Counterinsurgency is a cash cow in Nigeria

The corruption that is undermining Nigeria’s counterinsurgency efforts reinforces the growing belief that the military campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency has become a multi-billion dollar industry

The 23 June 2022 report of ₦1.85 billion (about US$4.5 million) arms scandal involving a former Nigerian Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, is the latest episode of the monumental corruption that is undermining Nigeria’s counterinsurgency efforts. It reinforces the growing belief that the military campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency and other gradations of insecurity in Northern Nigeria has become a multi-billion dollar industry for high-ranking military officers and political elite who see no interest in putting an end once and for all to terrorism. This belief rests on solid grounds.

The proximity of the 2014 and 2018 extra-budgetary allocations for arms procurement and counterinsurgency operations to the 2015 and 2019 general elections respectively shows that they were partly designed as slush funds for the ruling parties’ electioneering campaigns. Since most financial improprieties involving national security are deeply shrouded in opacity, they only get disclosed to the public after the outcome of a general election, especially when an incumbent or his candidate loses such elections. The most evident case in point is the diversion of defence and counterinsurgency funds to the campaign financing of the 2015 re-election bid of former President Goodluck Jonathan by Col. Sambo Dasuki, the then National Security Adviser (NSA), in what is now journalistically designated as Dasukigate.

The Presidential Committee on the audit of weapons and equipment procurement between 2007 and 2015 uncovered damning allegations of corruption in military procurement. The interim report of the Committee indicates that out of 513 reviewed contracts awarded mostly by Col. Dasuki, there was no evidence of delivery of 53, totalling US$2.1 billion. Other contracts awarded to GAT Techno Dynamics Ltd and DICON followed similar fraudulent patterns. The contract awarded for the procurement of 36D6 Low-Level Air Defence Radar for Nigerian Air Force (NAF) to GAT Techno Dynamics Ltd in April 2014, which amounted to US$33 million, was overpriced. Similarly, in October 2013, NAF awarded contracts to DICON for the supply of weapons and ammunition at a total sum of ₦599.1 million (about US$1.6 million) but only two of the seven items contracted were delivered to NAF.

The looting and diversion of the US$2.1 billion Dasukigate was essentially used for the illegal election campaign funding of Mr Jonathan’s 2015 presidential campaign. Col. Dasuki distributed the fund to politicians, especially within the PDP, for the prosecution of the 2015 re-election bid of President Jonathan. The defeat of Jonathan, however, exposed the deep-seated corruption that feathered the nest of electioneering during the 2015 general elections.

There are similar allegations that President Muhammadu Buhari funded his 2019 presidential re-election campaign using slush funds from the Excess Crude Account (ECA), among others. As a matter of fact, theUS$1 billion ECA fund meant for arms procurement against the Boko Haram insurgency, which was widely criticised as a source of illegal election funding, was approved barely 14 months before the 2019 presidential election. These allegations have not been confirmed as the administration is still in power.

Apart from pervasive allegations of fund diversion by politicians, the 2017 report of Transparency International alleges that corrupt senior military officers withheld ammunition and fuel from frontline soldiers, leaving them with no alternative but to flee from Boko Haram attacks. In other words, high-ranking officers whose primary responsibility is to ensure that their subordinates are adequately equipped to conduct their missions were putting their soldiers’ lives at risk. Such acts amount to treason. Instead, the soldiers were punished for what the Nigerian military authorities called “desertion” and “mutiny”.

Ironically, Nigeria’s defence spending has witnessed a progressive increase since the inception of the Boko Haram insurgency in 2009. The growing lethality of the terrorist group’s activities in Nigeria and within the Lake Chad region has correspondingly led to an increase in defence spending from US$1.44 billion in 2009 to about US3.01 billion in 2020. The 2021 Appropriation Act allocated the sum of ₦840.56 billion (about US$2.022 billion) to the Ministry of Defence alone. The 2022 defence budget stood at ₦1.2 trillion (about US$2.9 billion).

Yet, the impact of these humungous defence expenditures on security provisioning has been underwhelming. As noted above, Nigerian soldiers have had reasons to flee during face-to-face confrontations with Boko Haram insurgents because of the latter’s superior firepower.

Worst still, more than a decade after its initial attacks in Borno State, Boko Haram has not only spread to other parts of Northern Nigeria (including the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja) but has also become a regional contagion within the Lake Chad area. This is so despite the fact that the defeat of the Boko Haram insurgency formed the epicentre of President Buhari’s campaign promises in the build-up to the 2015 presidential election. In fact, the resilience of the Boko Haram sect and other allied groups, such as the Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP), Ansaru, and Fulani militants, suggests that the defeat of the terrorist groups is not in sight. These groups have claimed responsibility for various daring attacks on government institutions and military formations, including the downing of the Nigerian Air Force fighter jet in Zamfara State; the killing and abduction of military personnel at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna; the bombing and abduction of Abuja-Kaduna train passengers; Kuje jailbreak in Abuja leading to the release of 879 detainees, including 69 Boko Haram fighters, among other several coordinated attacks on (para)military formations in different parts of Northern Nigeria.

Despite the level of carnage unleashed by these extremist groups and the attendant international opprobrium their activities have brought to Nigeria’s image, corruption in defence spending continues to hamper the campaign against the Boko Haram insurgency. It is in this context that Babagana Monguno, the current NSA, revealed that millions of dollars allocated for arms procurement under General Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin-led service chiefs, of which the aforementioned Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai was a key actor, were missing.

Contrary to the common refrain that the Nigerian military is underfunded and ill-equipped, Nigeria’s ongoing war on terror has effectively become a cash cow where the principal actors scramble for a share. Humongous fiscal allocations for the defence sector have been frittered away by fantastically corrupt government officials and senior military personnel. The overall implication is that Nigeria’s global image has been substantially downgraded, while the Lake Chad region remains one of the most terrorised parts of the world today, with Islamic fundamentalists exercising effective control over swathes of land in both the North-East and North-West.

If indeed counterinsurgency is a milking cow for politicians and high-ranking army officers tasked with putting an end to terrorism, who then will save Nigerians from the violence unleashed by these terrorist groups?

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