Saturday, 5 December 2015

THE ARMS CONTRACT INVESTIGATION

The report of a 13-man audit committee on the procurement of arms and equipment in the armed forces and defence sector from 2007 to date, released by the presidency, may not be the final; but it is certainly damning. It portrays an atrocious system rooted in flippancy and arbitrariness, a system that treats the due process with disdain and, by so doing harm the public interest.

Surely, a nation intending to develop in concrete terms cannot overlook or be pretentious of the danger inherent in such permissive arrangement. It is in this regard that Nigerians are genuinely interested in a total unraveling of, not just the arms contract in issue, but all other government transactions presumably done in the public interest without commensurate effects.

Notwithstanding its interim nature, the report, along with its revelations are disheartening in a country where citizens are being ravaged by excruciating poverty. This is one more indication of the raised level of abuse of office, greed, insensitivity and depravity prevalent among some public officials. The investigation should be thorough, and whoever is indicted should be made to answer for his/her misdeeds.

The interim report on the arms supply contract, according to the Presidency, highlighted failed contracts, fictitious and phantom deals, items not supplied but captured in payments, missing items in inventory, transfers for unascertained purposes without contract documents to explain transactions.

The report also uncovered “illicit and fraudulent financial transactions” on a grand scale. This involves hundreds of billions in foreign and local currencies. So far, the committee has verified extra-budgetary inventions of approximately N643.817 billion. The foreign currency component is put at $2.193 billion – amounts which excluded grants from state governments and funds collected by the Department of State Security (DSS) and the police. In spite of the huge financial interventions, “very little” was allegedly expended to support defence procurement.

What is clear now is that there is a need to institute due process in governance and in public dealings; the country has suffered much international disrepute over the activities of unscrupulous public officials who are preoccupied with the mindless graft of public resources.

President Muhammadu Buhari has reportedly ordered the arrest of the indicted persons. This is the least expected, provided the investigation is credible and exhaustive; such that it leads naturally to arrest and trials. The president is right to chase culprits, but he should ensure a comprehensive and transparent inquiry by the agencies saddled with the task. The president’s anti-graft war should not be seen to be selective but all-encompassing and diligent.

The arms deals report should serve as a lever for the president to fully activate his quest for sanity in the financial system as part of the general cleaning of the stable. The promise of a new dawn in public probity formed the plank of his political covenant with the people prior to his election mandate. Government’s ultimate objective should be to restore confidence in the polity and re-enact the Nigerian dream. The past few months have unveiled many untidy, sordid, mind-bending public financial transactions; showcasing the country as a corruption-riddled one.

The observation that the foreign component spent on failed contracts was more than double the one billion dollars loan approved by the National Assembly to fight the insurgency is alarming. Notably, the loan was endorsed at the height of protestations by some soldiers of being exposed to danger on the front lines without weapons. These allegations, narrowed down to the watch of the immediate past National Security Adviser (NSA), are worrisome. Notably, the officer has protested his non-invitation to the proceedings of the committee to defend himself. Government has equally denied his claim. However, the window is open to establishing the veracity of both claims and to prevent the miscarriage of justice.

Col. Sambo Dasuki has reportedly promised to reveal much in court if and when his trial begins, even as he denied the weighty allegations against him. The public cannot wait for his disclosures in the interest of the nation. Besides the exposure of the military to international ridicule in the war against insurgency, the listed infractions were “without prejudice to the consistent non-performances of the companies in the previous contracts awarded.”

There must be accountability in public service. President Buhari has a duty to get to the root of the arms procurement contract scandal. There is no reason to suggest that he cannot do that. He should also sustain the tempo of recovering the loot from the treasury as much as he could during his tenure. He has history on his side. (Guardian)