Nigerian activists announced on Sunday that they have asked the chief of army staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, to account for billions of naira reportedly spent while fighting Boko Haram terrorists in the country’s northeast.
Why it matters: Transparency in military spending in Nigeria has always been a scarce currency, and allegations by soldiers that their colleagues were being massacred by Boko Haram because money meant to buy weapons was being diverted to private pockets resurfaced recently after hundreds of soldiers were gunned down in Borno state.
In that encounter in Metele town, the terrorists overran a military base on 18 November, killing hundreds of soldiers, injuring many and sending hundreds more fleeing.
The incident shocked Nigerians, especially because President Muhammadu Buhari, a retired Major- General, zoomed into power in 2015 promising to crush Boko Haram, and declared a year later in 2016 that the terrorists, who pledged allegiance to ISIS in March 2015, had been defeated.
On Sunday, three organizations; Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), Enough is Enough (EiE), and BudgIT, in a statement sent to TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington DC, said they had sent a joint Freedom of Information request to General Buratai asking him to “urgently provide information on the 2015, 2016 and 2017 budget implementation reports of the Nigerian Army”.
The information should include amounts released and spent in the fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2016 for the various operations the army carried out, they said.
More specifically, the groups urged Mr Buratai to furnish them with the amounts released and expended in fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017 for Operation Lafiya Dole, Operation Safe Haven, Operation Python Dance, Operation Ruwan Wuta, Operation Delta Safe, Operation Mesa, Operation Harbin Kunama, Operation Awatse, Operation Tsera Teku and Operation Crocodile Smile.
The groups warned that “If the requested information is not provided within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter, our oganizations shall take all appropriate legal action under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.”
In the FOI request sent last week and signed by Bamisope Adeyanju of SERAP, Seun Akinyemi of EiE and Atiku Samuel of BudgIT, the groups said: “Transparency of the budget process and its implementation is an essential condition to achieve good governance. The reports, if provided and published, will shed light on military spending and put to rest once and for all the perceived lack of transparency and accountability in the spending of military budgets, which has been a subject of intense public debate and concern.”
According to the groups, “several billions of naira allocated to the military to defend the country and protect its people have neither contributed to improving the ability of Nigerian soldiers to fight Boko Haram and other armed groups nor provided the much-needed security especially for Nigerians in the North-east of the country.”
The FOI request read in part: “The information being requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act. The information requested for, apart from not being exempted from disclosure under the FOI Act, would serve the national interest, public welfare, public interest and peace, human rights, good governance, transparency and accountability.”
“By virtue of Section 1(1) of the Freedom of Information Act,2011, we are entitled as of right to request for or gain access to information, including information on 2015, 2016 and 2017 budget implementation reports of the Nigerian Army, and the amountsreleased (financial implications) and expended in fiscal years 2015, 2016 and 2017 forthe various operations listed, which have yielded no tangible result.”
“Also, by virtue of Section 4(a) of the FOI Act, when a person makes a request for information from a public official, institution or agency, the public official, institution or agency to whom the application is directed is under a binding legal obligation to provide the applicant with the information requested for, except as otherwise provided by the Act, within 7 days after the application is received.”‘
Simon is a renowned international journalist, founder and publisher of TODAY NEWS AFRICA in Washington D.C.