Arms Procurement Probe: Beyond the Theatrics
By Jude Edeh-Attah
The altercation on Monday between the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Ibrahim Attahiru and members of the House of Representatives ad hoc committee investigating arms procurement was melodramatic. It was indeed theatrical because valuable time and energy were spent majoring in the minor, dissipating energy on the frivolous and dancing around issues that are as clear as daylight. The only redeeming aspect of that whole drama was the bold insistence of the COAS not to be intimidated or cowed by the politicians.
The standoff started when Gen Attahiru refused to apologize to the honourable members for failing to honor prior invitations. He made an appearance eventually and in his opening statement explained that his inability to make it to the earlier summons was due to the different engagements requiring his presence over internal security challenges across the country. Not ready to proceed with the substance of the meeting without adequate ego massage, members of the committee insisted that the COAS must apologize for dishonouring the honourable house by not dropping whatever he was doing wherever he was in any part of the country to come answer to their summons. According to them, the House of Representatives summons must be obeyed at all times by public officers no matter any circumstance.
Like other Nigerians watching the proceedings, General Attahiru was stunned by the sheer incredulity of their logic. How could the honourable members be insisting on an apology from a Commander whose troops are engaged in various theatres of internal security operation across the country and who have been traversing the length and breadth of the country since assumption of duty, to ensure his troops are on top of the situation? It is obviously not understandable how the honourable members are playing down on the demands and exigencies of the Chief’s schedules of duty at a time troops of the Nigerian Army which he is commanding are facing a fierce battle against brutal terrorists, bandits and sundry violent criminals who are making lives a living hell for Nigerian and apology is what is uppermost in their minds.
In a measured voice, the COAS responded to them thus: “An explanation is as good as an apology. Even a blind man knows that there are internal security challenges in the country. The same way you work for the people, that is the same way I work for the people. I have a command under me and they are also Nigerians”. Quite an apt response by the Chief of Army Staff of Nigeria – no ministering to bruised ego or pandering to the whims and caprices of the politicians!
If you thought that the theatrics over apology or no apology was enough discomfiture for the day, you would soon be shocked as the honourable members opened yet another chapter in the whole drama. Having submitted an executive summary of his position in the investigation exercise, Gen Attahiru was to be astounded again when they insisted that he must speak on the written statement. Not sure of what sense that makes considering that the executive summary had captured everything he knew having just been appointed barely two ago, he told them that the executive summary would suffice.
“You may wish to recall that I took over the mantle of leadership barely two months ago. The period from which you wanted this report, having been summarized in the executive summary, explains whatever details you will require; issues of procurement that you so demand to know were done by specific individuals. I will rather you call these individuals to come and explain to you very specific issues. The general issue has been contained in the report and the summary. It goes to speak about the entire report and it explains it”, he told them, very firmly. Of course, they would have none of that as his position angered quite a number of them who argued that he should speak under oath.
Many observers have applauded the Army Chief for standing his ground and not sucked in by the antics of the honourable members who are adept at intimidating public officers into making undue concessions all in the name of public investigations.
Away from the theatrics of that afternoon, it is apropos to put the whole issue in perspective so as to see how our lawmakers can sometimes conflate issues, chase shadows and waste everybody’s time.
Recall that the House of Representatives on February 11, 2021 resolved to look into the quality and quantity of arms and ammunition purchased for security agencies in the country for the last 10 years, with a clear inquest into the relevant tools and equipment, as to whether any evidence of the existence or not. The House announced the probe at the inauguration of an ad-hoc committee mandated to review the purchase, use and control of arms, ammunition and related hardware by the military, paramilitary and other law enforcement agencies. Recall also that earlier on December 8, 2020, the House had, through a motion, resolved to mandate the committee to carry out the findings. In 2019 alone, Nigeria spent an estimated sum of $47.387 million in arms importation. Though he later recanted, National Security Adviser (NSA), Major General Babagana Monguno (rtd), on Friday March 2021 told the BBC Hausa Service that funds given to former Service Chiefs for arms purchase could not be traced.
Now, the pertinent questions agitating the minds of Nigerians are: why is the House Committee summoning a man who is just two months in office in the investigation of an issue that predates him? Why is the House shy in inviting the individuals who were the main actors in the period under review? Why is the House silent on the much-reported revelation by the National Security Adviser concerning arms procurement? Beyond the theatrics, what exactly is the House interested in?
Jude Edeh-Attah, a military enthusiast and journalist wrote in from Lugbe Abuja