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Friday, February 23, 2007

NIGERIA .(P for Power - Grab), POWER-STRUGGLE,

Arming the Military

The recent dust raised by Vice President Atiku Abubakar over the federal government’s procurement of arms for the military to crush militants in the Niger Delta has an element of truth after all, but it is a project which dates back to 2004

By OLU OJEWALE






Assault Rifles
For supporters of President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Vice President Atiku Abubakar is now a drowning man clutching at every straw around to stay afloat. In the last few months, he has accused the Obasanjo government of a number of things bordering on corruption and abuse of office. On January 30, during the commissioning of his campaign office in Abuja, Abubakar jolted the nation, especially the military, and unsettled many people in the Niger Delta when he accused the President of spending $2 billion on arms to crush the insurgents in the area. He alleged: “Just recently, the President approved $2 billion to buy weapons to suppress the people of Niger Delta. Two billion US dollars, not to develop the Niger Delta, but to suppress them”. This was swiftly denied by government, who accused Abubakar of wanting to raise the political temperature against the government and cause confusion in the region. Uba Sani, special assistant to the President on public affairs, while addressing journalists in Abuja, said it was not so. Sani accused Abubakar of plotting to destabilise the country using the Niger Delta as a launch pad.
With that vehement denial, it would appear that, indeed, the Vice President was unnecessarily heating up the polity. But TELL can now authoritatively say that Abubakar was not talking gibberish after all. There is a modicum of truth in what he said about arming the security forces in the Niger Delta area, even when it is apparent that Abubakar is playing politics with the issue. Sources close to Aso Rock, the seat of power, say that the decision to fortify security in the Niger Delta was given serious thought about three years ago. In fact, the President was said to have given a directive in June 2004 on the need to provide logistic support for security in the Niger Delta. Shortly after, the government seemed to have developed cold feet because all the laudable measures that would have enhanced security in the area were put in abeyance. But as the security of oil workers and residents in the oil-rich region worsened and the crisis in the area appeared to be spinning out of control towards the end of last year, Obasanjo reportedly held crucial meetings with his service chiefs and other stakeholders. At a meeting held sometime between September and October, it was decided that certain military personnel be trained and some military items be procured for “immediate-term operations”. Service chiefs were to submit lists of their requirements to the President via Abdullahi Mohammed, retired major-general and chief of staff to the President.
The joint requirements from the Army, Navy and Police were pegged at about $3 billion and another N22 billion for logistic support for security operations in the Niger Delta. Mohammed, apparently acting on the President’s directive, was said to have forwarded the bills to Funsho Kupolokun, group managing director, GMD, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, to ascertain how much he could provide for the project. Kupolokun reportedly gave a reply in October, indicating that he could make $750 million available within the corporation’s limited resources. Shortly after, a meeting was held to determine how to harmonise and prioritise those needs. Although the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, was not part of the project, they found it necessary to incorporate the force and make provision for its needs for the assignment. Thus, the $750 million was shared as follows: Army, $220 million; NAF, $185 million; Navy, $160 million; and Police, $180 million.
Even then, Kupolokun was said to have been concerned that he could be in trouble for releasing funds arbitrarily. So, in a meeting with the chief of defence staff, CDS, about funding of logistic security support for the Niger Delta, the GMD allegedly asked for the Federal Executive Council, FEC, and Due Process Unit’s approvals for all the transactions, but the CDS was said to have advised against it. TELL learnt that the CDS said that in view of the urgency, propriety, nature and the confidentiality which was attached to the project, the procurement of such approvals would further delay the expeditious attention needed to combat the security challenges in the Niger Delta. The CDS must have based his position on the assertion of Obasanjo, who, in his address to the service chiefs, was quoted as saying that because of the importance of the project, he was “requesting and also authorising the NNPC to fund” it.
Based on early approvals, the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit, BMPIU, endorsed the procurement of some newly upgraded MKII Suncraft Scorpion Fast Patrol Craft for the Nigerian Army in December last year. The contract, given to Singapore Technologies Kinetics, was valued at a unit price of $976,800. About $50 million was spent on the craft. The company similarly received a contract for the supply of arms and ammunition of about $10 million. It also supplied 193 Cobra Armoured Personnel Carriers, APC, and AK-47 rifles worth more than $150 million. Late January this year, Singapore Technologies Kinetics, which supplied the APC, arms and armaments, was paid in three instalments. All the monies were paid and converted into US dollars through a Zenith Bank branch in Abuja.



