In the 2017 budget, a total of N139.3 billion and N63.8 billion, out of N7.44 trillion, were budgeted for the ministries of defence and interior respectively. Both ministries form the bulk of the security apparatus; whereas the ministry of health got only N55.6 billion and education received N56.7 billion.
As imperative as health and education are, security takes precedence over them, understandably because there has to be the guaranteed security of lives and property before education or even health can thrive. However, despite spending a colossal amount of money year in, year out in this sector, our lives as Nigerians remain in the grip of fear – fear on the roads, in work places, in our houses and in our neighbourhoods, partly due to the misapplication of these funds.
These are besides the big threats posed by the Boko Haram insurgency, IPOB, Niger Delta Avengers, kidnapping, and herdsmen-farmer clashes, etc. Common CCTVs taken for granted in city capitals elsewhere, have been mired in corruption controversy here, so criminals reign supreme in Abuja, where over the years, there are known black spots in which people are daily attacked and dispossessed of their belongings. Yet, neither are there CCTVs to track these incidences, nor are the areas well-illuminated. I had a narrow escape at Bolingo junction the other day, and the thought of the encounter still makes me nervous.
The precursor to huge military spending can be hinged on years of military interregnum, which engendered a unitary governance structure and totalitarian streak that gave no chance to the civil populace to question anything. That mindset has led us to where we are and why defence spending is shrouded in secrecy in the name of classified information, not wanting to compromise national security or ‘national interest’, thereby veiling corruption in the process. And as some people have noted, national security is always an excuse for impunity, and for the perpetration of monumental and unimaginable corruption and theft of public funds. This explains why not much headway has been made in tackling defence related corruption.
All that may soon be in the past, now that civil society organisations (CSOs), in conjunction with their international partners, have begun to scrutinise the procurement/expenditures incurred. At a CSO roundtable towards improving public oversight of defence spending organised by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Transparency International recently, the link between security, development and value for money, and the propriety of interrogating them, came to the fore. Corruption is apparent in the police and in the military, going by the alleged infractions and on-going trials of ex-security chiefs, including the trial of the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki, who allegedly turned the security/defence budget into a slush fund he shared to politicians, while the rank and file died in the battlefield for the lack of equipment, munitions, material shortages and the absence of troop welfare concerns. Certainly, corruption was and is still apparent in defence procurement contracts. The phenomenon has weakened our internal security and the country’s counter-terrorism capability and has the capacity to destabilise the polity.
A few months ago Transparency International, in collaboration with CISLAC, produced a 19-page report on defence procurement; it is titled, “Weaponising Transparency: Defence Procurement Reform as a Counter-Terrorism Strategy in Nigeria”. The report chronicles the “unforgivable damage defence corruption has done to the nation’s political stability, counter-terrorism efforts, socio-economic development and well-being of the citizens”. Although the report covers 2011 to 2015, when the Jonathan regime opened the vault for reckless spending in the guise of counter-insurgency operations, the military as currently constituted rose to the defence of the institution and vociferously criticised the report. It was a hasty knee-jerk approach to an institutional rot with international dimensions, because TI’s searchlight is not just beamed on Nigeria; it is working in many other countries to unravel the rot, lack of transparency and accountability in defence/security spending.
Coming back to Nigeria, and as was revealed at the roundtable, $15 billion went unaccounted for between 2010 and 2015. Again in this category, the Air Force was a willing accomplice. Once a pilot was made to fly a dysfunctional helicopter without rotors; the chopper crashed, killing him and his crew, yet $137 million was provided for the procurement of two new Mi-35P helicopters; $7.2 million was provided for acquiring four Alpha jets, but the two delivered were unsuitable for deployment. Again, $45 million was spent on aircraft maintenance, while N12 Million was paid for contracts that were never executed. It was that bad because money meant to purchase and replace obsolete equipment was embezzled by the ‘ogas at the top’. In a nutshell, defence corruption cuts across — from the political to personnel, procurement, finance and operations. Even in deployment of soldiers to the war front, corruption rears its head, because while bogus claims are made, the actual number deployed is less, and what is provided for the welfare of combatants is far less than what is declared.
As such, if we all admit that defence budgets are not transparent, extremely difficult to verify; that accountability for improper expenditure is absent and all the fine details are neglected, reforms in the sector is inevitable, and it requires the collaboration of all. This should start with the military which needs to drive the change by working with CSOs, and not countermanding them each time they, TI or any NGO at that, dig into their closets.
Citizen engagement by CSOs, legislative scrutiny, including capacity building for proper oversight and advocacy are important steps in the defence/security budget, just as we should begin a new phase of scrutinising the phenomenon of the ‘security vote’, whose amount and how it is disbursed are determined by the governors alone.
Procurement processes should be transparent and open without necessarily compromising national security. The anti-corruption strategy should be from the top to bottom i.e. from the presidency down to the lowest level, and the military must wean itself from their ugly past, renew and reengineer itself for an open society in which the culture of integrity and transparency will gradually replace the old order.