By Kunle Sanyaolu
Arguably, the most important statement by Information, Culture and Tourism Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed while explaining government’s position on the $1bn dollars withdrawn from the Excess Crude Account arguably, is his admonition that a stich in time saves nine. After an almost faultless, long talk to justify government’s action and put a stop to “needless and unhelpful” criticisms, the Minister said the funds are meant to avoid mistakes of the past.
Specifically, Mohammed explained that Nigeria lost many lives, property and even territories to Boko Haram owing to poor funding of military operations. “If funding for the insurgency has been well-channelled by the immediate past administration, a lot would have been achieved, and there would be no need for withdrawal from Excess Crude Account (ECA).”
What the minister has done was to identify the kernel of the problem, because it is good to know that if certain actions had been taken much earlier than now, insurgency might not be a household name that it is now. The concern is that if government didn’t do the needful in the past, what is the guarantee that it will do it now. After all, there is little difference in one administration and another. Most of the time, only the top political appointees are different. The civil servants and the heads of agencies are largely the same.
Besides that, Mohammed will need to convince Nigerians that national security, with its capacity to guzzle huge sums of money, has not become a big industry for some people. Former, National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki is on trial for unlawful possession of firearms and money laundering. But the main issue is how he disbursed $2.1 billion security fund meant to prosecute the Boko Haram war. Whether or not he is found guilty, Nigerians have at least confirmed that indeed, some chunks of the money did not go for direct prosecution of the war.
Clearly however, those who for some reasons received huge amounts from the Boko Haram security allocation were happy, until some of them were asked to refund money to government. To be fair, some of the recipients had no inkling about where the money came from, other than from the omnibus ‘government’. The possibility remains that despite the change of personnel in the sector, what happened can still be repeated.
This thinking might have informed some of the criticisms against government: Why seek a whopping $1bn, from the ECA for that matter, to wage war against Boko Haram that government had already labelled “defeated”, “degraded”, “destabilised” and “decimated”. The argument here is that if your enemy has already suffered these misfortunes, you only need to mop them up, not seek armoured military hardware to ground them. No one needs a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito!
Lai Mohammed has offered a comprehensive explanation to perhaps debunk the critics’ claim, saying though the insurgents are degraded, the war is far from being over; and in any event, military campaign against Boko Haram is very expensive going by the mouth-watering costs of military equipment, including aircraft, their service parts and their consumables such as ammunition, engine oil, plugs etc.
The federal government must recognise however that it will not have a chance for another explanation if it fails to finally quell the Boko Haram insurgency with the money from ECA. Firstly, because the economy does not leave room for regular appropriation of the ECA withdrawal size. Secondly, failure on government’s part is akin to buttressing the suspicion of critics that national security is actually a big industry to many beneficiaries. And thirdly, such failure will dent the desire of many Nigerians to be part of a civilised comity of nations.
At the moment, any hope of the country being a part of the civilised world is remote, given the huge organised criminality, depicted in the Boko Haram operations, kidnappings, cattle rustling, herdsmen-farmers conflict, pipeline vandalism, ethno-religious clashes, armed robbery and illegal bunkering among others in the country. Incidentally, these are the vices, not just Boko Haram, that government wants to stamp out of the society. Perhaps government left its explanation too late, thus sending a signal that it was an afterthought.
Nevertheless, these security scourges present formidable opposition to the success of any government. They constitute the number one problem confronting the Buhari administration; and unless they are put in check seriously, the president and his party may well forget making any impact on the country. If national security is a big industry, organised criminality is probably a bigger industry, with more desperate personnel who are ready to snuff life out of anyone seen to be uncooperative, or a meddlesome interloper.
President Buhari should note that his scorecard will be determined by whichever of the two industries override the other in the next 12 months or so.
●●Sanyaolu, a lawyer/Journalist, is chairman of the Editorial board, everyday.ng