By Emma Njoku
Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari to urgently explain why he decided to withdraw $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to fight Boko Haram insurgency in the North East.
The money was approved by the governors during a meeting last Friday of the National Economic Council (NEC) presided over by Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
In a statement yesterday by SERAP’s Deputy Director, Timothy Adewale, the organisation said: “Nigerians should have some sense of what the government is doing in our name, especially against the background of the declaration by the authorities that the anti-insurgency war has ended and the Boko Haram terror group defeated, as well as the unresolved questions on how over $2 billion was spent by former Jonathan administration to fight Boko Haram. The government also ought to tell Nigerians whether and how the legal requirements for approving the extra-budgetary allocations were met.”
The organisation said as a government presumably pursuing a change-agenda, Buhari should do things differently from the former Jonathan administration.
“Nigerians do not have sufficient information at hand to evaluate, much less influence, the government’s policies, strategies and funding to end Boko Haram insurgency. Nigerians need to know the level of success that has been recorded against Boko Haram, and the security situation in the North East, as well as the amount of public funds that have been invested to combat terrorism,” SERAP said.
It said the success of Nigerian constitutional democracy ultimately depends upon an informed citizenry and urged the President Buhari to emphasise transparency over secrecy on the spending on Boko Haram.
“Buhari should keep Nigerians up-to-date about what he’s doing to end Boko Haram, including why $1billion is needed at this time to fight the insurgency.
“Indeed, the health of our democracy depends upon the government’s willingness to ensure that the policies and programs it pursues, in the interest of national security, are truly relevant and effective in keeping us safe,” the statement read. The group said citizens need to know about government’s policies in order to exercise their checking power, including at the polls stressing that the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power may lie in an enlightened citizenry.
“Transparency in the spending on Boko Haram would also have an indirect effect on other branches in the sense of setting an example and changing the background tone of government. Such disclosure helps to ensure government’s adherence to the rule of law, and promote confidence in the lawfulness of governmental action.”
SERAP regretted that since the start of the Boko Haram insurgency, the country’s defence and security budgets have increased significantly, “yet, there has been no resolution of the conflict; and troops in the front line have reportedly complained of lack of military equipment and resources to fight Boko Haram insurgents and restore full security. For instance, in 2014, about N340 billion ($1.7 billion) was allocated to the military. Funds allocated to the military was the largest in Nigeria’s federal budget in 2014.
“In October 2014, the National Assembly approved a request to borrow $1 billion as an additional amount for purchase of military equipment. In 2015, about N375 billion ($1.8 billion) was allocated to the military in the federal budget. In 2015, an interim report of the presidential investigations committee on arms procurement under the Jonathan administration revealed an extra-budgetary spending to the tune of N643.8 billion and an additional spending of about $2.1 billion under the Jonathan administration.
“The investigation indicated that about $2.1 billion was inexplicably disbursed into the office of the National Security Adviser in procurement of arms to fight Boko Haram insurgency, but was not spent for the purpose for which the money was disbursed.”
The group said lack of transparency and accountability in military spending, during the administration of former president Jonathan, has led to the inability of the military to adequately protect people against the violation of their rights by Boko Haram in the northeast.
“Some persons alleged to have embezzled funds meant for the fight against Boko Haram insurgents are currently being prosecuted, while other people are being investigated.”
“It is important for the government to accelerate this process by ensuring that the investigation and prosecution of all persons alleged to have embezzled our commonwealth is not delayed. A speedy prosecution will serve as a deterrent and ensure that Nigerians, particularly those in the Northeast, whose human rights have been violated, are not denied justice and reparation.”
The government should provide all investigating and prosecuting agencies with adequate funding and manpower required for speedy investigation and prosecution of corruption linked to the fight against Boko Haram,” SERAP said.