Mahmud Jega

During every stick up in the 1930s, American gangster Ma Barker put a revolver in a victim’s face and said, “Your money or your life!” At the weekend, Nigeria’s military and political leaders were facing the political equivalent of a stick up whose Ma Barker-style cry is, “Our money or our arms!”

Money for the purchase of weapons missing again, this time under the nose of the Buhari Administration? This was the monumental can of worms that National Security Adviser Major General Babagana Monguno opened in his BBC Hausa interview last Friday. If true, it would be the biggest anti-corruption embarrassment for the administration since the fall of Ibrahim Magu, who for many years personified the fulfilment of its biggest pre-election promise, to fight corruption and treasury looters.

No wonder that PDP rushed to cash in on the scandal. Nothing soiled the Jonathan Administration’s image nationally and internationally as did the arms purchase scandal. It also ridiculed Nigeria in the comity of nations but since APC did not give a hoot about collateral image damage when it blew the scandal open, why should PDP, which is eager to even the scores? It said with the NSA’s revelation, “Buhari Presidency has become a parlor of corruption for fraudsters, criminal cabals and treasury looters.”

No wonder also that Monguno tried to walk back on the remarks. He said he was quoted out of context. No wonder the Presidency rushed to deny the allegation, saying no arms purchase money could be missing under Buhari’s watch. And no wonder either that Ambassador Tukur Buratai distanced himself from the charge, saying, diplomatically, that all questions regarding arms procurement should be directed at the Ministry of Defence.

Could the NSA’s remarks be successfully denied? His interview was conducted in Hausa. Monguno is a Kanuri man, a native of Borno. Many Kanuri people would have been able to attribute the gaffe to weak grasp of Hausa. Unfortunately, Monguno is not one of them. His spoken Hausa is impeccable; he must have grown up either in Hausaland or in Maiduguri’s Hausari quarters. What he said in the interview was quite clear, that huge monies were voted for weapons purchase but when the new military service chiefs took over last month, they could not find the weapons. Referring to the missing arms money, he even used the word “salwanta,” a word used by Hausa elders to delicately describe a missing valuable item.

Was the NSA merely continuing his turf battle against the former service chiefs, whom he accused last year of reporting to the [now late] Chief of Staff Abba Kyari rather than to him? It is abnormal for service chiefs to report to the CoS. It also abnormal for them to report to the NSA. That didn’t happen under Shagari, Obasanjo or Yar’adua. President Jonathan however empowered his NSA to take full charge of the service chiefs, including procurement of weapons and mercenaries. Buhari deftly transferred the control over service chiefs [as well as ministers] to Kyari.

We do not know for sure who is in charge of arms purchase under Buhari. Buratai’s statement suggests it is the Defence Ministry. That will be fit and proper. Of course that does not exclude the service chiefs from indicating what weapons they need and probably the make as well. There is reason to believe that the military, especially the Nigeria Air Force, got more and better weapons in the last two years. It’s almost daily air strikes against Boko Haram targets seriously degraded the insurgents and ensured that they could no longer mount large scale offensive actions. Until recently, when they launched attacks at Marte and Dikwa and fired grenades into Maiduguri. $1billion that state governors agreed to be diverted from Excess Crude Account for weapons purchase is a lot of money, but warplanes especially are quite expensive.

These words having escaped from the NSA’s lips, neither refutal nor denial and nor even allegations of being quoted out of context could snap them back. If the Nigerian media is assumed to be so incompetent and so disreputable that anyone can get away by saying it misquoted him or quoted him out of context, well, BBC is not a local medium. The best refutal now is to prove to Nigerians that no arms money is missing. The most plausible explanation is to say weapons were ordered but they have not arrived. An even better explanation is to show us the weapons that were bought.

Let me suggest one method to our military. I once read a story in Reader’s Digest, by an American military aviation reporter who published a story about the secret US Air Force spy plane SR-71 Blackbird. USAF top brass saw errors in his report, so the reporter received a phone call telling him to report at a nearby Airforce base. He was taken aboard the SR-71, which took off almost vertically and raced across North America at supersonic speed. It gave him the fright of his life. When they landed, the pilot said to him, “Now, go and write a correct story about this plane.”

I fear that I will soon receive a phone call from Army Headquarters telling me to report at Operation Tura Takai Bango headquarters for a trip to Sambisa on a recently purchased T-14 Armata tank. The coward that I am, it will silence my pen for a long time to come.

View from the Gallery in 21st Century Chronicle today Monday, March 15, 2021

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