process to be undertaken without overt transparency. This is the sort of stance and process that has fueled the demand for the devolution of powers from a presidency that is wielding too much power for the good of the country and good governance.
Coming against the backdrop of crucial general elections in 2019, the federal government should take measures to dispel all suspicions that the withdrawal of the money at the time it decided to do so is driven strictly by the desire to equip the military with requisite hardware and improve the welfare of our military personnel in the war theatre.