Another contract for the supply of some Scorpion Fast Patrol Craft for the Nigerian Army was given to Suncraft International Incorporated, a Switzerland-based company. The firm received about $12 million, being 25 per cent of the total cost in accordance with the term of agreement, January 24, and another payment of about $36 million the following day, January 25, through a Zenith Bank branch in Abuja.
It appears that everything does not depend on procurement of arms and ammunition. The magazine learnt that there were provisions for the establishment of a media centre, community relations campaign and media campaign, as well as rapid operational centres. Budgeted for media and community relations was N44,523,000. The bill for 200 men who would undergo training on rapid response with their equipment was to cost government about $5.5 million, while over N260 million was earmarked for the establishment of operational centres in Abuja, Warri and Port Harcourt. Early in January this year, NNPC paid close to N180 million, which represented 25 per cent of the total cost, for the training and equipment of the 200 military personnel.
In the same vein, provisions were made to re-install some Nigerian Navy ships. According to sources, Emmey Ventures Limited, which was given the contract for the reinstallation of fixed firing system aboard Naval ships about two years ago, was paid N112,990,786.50, representing 95 per cent of the cost of the contract. The money was paid by the NNPC in December last year so that work could start in earnest. And also in December, the corporation was similarly advised to make available N2 billion to pay the Navy’s 23 creditors and for the supply of POL products to the force. The force had, as far back as December 2004, through Rear Admiral Samuel Afolayan, then chief of naval staff, requested for a total sum of N4 billion to pay its 23 creditors and procure POL products of N90 million. He also requested for about C3 million to buy spare parts for its equipment. But no action appears to have been taken until recently, when the security situation in the Niger Delta was on the downward trend.
The needs of both the Police and NAF were also funded from the NNPC’s special provision to arm their officers and men. Lieutenant General Owoye Andrew Azazi, chief of army staff, COAS, did not dispute the fact that the military was re-equipped recently. But he insisted that nothing was done outside the budget allocation. “At the end of every year, the military prepares a budget and we ask government for funds to take care of the budget. Like everybody knows, nobody gets what (he demands). We have not done anything outside that budget,” Azazi said. Apparently concerned about the allegation that re-arming the military was meant to crush the people of the Niger Delta, the army boss, an Ijaw from Bayelsa State, the epicentre of the Niger Delta, was in the area, February 2, and addressed some of the militants, where the issue of the $2 billion armament was raised. Azazi assured them that the military operation in the Niger Delta was for their own benefit. He repeated that he was not aware that arms and armament of $2 billion were purchased by the military in recent times. “Go and ask the Vice President where he got his facts. I make my requirements known to the government. The Vice President of the country made a statement but I am not in a position to say much on that... We have a responsibility to kit our soldiers. If they need mobility and we take care of that, does it mean we are buying vehicles to crush militants? It could be so that if there are disturbances, they can move quicker and more easily. Or do you want us to ask local government chairmen or other people to give them vehicles?” Azazi said. He added that the government was working fervently on finding amicable solutions to issues concerning the area. Asked if the military had spent up to $2 billion in recent times to buy weapons, the COAS insisted that nothing of such had taken place. “Two billion dollars is a lot of money. I am in the army but I do not know whether anybody gave us $2 billion to buy that level of arms and ammunition,” he said (See box).
Speaking in the same vein, Uba Sani told TELL in Abuja last week that Abubakar was simply playing politics with the Niger Delta issue. “That kind of statement is made out of mischief. It is more of a deliberate attempt to misinform the people, generate undue anxiety, and cause chaos and anarchy in the Niger Delta. It is very unfortunate that some privileged persons in this country can choose to endanger innocent people, the economy and our corporate existence in this way; so it must be condemned without reservations by all citizens. There is no logical reason why anyone should unduly politicise security issues in the Niger Delta,” Sani said. He stated that the President was more concerned about the security of life and property in the area than allow it to be politicised.
He explained further that although the federal government had been spending on provision of logistic security for the Niger Delta, it would be very difficult to quantify such expenditures in Naira and Kobo. “The $2 billion allegation generated by a desperate politician is a non-issue but one should be worried when a very highly privileged citizen, who is motivated by narrow political ambition, now descends so low to the point of endangering national security by exposing national security documents to the public and foreign governments,” he said.
Garba Shehu, head of Abubakar campaign media team, said if the Vice President was not convinced about the veracity of his information, he would not have made it. Shehu said he knew that Abubakar was not a frivolous person and given his latitude of wide reach and information available to him, he could not have lied. “We believe that no amount of blackmail will remove the Niger Delta issue from the menu of campaign issues. Nigerians are entitled to be told that things can be done differently. Do they want ‘fire for fire’ or do they want equitable solutions involving all the stakeholders?” he said.
Despite the provocations by the militants in the last one year, the federal government has handled the issue of the Niger Delta with restraint. Whether that could be attributed to the weakness of the military is another thing. But what is apparent is the fact that the government does not want the Niger Delta, which is the mainstay of the nation’s economy, to be in flames.

JIDE BABALOLA









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