By Sonala Olumhense
Former National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki was a very powerful man in a government where power and money gloated from up high at Nigeria’s problems. But how good is he at gambling, poker, or common sense? Not very, it would appear.
Last week, the retired colonel was ordered to be arrested for allegedly siphoning over $2.1 billion in funds meant for arming the military. His new troubles were on top of ongoing charges of treasonable felony, in the middle of which he was battling to travel abroad for medical treatment. [A side note: Left to me, nobody from the level of State legislator/commissioner to the President should be allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment within four years of leaving public office. That is the length of one term of office. You may import entire hospitals and legions of specialist doctors, if you wish, but you should not travel abroad to them.]
Such a law would have taken care of the likes of Mr. Dasuki, to begin with.
In any event, his travel battles were pre-empted when the report of the interim presidential panel investigating arms procurement since 2007 was made public.
It is unlikely Dasuki will be treating any ailments anywhere soon but within the Federal Republic of Nigeria, of which he was NSA until six months ago.
It may sound like ancient history now, but it was only last January that Dasuki led the sponsored clamor for Nigeria’s national elections to be postponed for at least six months. All indications being that Mr. Goodluck Jonathan would lose the presidential election, parties and interest groups sympathetic to the Peoples Democratic Party-in addition to the military and security agencies under the direction of Mr. Dasuki-actively sought that postponement.
Mr. Dasuki went to Chatham House in London to make the case for postponement, using the excuse of insufficient readiness of the electoral commission. It wasn’t true: fear-not the truth–was what inspired the former soldier. The security chiefs reportedly argued that they did not want to dilute their focus on the security challenge in the northeast in order to provide security for the elections.
Sambo and the hawks got their wish. The elections were postponed for six weeks, during which, they said, Boko Haram would be vanquished. The same army which had found it impossible to cope with the militants, the same army whose foot soldiers had continued to cry out about being poorly-equipped implied that the job would be easy.
Having in Chatham House insulted Nigerian soldiers as “cowards”, Sambo traveled around with a fresh coat of snake oil on his tongue, telling the press that within those six weeks, “All known Boko Haram camps will be taken out…They will be dismantled…”
Asked how, he said, “…We are having additional equipment coming in. We are better equipped and better placed now to take on that thing…”
Dasuki was lying, of course: the time being purchased was designed to boost Mr. Jonathan’s electoral hopes, not enhance Nigeria’s security. Eight months after that dubious six-week war, a presidential committee set up at the end of August provided confirmation last week that funds meant for equipping the army were not used for that purpose. That seems to tie in with what many soldiers, some of whom were then court-martialed, have said in the past few years.
Actually, some of the conclusions of the presidential panel required no panel at all. In a commentary in this column on September 2014 and February 2015, I called for Nigeria’s recent defence and security spending to be probed, pointing out the vast budgets in the sector in the preceding 10 years alone, in addition to about N550bn by the Office of the National Security Adviser in the Jonathan Years.
The presidential panel listed anomalies that include $2.1bn in extra-budgetary interventions; $2.3 billion in failed contracts between 2007 and 2015, and N3.8 billion in cash paid to a company allegedly without evidence of any contract.
Hearing the arrest order against him, Mr. Dasuki did not even pause to assess the poker, I mean…deck of cards in his hands. In a press statement, he immediately dismissed the panel’s findings as ambiguous, presumptuous and baseless, and warned he would be waiting in court to defeat the government.
“The good thing is that some of the key actors in the present administration were part of the past process being viciously challenged,” he said, appearing to be ready to throw others, including his former boss, under the speeding train.
“There was no contract awarded or equipment bought without approval from the then President and Commander-In-Chief,” he declared.
Mr. Jonathan’s government was never the most coherent, and between Dasuki and the former president, a sad reminder was provided last week. Speaking in the United States, where the system is milking him for information, Mr. Jonathan tried to play the ping pong ball with a baseball bat.
“I did not award any $2 billion contract for procurement of weapons,” he said at a public event. “Where did the money come from…I did not award a contract of $2billion for procurement of weapons”.
Perhaps he didn’t award, but should have. Perhaps some other people did, but shouldn’t have. The good thing is that a long-overdue examination of Nigeria’s procurement malpractices may now find public expression.
If so, it must be a thorough and just exercise, and should include the military, security and intelligence communities spanning at least the past 10 years. The rot did not begin under Mr. Jonathan, and while there is evidence that the NSA’s office gulped nearly $3bn between 2011 and 2015, Mr. Dasuki did not invent that office, and he did not arrive there until 2012.
The pursuit of Nigeria’s (recent) looters must be pursued on the basis of justice, not vengeance. That is why there was no need for the government to have advertised Mr. Dasuki last week as anything other than one of several suspects who should have been arrested and processed for trial together according to the law.
Instead, Mr. Dasuki was being figuratively “paraded” before the public and the press in the nauseating tradition of Nigeria’s criminal justice system where a suspect is brought before the press as though he has already been convicted. If the government is sure of its case, and of its anti-corruption claims-and if an underlying masterplan is not to deliberately lose a particular trial-the right place is before a judge under the nation’s laws.
Hopefully, the Buhari government understands it must demonstrate every case in court. Government spokesmen can say whatever they wish, but an official statement, no matter how eloquently it might be crafted, does not substitute for a carefully and competently-prepared prosecution.
Yes, looting Nigeria has been extremely easy for its practitioners, requiring ruthlessness rather than brains.
Recovering those funds and putting the thieves in jail to rot away will take far more than simply identifying their wrongs.
- This Best Outside Opinion was written by Sonala Olumhense