A recent disclosure by the Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Bolaji Owasanoye, that an ex-military chief stole N4 billion from the military budget highlight the continued theft in the security sector and its devastating impact on the country. Owasanoye alleged that the ex-general deposited the stolen funds in the accounts of two companies where he is the sole signatory. This and other reports confirm the systemic corruption in the security agencies, how the humongous funds appropriated to fight terrorism are stolen, and why insecurity persists in the country.
The ICPC chair, at a seminar on security and corruption in Abuja, explained that the unnamed general filched the N4 billion from the military’s funds and “proceeds from the loot were used to purchase properties in Abuja in the names of cronies and proxies, and some of the properties paid for by his service were also fraudulently converted to his use.”
Massive looting by senior officers has weakened the military, demoralised frontline troops and prolonged the war on terror and banditry.
There have been numerous episodes. In 2021, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission charged a former Chief of Army Staff, Kenneth Minimah, and two other generals for alleged misappropriation of N13 billion meant for arms purchase. A year earlier, a former GOC, 8 Division, Sokoto, Hakeem Otiki, was found guilty of corruption charges and ordered to be sacked with “disgrace and dishonour.” The court martial found him guilty of theft of public property, diverting operational money, and ordered that the N135.8 million recovered from him be returned to the Nigerian Army.
The National Security Adviser, Babagana Monguno, once publicly complained that the military could not account for the funds it received to buy arms during the tenure of the immediate past service chiefs.
As several observers, including ex-military officers, have alleged, an unholy alliance of politicians, civil servants, senior military officers, and contractors is making billions of naira from security funds, and prolonging the war on terror for personal benefit. Owasanoye said investigations had proved that “public sector corruption directly and indirectly enabled insecurity and could sometimes complement it.”
The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association on Wednesday told a Senate panel that oil theft in the Niger Delta, currently put at over 400,000 barrels per day, is “a collaborative crime” in which military personnel assigned to protect oil installations are neck-deep. Human and Environmental Development Agenda, an NGO, alleged that 13 security chiefs (and others) stole $400 million, and owned 216 of the 800 properties traced to Nigerians in the United Arab Emirates.
Despite the flurry of reports and scandals, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), has no remedy. Yet, he rode to power on the promise to crush corruption.
A 2021 report on Nigeria by the United States Department of State noted that “massive, widespread and pervasive corruption affected all levels of government, including the judiciary and security services.” The Committee on the Audit of Defence Equipment Procurement in the Nigerian Armed Forces from 2007-2015, found that between 2010 and 2015, “several billions of naira were received by the Nigerian Army for procurement of military hardware and were discovered to have been misappropriated by senior officers.”
A Federal High Court in Abuja ordered the forfeiture of properties belonging to a former Chief of Air Staff, the late Alex Badeh. He was being prosecuted in a N3.9 billion fraud case before his death. Since 2015, several Nigeria Air Force chiefs have also been tried for corruption. A former NSA, Sambo Dasuki, was arraigned for allegedly diverting $2.1 billion meant for arms procurement to fund elections.
Officials and senior officers must be made to account for the huge sums appropriated. The Ministry of Defence received N840.56 billion in the 2021 budget, far more than any other sector. In 2020, it received N878 billion. According to World Bank, the ministry was allocated $2.04 billion in 2018, a 26.02 per cent increase from 2017. In 2019, 1.9 percent of total spending was allotted to defence.
These huge allocations have failed to yield victory for the country’s under-equipped troops who are being made to face terrorists and bandits armed with sophisticated weapons. “With oil prices at a record low, defence has provided new and lucrative opportunities for the country’s corrupt kleptocrats. Former military chiefs have stolen as much as $15 billion – a sum equivalent to half of Nigeria’s foreign currency reserves – through fraudulent arms procurement deals,” reported Transparency International.
The implications of such massive corruption are evident in the increasing scale of terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and decimation of troops by non-state actors. The Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, was attacked by bandits who killed two officers, abducted another, and demanded a ransom of N200 million for his release. Military checkpoints have been attacked in Abuja, and even the Presidential convoy was ambushed. Violence has engulfed many parts of the country, especially in the North. Nigeria is under siege. Buhari and the National Assembly should therefore initiate thorough investigations into defence procurement and utilisation of security funds.
Stopping the theft is integral to stamping out insecurity. The Global Terrorism Index said terrorist attacks in Nigeria increased by 49 per cent between 2020 and 2021. Since the insurgency began in 2009, at least 47,000 people have been killed and two million others displaced, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. Unconfirmed reports say over 10,000 Nigerian soldiers have died in the war; and between January 1 and December 31, 2021, no fewer than 4,835 civilians and 890 security personnel were killed.
Other countries act decisively against corruption in the military: in 2016, the Pakistani authorities sacked 11 senior officers, including six generals, for corruption. Several generals and other senior military officers have been sacked and prosecuted in China’s long-running crackdown on corruption.
Extensive internal and external audits of all security funds should be launched immediately. Forensic audits should also be undertaken in the MoD, the armed services, and the NSA’s office.
Those found wanting must be prosecuted. Transparency and strict accountability should be instilled in the budgeting and procurement processes in the military.