It is nothing but one week, one controversy, for President Muhammadu Buhari. Hardly had he extricated himself from his controversial comments on the “laziness” of uneducated Nigerian youths with an undue “sense of entitlement” than another controversy surfaced on his government’s purchase of $496million worth of Tucano military jets without the appropriation, approval or knowledge of the National Assembly.
Since this controversy broke, with the Presidential aides running helterskelter doing damage control, the world has been treated to pictures of America’s President Donald Trump, grinning from ear to ear as if he had just won the lottery, as Buhari signed the agreement papers for the supply of the aircraft scheduled for delivery in 2020, which is two years away.
Nigerians hardly need to look beyond Trump’s unbridled excitement about the deal to know that the purchase agreement is a win-win for Trump and America, and a somewhat not too brilliant deal, if not a foolish one, for Nigeria.
Why do I say so? Apart from the hoopla of Buhari’s withdrawal of such a gargantuan sum from the public treasury without the necessary legislative approval, which is in itself a serious offence, it is doubtful that the commitment of such huge funds to military equipment that would not be delivered in the next year two years is the solution to the Boko Haram problem currently thumping Nigeria on the nose.
The solution to the problem, and the incessant killings by herdsmen in the country, cannot be found in the deployment of military equipment that would not be delivered until 2020. Nigeria needs a more immediate answer to this serious problem. It is also not clear that a solely military option is the answer to the Boko Haram problem.
Again, this government has always made the point that the Boko Haram insurgency has been put down and that it is only its last vestiges that the nation is witnessing. If this were so, would jets that would not be available for two years be the way to mop up the last vestiges of the insurgency?
Certaintly, Nigeria needs a more direct and immediate solution to the Boko Haram and herdsmen issue, not one that would require equipment that would take all of two years to manufacture and supply. One would expect the government to commit such money to things that would be of more immediate benefit to beleaguered Nigerians.
This is more so as there are now complaints over the true cost of the aircraft in question. Social media reports early this week alleged that the cost of the aircraft was inflated by over 400 percent as they should not have cost more than $122.4 million, going by the cost at which they were bought other countries. Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador and Afghanistan were reported to have purchased the aircraft at an average of about $10million each.
Although the veracity of the $10 or 12 milliion purchase price by some countries has not been determined, there is something clearly questionable in the speed and secrecy with which the government committed such huge funds to the aircraft purchase that would not even be delivered within the tenure of this administration.
Although national security, on which some people tried to hinge this strange purchase, is aserious issue, it is still questionable to commit such huge sum in such a controversial circumstance to a purchase that cannot address the country’s immediate security needs.
It is important unravel the true circumstances of the payment to the American government, more as an overpayment of $373.6million has been alleged. It is also very important that the nation’s payment processes are overhauled to stop a situation in which a president simply dips hands into the national treasury to commit unappropriated sums of money to controversial items.
It is the laxity in the handling of public finances such as this that made it possible for the late former dictator, Sani Abacha, and indeed, many past Nigerian leaders, to simply turn the country’s treasury into their personal ATMS.
The time has come to stop this practice once and for all. Dubious national security claims are not an excuse to spirit public funds out of the country. We also need an arrangement in which the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is not a lackey of the Presidency. He should be answerable to the people and made to account for all withdrawals from the national treasury.