Nigerian troops were denied weapons to fight Boko Haram and thousands of lives were lost because of rampant fraud in the procurement process, President Muhammadu Buhari has alleged.
Buhari ordered anyone involved in corrupt multi-billion dollar deals for weapons and equipment to be “brought to book” after receiving a report from a committee set up to probe the issue.
“The findings made so far are extremely worrying considering that the interventions were granted within the same period that our troops fighting the insurgency in the northeast were in desperate need of platforms, military equipment and ammunition,” he said late Tuesday.
“Had the funds siphoned to these non-performing companies been properly used for the purpose they were meant for, thousands of needless Nigerian deaths would have been avoided.”
Buhari, a retired army general and former military ruler, came to power in May, vowing to crush the Islamist rebels whose insurgency has killed at least 17,000 people since 2009.
Front-line troops serving under his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan frequently complained the militants were better armed and they lacked the proper equipment, including bullets, to fight.
In one instance, some frustrated soldiers fired shots at their commander’s vehicle. They were court-martialed, found guilty of mutiny and sentenced to death.
The complaints came despite Nigeria having one of Africa’s biggest defence budgets.
Buhari, who has vowed to crack down on endemic corruption, set up a 13-member committee to probe arms procurement between 2007 and 2015 and spoke out after receiving its interim report.
According to the statement from his office late Tuesday, the investigation “unearthed several illicit and fraudulent financial transactions”.
– ‘Failed contracts’ –
Some $5.3 billion was provided to the Office of the National Security Advisor, Defence Headquarters and the headquarters of the army, navy and air force, the statement said.
“It was observed that in spite of this huge financial intervention, very little was expended to support defence procurement,” it added.
Some 53 of 513 contracts awarded were “failed contracts” and the former national security advisor Sambo Dasuki sanctioned huge payments without contractual evidence or explanations.
The statement alleged Dasuki “awarded fictitious and phantom contracts” totalling some $2 billion, supposedly to buy four Alpha (fighter) jets, 12 helicopters, bombs and ammunition.
But they “were not executed and the equipment (was) never supplied to the Nigerian Air Force, neither are they in its inventory”, it added.
The report also claimed Dasuki asked Nigeria‘s central bank to transfer $132 million and almost 10 million euros to accounts in West Africa, Britain and theUnited States “for unascertained purposes, without documents to explain the transactions”.
“It is worrisome and disappointing that those entrusted with the security of this great nation were busy using proxies to siphon the national treasury, while innocent lives were wasted daily,” Buhari said.
Dasuki, a 60-year-old former army colonel, is already facing money laundering and illegal possession of weapons charges.
Security agents have so far refused to allow him travel abroad for medical treatment, despite a court order that ruled in his favour.
Dasuki said in response to the accusations he had never been invited to appear before the committee and he was “surprised” and “embarrassed” at the allegations.
He defended his record in office, which coincided with a turnaround in the military’s fortunes from early this year, and said he would “leave Nigerians to judge”.