A year before I was born 51 years ago, in Kano State of old, young Bashir Salihi Magashi got admitted to the Nigerian Defence Academy in Kaduna. Almost two decades later, my path would cross with his when General Ibrahim Babangida appointed Magashi the Military Governor of Sokoto State in August 1990. Courtesy of Colonel Idris Garba, the then Military Governor of old Kano State, I had become something of a family member of the then military President. The First Lady of that era, Mrs. Maryam Babangida, of blessed memory, had somewhat adopted me as her own child because of a novel I wrote at age 19.
I became fond of Bashir Magashi from the very first day I met him in Dodan Barracks 31 years ago, and that respect increased when, in 2003, he went to the Kano State office of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to insist that the winner of the Kano gubernatorial election of that year must be declared as such. There were seeming attempts to manipulate the results, and Magashi would have none of that. Though I was fully in support of Engr. Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, the person who lost that election, I nevertheless saw in Magashi, who was retired from the Nigerian Army as Major-General only four years earlier in 1999, as a hero deserving respect.
And so when Magashi was appointed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019 to take charge of the very important Ministry of Defence, I was extremely pleased, even if I thought he was somewhat playing to the gallery when he attended the Senate confirmation hearing, making promises that portrayed him as a newcomer (which in truth he was not) in the game of power.
There were high hopes that, at last, a messiah had come. Nigeria had been waging a rollercoaster war against terrorist Boko Haram, which started six years before Buhari was elected President, and General Magashi was a renowned war hero who made Nigeria proud when he commanded the 15 Brigade of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in Liberia in 1992. There was the belief that, drawing from his experience, Magashi had the magic to finally obliterate Boko Haram in his position as Defence Minister.
But that hope somewhat became misplaced soon after Magashi assumed that important office. I suspected the man somehow got embroiled in too much politics, which obviously distracted him. From a high-activity ministry that the Defence portfolio was expected to be, more so at a time of intense insecurity, Magashi became anonymous. The Ministry of Defence under him became a toothless bulldog, providing little of the leadership role Nigerians expected of its minister.
Some analysts thought Magashi recoiled into his shell after a major online newspaper, the Premium Times, kept publishing nasty things about his past, calling on President Buhari to remove the man from office. Perhaps that discouraged or induced some fear in the hitherto bold, courageous soldier.
Whatever it might be, it is now time for Major General Magashi to talk and tell Nigerians the truth about the $1 billion earmarked in 2017 from the Excess Cdude Account for the purchase of arms. The National Security Adviser, the very ineffective Babagana Monguno, had stirred the hornets’ nest when he made an unfounded allegation that wickedly portrayed the immediate past service chiefs as pilfering the funds. In the same interview, however, the same Monguno, portraying himself as a master in speaking from both sides of the mouth, categorically exonerated the former service chiefs of any wrongdoing. Why then did he make the allegation, more so to an international news platform that had 180 million listeners? Some people believe Monguno granted that interview deliberately to malign the former service chiefs because they did not allow him to manipulate them when they were in office. There are many Nigerians who have chosen to see his denial of the allegation as a non-issue.
Who is it, then, that pilfered the money, if at all it has been stolen or tempered with? Now, since Monguno has exonerated the former service chiefs, are there some ghosts hiding somewhere that we should blame? And if the matter is a non-issue at all, as the Presidency wasted no time in telling us, why is Monguno, a man seen as a major liability to the war against terror, still in office?
It is surprising that some newspapers have chosen to wrongly interpret the news, alluding to Monguno what he categorically denied, that the former service chiefs have questions to answer. It is shocking because a newspaper or journalist worth the name should carry out the simple exercise of confirming who handled the procurement process with that $1 billion. A simple phone call would readily confirm that the entire procurement was handled by the Ministry of Defence, and definitely not one or any of the former service chiefs. Even if Magashi did not partake in spending part of the $1 billion, he has a duty, as current holder of the office of Minister of Defence, to tell Nigerians this simple truth, unless, as some people are alleging, it services his interest to have attention directed away from his ministry on the matter.
If Magashi would not talk, it behoves on the Nigerian press or the Buhari administration to force him to do so. It amounts to working at cross purposes for a key appointee of the Buhari-led government to continue to lend support to the impression that monumental corruption had taken place when nothing of such happened.
