IF you are a Nigerian living in Nigeria, you certainly would have heard of, or read about the arms bazaar; what has been appropriately dubbed ‘armsgate’ or ‘Dasukigate,’ named after the man at the centre of the ugly storm: Col. Sambo Dasuki?
Even if you were not a Nigerian and lived anywhere in the world, you couldn’t have missed the stench, oozing out of Africa’s most populous country. It’s a situation that shames our nation and depresses our citizens. Even for a country that has lost its shock absorbers and has been so shocked to the level where not many things shock its people anymore, the details about how over $2 billion earmarked for the purchase of arms under security vote, was shared has left the ordinary man dazed, stupefied, flummoxed and askance.
We can’t imagine the Tsunami that has hit the nation with the shocking revelations that are tumbling out, that under the watch of former President Goodluck Jonathan, what we were treated to, was a bizarre dance of alleged mass looting of the common till. Indeed, with the way things ran under that administration, with the alleged general lack of fiscal responsibility and decorum, coupled with lack of restraint, if you like, recklessness in the personalisation of office and government positions by some powerful hawks, many certainly suspected that something untoward was going on with the nation’s finances.
We saw how top hotels in the nation’s capital city of Abuja and other major cities quaked with the dollar power of the men of means, who punctured the serenity of the night with sirens and gallivanted in the grandeur of power: Big automobiles, champagne binges and, of course, the eye-popping mansions that bespoke of men of cash and power.
But, no one in his or her wildest imagination could have contemplated the furious attack on the treasury in such cavalier manner, in such gluttonous ravage, as we are daily being availed of by preliminary investigations into the armsgate.
Yet, I am told by a senior administration official that what we are seeing is only a tip of the iceberg. He told me on phone: “By the time investigations are over, you will be shocked at the level of looting that took place. We are still scratching the surface. The names of those who have looted the country will shock you. You just wait and see!”
I am already shocked by the much we have heard. I am already heartbroken to read of the billions and multi-millions that went out under spurious circumstances. I am too tongue-tied to hear stories of diversion of public funds from the purpose it was earmarked.
When Borno Governor, Alhaji Shettima, said Boko Haram insurgents appeared better armed and kitted than our soldiers, he was dismissed and called all sorts of names. With the revelations of diversion of arms fund now out, is it not possible there are some truths in Shettima’s statement? Is it not possible that some deaths could have been avoided if the money didn’t just disappear? Is it not possible that the war could have been more decisively prosecuted if all resources had been thrown into it?
Yes, investigations are ongoing. Yes, those mentioned so far are presumed innocent until proven otherwise by a competent court of law. But the allegations so far are mind-bogging. Even the reasons for the disbursement of the funds are more baffling. Some received millions for ‘spiritual purposes.’ There were allocations for bogus consultancies; campaign expenditures were also allegedly taken care of from security vote; others for no reason whatsoever. Yet, the general purpose for the released fund was for the purchase of arms for our soldiers locked for over six years in an internecine battle with the Boko Haram insurgents!
Outraged as the citizens ought to be at the sordid episode, anger is not just enough; we must encourage the government to get to the root of this sordid scandal that weakens and diminishes all of us. Culprits must be fished out and prosecuted. Those implicated must have their day in the courts of law and made to face justice.
But, the government must not mess up its case by hasty or frantic pronouncements that prejudge the accused. They must not give the impression of unfairness, bias, witch-hunt or persecution in the prosecution of those it has accused of diversion of public funds. The judiciary must be allowed to do its work unfettered, without undue interference or influence. Impunity must not be used to fight impunity. Court judgments must be respected, no matter government’s indignation; otherwise it loses something called sense of fairness in the court of public opinion.
Also, the government must ensure that the fight against corruption does not wear the toga of ‘selectiveness.’ Let all who have sinned be made to dance naked in the public square. Whether they are PDP or APC sinners, the law ought to be blind to all sentiments. That is the way to go in what someone has dubbed the purgatory and purification process going on in the country. At the end of the day, wherever the fight gets, the nation will learn a lesson or two from it. Let the music play on.
However, for this columnist, we must, as a nation, look beyond the current armsgate, to x-ray the whole concept of ‘security vote.’ Let’s face it, security vote has, for quite a while, become the conduit for siphoning public funds by elected government officials, especially states’ chief executives and the Presidency. Hiding under that sub-head, all kinds of slush funds are funnelled through it, including money for mistresses, concubines and wild parties. Even without security votes, there are all kinds of secret votes for greedy leaders to prey. Remember the PTDF fund controversy between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his deputy, Atiku Abubakar? Then, it emerged that the nation’s president funded his extracurricular affairs from PTDF funds, an agency that should have been in the forefront of technological development, deploying resources from petroleum resources! But not under OBJ, who allegedly allocated oil blocs to presidential mistresses and daughters-in-law!
Indeed, security votes have become oil bloc for most of our elected executive leaders. There is no state today whose chief executive does not enjoy a robust security vote, even in states tottering under the weight of insecurity. However, there are some states whose governors are truly deploying security vote for its purpose. But for many, it’s a bazaar. Seriously, is there no way a law can be made compelling those who enjoy the privilege of security vote to be made to fully account for its disbursement? Is there a law saying that those who divert security votes can’t be punished or made to vomit all or some of what they had swallowed? Lawyers and those versed in jurisprudence of criminal law can offer some insight in that regard.
Surely, the armsgate is one scandal that won’t die or fade from public glare too easily. Its stench is suffocating. It is splattering everywhere after hitting the fan. No deodorant has been manufactured just yet to mellow the stench. Lord, have mercy!