Thursday, 18 September 2014

Let Us Probe Nigeria’s Defence Spending By Sonala Olumhense

Two things are particularly disturbing.  The first is the superior firepower that the murderers possess, and the capacity they have developed, in less than five years, to use them. The second is the intelligence and tactical sagacity that Boko Haram now appears to possess. 
This is despite the terrain; despite being surrounded by Nigeria’s age-old intelligence network as well as our friends to the north and to the east; and despite the telecommunications and—I presume—technological freeze Nigeria imposed on the area at the onset of the state of emergency in May 2013.

The militants’ growing confidence is further evidence that all is not well with Nigeria, and this ought to be of tremendous concern to patriotic Nigerians. 
Regrettably, the Boko Haram phenomenon began right in front of Nigeria’s security agencies.  What is more puzzling is that it has continued to grow stronger despite the security and intelligence community, or—some say—even because of them. 

In this comment, I will focus only on the first question: Nigerian soldiers having to confront the enemy in the terror era with the modern-day equivalent of bows and arrows, while the enemy swaggers into military establishments with incredible confidence and equipment. 

The facts suggest differently: we are the ones with the air capacity; Boko Haram has none.  We are the ones with airports and sea ports and highways. 
We are the ones with an alphabet soup of intelligence agencies, some of them so intelligent they are located within intelligence agencies; several of them within the military. 

We are the ones with big and powerful friends; Boko Haram has only sneaky supporters with whom it converses in whispers and walk around in the bushes with flashlights.  We are the ones who slapped down a state of emergency so that Boko Haram would be rendered impotent and naked. 

How, then, did our misfortune happen?   Why are they the ones growing stronger, killing our boys and overrunning our country? Why is Boko Haram benefitting from the emergency, marauding and masquerading, seizing our daughters, burning down our shrines and our palaces, sending us videos of their escapades? Why are we the ones sending our soldiers to be slaughtered, apparently unconcerned that they are out-gunned and out-manned? Why are we the ones running from battle, when we own the land; when we know the land and have never before fled from battle?

In the interest of the future, not the past, we must question how we arrived at this narrow pass.  I recommend a credible probe into the management of the Ministry of Defence and the leadership of the armed forces, as well as our security and intelligence communities, in the last 10 or 20 years.

One of the first lines of enquiry must be the quality and capacity of the inventory at the disposal of our military.  How have we been spending our military budgets?  Did we purchase what we claimed we would; if so, from where and for how much?  How do we maintain our inventory and our combat-readiness?

A cursory look at recent federal budgets shows that Defence has been receiving a lot of money. In view of the questions now being asked by Boko Haram and our larger national interests, it is critical to ensure these funds are being dedicated to the ends for which they were advertised. 

Here are some recent budget numbers for the Ministry:
The archives of the National Assembly do not show a *2009 Appropriation Act, for some reason, but the Budget Office provides detailed Defence appropriations totaling N223,021,861,244.

These numbers show we have spent on Defence during this short period, over N2.6 trillion, a vast fortune in any currency.  I must point out, however, that these figures are not exhaustive.  In some of the years covered, there were supplementary appropriations that have not been included.  The 2010 Appropriation Amendment Act, for instance, provided for additional recurrent expenditures of over N216 billion, as well as capital expenditures of over N47 billion.

This account also does not cover a variety of security-related agencies of the government; I have focused on Defence because it is the one most directly related to the subject.  If anyone wants to be fair, it would also be worthwhile to look at how they are also carrying out their responsibilities to the Nigerian people. 

Of great interest in this regard is the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).  I confess I am unsure exactly what this office does, but it apparently carries a lot of weight, and spends a lot of money.

In 2006, just eight years ago, the NSA received “only” a budget of N15.5 billion (N12,316,686,404, recurrent; N183,313,596, capital). 

In the past few years, however, it has received an armada of funding:
  • In the 2010 budget circle: a whopping total of N185,570,007,818 (N107147611048 from the regular budget, and N78,422,396,770 from a supplementary vote)
  • In 2011: N109.8b;
  • In 2012: N123.4b;
  • In 2013: N115.5b; and
  • In 2014: N117.7b (recurrent, N66,625,072,907; capital, N51,100,000,000).
I do not know how these funds are spent; the conundrum is that despite all of the spending—or all of the resources—Nigeria has grown less secure. 
We cannot have it both ways.  It is evident that we are doing something wrong, and it becomes the responsibility of all who really care, not just those whose sons have been, or may be killed by Boko Haram, to ask questions and to demand that governments do the right thing.

We must demand better utilization of our resources, beginning with the exploration of our security budgets.  It is important to take this seriously because, given the level of unemployment and cynicism in Nigeria, Boko Haram may not be the lowest that this country sinks.  

In the end, our best investment is good governance and the delivery of social justice.  That is what will guarantee a level playing field and multiply respectable opportunities for our people, and send the crooks to jail. 
Otherwise, we are going to have a republic where the filthy rich build and live in fancy jails, afraid to come out to play, while the fires ravage the land from all sides and there is nowhere to spend the money and nowhere to run.