My take is that even the Ministry of Defence itself did not misappropriate the funds under question. As the Presidency has explained, the procurement process took time, and only few of the weapons ordered with those funds have arrived in Nigeria. Half of the funds were deployed to the purchase of Tucano fighter jets, which, as Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu told Nigerians, will now be delivered to Nigeria in July or thereabouts. Though the order was made government-to-government two years ago, it is a well known fact that such weapons are not purchased off the shelf. It takes years to produce them.
Minister Magashi also needs to avail Nigerians with what happened when he served as ECOMOG commander. Did he hand over all the weapons he met on ground to the person that succeeded him? This question is germane because weapons are not fixed assets that are expected to remain on ground forever. They are easily-expendable products used in prosecution of war. They are like chalk in a school. After some time, all that auditors could see are receipts of purchase, and not the item purchased, since it has already been used.
With the new Chief of Army Staff, General Ibrahim Attahiru, telling the House of Representativess Committee investigating procurement with that $1 billion that “certain individuals” should say what happened to the money, it behoves on General Magashi to tell us who these “individuals” are, though they are very much around in the Ministry of Defence that he heads, it is wicked and unjust to deliberately create the impression that the “individuals” being referred to are the former service chiefs, when in reality they saw nothing of that money and did not therefore handle any procurement to do with it.
It is very, very wrong for General Magashi to fold his arms and allow rumour to rule in this matter. Luckily, we still have people possessing honour and conviction that are telling Nigerians the truth. But even then, the truth should come from Magashi, even if it will indict him. It is refreshing that the Coalition of Civil Society Organizations in Nigeria, invited the media earlier in the week on this matter of urgent national importance,
Comrade Mustapha Tijjani, President, Good Governance Advocacy Initiative Tijjani, who I know as a man of intense integrity, had at that media conference organized by a coalition of civil society organisations, said as follows: “While we consider any call for probe as the right of citizens and constitutional duty of the lawmakers, particularly when financial impropriety have been noticed to be committed, it however amounts to wicked distractions, outright disservice and deliberate falsehood when certain individuals who are not bold enough to demand proof are hiding behind it to stoke flames of propaganda, raising false alarm and deliberately engaging on a mission to malign the hard earned integrity of the immediate past service chiefs who have committed their service to the nation.
“Right from the time the trio of the immediate past service chiefs were in office, we are aware that several individuals were after them to bring their names into national disrepute. First it was phantom allegations of extra judicial killing at the war front, even hyped by some international organizations, promoted by certain political parties all in the bid to create national security crisis and demoralize the patriotic men fighting at the war front.
“With time they turned out to be largely unproven, outright falsehood and deliberate orchestration to weaken the zeal of the service chiefs.”
Another person that owes Nigerians the obligation to state who specifically the “individuals” he referred to were, is the current Army Chief Lt. General Ibrahim Attahiru. Though it is clear he was referring to some officials in the Ministry of Defence, some commentators have leveraged on the ambiguity in his statement to shield the guilty and blame the innocent former service chiefs, who Attahiru and everyone else that cares to check knows have absolutely nothing to do with that procurement.
General Attahiru has his job well cut out for him. He has the duty to keep us safe. I do not believe he has the luxury of time to engage in needless politics. Fighting Boko Haram terrorists and making a difference as his predecessors have done entails a lot of focus, selflessness and sacrifice. I do not believe he is engaging in a popularity contest with his predecessors, as some people are alluding. He should therefore allow the politicians to do their dirty politics while he commands the army in the task of obliterating Boko Haram terrorists and bandits.
I do not envy Lt. General Attahiru or any of his colleagues trying to keep us safe, given that the security situation, as confirmed by the British government last week, keeps getting worse everyday. They should not forget that Nigerians expect nothing short of visible result from them, and what this translates to is capturing Abubakar Shekau alive or killing him with solid evidence, as a prelude to totally finishing off and winning the war, which his predecessors almost achieved before retiring from service three months ago.
Only God know what the security situation would degenerate to if politics, rather than soldiering, becomes the defining feature of Attahiru or any of the other service chiefs. Brass Tacks wishes them well in the task of returning peace and stability to Nigeria.