Nigeria’s Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai, has responded to the joint Freedom of Information request on military spending between 2015 and 2017, particularly in the country’s ravaged Northeast where a decadeslong fight against Boko Haram has continued to suck national resources with virtually no oversight.
The freedom of information request was made last December by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, Enough is Enough, and BudgIT.
SERAP, EiE and BudgIT had in a joint FOI request asked Mr Buratai to “urgently provide information on the 2015, 2016 and 2017 budget implementation reports of the Nigerian Army”.
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The groups had also urged Mr Buratai to furnish them with “the amounts released (financial implications) 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.”
On Friday, Mr Buratai finally responded, and listed some of the projects that have consumed money budgeted for the military since 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari, who is seeking reelection next month, came to power promising more accountability, transparency and positive results against Boko Haram.
Buratai said the money was spent on many projects, including “renovation of barracks and military hospitals, spending to honour late soldiers; trainings and workshops; repairs of some old military equipment; and completion of offices and housing projects. Others are feeding of soldiers; building of new barracks and schools; acquisition of arms and ammunition and vehicles for military operations; as well as provision of welfare for soldiers.”
Why it matters: Billions of dollars have been budgeted for the Nigerian military and to fund operations against Boko Haram. However, with little progress in the battlefields and more complaints from soldiers, Nigerian activists took it upon themselves to find out why more money was accomplishing virtually nothing.
In a statement on Sunday by SERAP senior legal adviser Bamisope Adeyanju on behalf of the three civil society groups, the activists said “the bulky photographic and textual documentation with a cover letter dated 24 December 2018 was delivered to SERAP’s office last Friday by a military officer at around 11:40am.”
The army’s response was signed on Mr Buratai’s behalf by Brigadier-General S.B. Kumapayi and read in part: “The Nigerian Army (NA) has in recent time come under unrelenting public scrutiny by both private individuals and Non-governmental organizations over issues of appropriation of funds. The most recent being a call from your organization for the Nigerian Army to explain how funds appropriated for the NA under the administration of the Chief of Army Staff were utilized.”
“In view of the above, I am directed to forward the above-mentioned document to your office for your perusal and retention. Please accept the esteemed regards and assurance of the Chief of Army Staff.”
Bamisope Adeyanju, on behalf of the civil society groups, said: “This is a joint FOI request involving EiE and BudgIT and not just SERAP. Therefore, our groups will carefully study the letter and documentation by Mr Buratai to see if details of the information provided meet the requirements of our request and then promptly respond to him, as appropriate.”
“While we ascertain the level of compliance of the information provided, we welcome Mr Buratai’s demonstrated commitment to the Freedom of Information Act by responding to our request, especially at a time when high-ranking government officials includingthe Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Audu Ogbeh and Minister of Power, Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola continue to exhibit blatant disregard for FOI requests by refusing to even acknowledge several of such requests.”
“The National Assembly, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC),ministries, agencies and departments should also learn from the good example shown by Mr Buratai by at least honouring and responding to FOI requests from Nigerians, NGOs and others if they are ever to contribute to the efforts to achieve greater level of transparency and accountability in Nigeria.”