Armsgate: Why Buhari Can’t Probe Dambazau | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Armsgate: Why Buhari Can’t Probe Dambazau

Abdulrahaman Dambazau, Buhari
Posted: Jul 28, 2016 at 4:30 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

…May Sack Minister In Planned Cabinet Shake-Up


Nicholas Uwerunonye

Despite growing calls to probe Abdulrahaman Dambazau, Minister of Interior, and staunch ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, in an alleged arms purchase sleaze, the president, Independent reliably gathered, may not be in a hurry to okay the probe of the minister.

Sources at the presidency say Buhari would rather ease out Dambazau alongside some other members of his cabinet in a planned shake-up than to allow his ally be put to shame.

A presidential probe on arms and equipment procurement recently submitted a second report to President Buhari in which previous Chiefs of Army Staff (COAS) were allegedly implicated in widespread contract and procurement fraud. By the panel’s terms of reference, the probe was meant to cover between 2007 and 2015.

While Lt. Generals Azubuike Ihejirika and Kenneth Minimah, previous occupants of the offices, have so far been recommended for probe by the committee with Buhari reportedly giving nod for their arrests, the report was curiously silent on Danbazau who was COAS between 2007 and 2010.

The omission became even more pronounced given alleged investigation on Dambazau in 2011 with a spin-off in litigation against the army by defence contractors, alleged diversion of soldiers’ overseas allowances which resulted in protest in 2008 and a recent revelation by an online newspaper of a 2003 purchase by Dambazau of properties in an upscale area in the US.

While the details of the alleged shady past of the minister appear overwhelming, President Buhari is reportedly reluctant in pursuing the probe on account of the source of money. There are indications that the monies involved were subventions from United Nations (UN) for equipment purchase and allowances of army contingents in troubled regions of the continent.

An inquisition into details of Dambazau’s handling of the money, according to sources, may raise questions on the integrity of the Nigerian army as the international community may insist that it answers transparently or face stringent measures in future before any money is released to it.

Not a few army personnel, both serving and retired, say that the minister while in office as army chief allegedly creamed off money meant for re-equipment and payment of allowances to Nigerian army personnel for international assignments in war-torn parts of Africa.

“A probe into Dambazau’s tenure would necessarily mean that the army’s spending of overseas donation for peace keeping will have to be probed,” explained a defence contractor in Abuja who prefers speaking off record. According to him, getting what UN donated to the army for allowances in the period under review will be too easy because the UN is not like Nigeria where such enquiry is treated with suspicion.

“Going by several incidents in the army surrounding none payments of allowances and army failure to honour contract agreements with defence contractors, Dambazau has a lot to answer,” he said.

For instance, on Friday, July 4, 2008, soldiers converged from all over Nigeria in Akure. The soldiers, reportedly, were contingents of a peace mission to Liberia from where they had returned in April of that year. They also allegedly claimed that since their return from the operation, which started in September 2007, they have been denied their full benefit in allowances.

According to sources in the military, army personnel on such overseas assignments were paid by UN $1, 228 per month. It was, however, alleged by the mutinous soldiers that Dambazau, as the COAS, at the time had paid them only $3,000 for the six-month period. The Owena Barracks of the 323 Artillery Regiment of the Nigerian army in Akure, Ondo State, was held spellbound by the agitating soldiers. In no time, the soldiers were rounded up, made to face a court martial and sentenced to life in imprisonment. But civil society organisations waded into the matter and took the matter to court.

Realising the implication of an open trial, which involved UN money and donation, the army commuted the sentences to discharges from the force with payments of their entitlements. The question remained, however, as to what the army under Dambazau did with the soldiers’ allowances.

“We wouldn’t have protested if we weren’t sure of what he did with our money.. The army hierarchy knows this,” stated one of the affected soldiers.

Barely a year later, the army under Dambazau was again in the news on account of another N1.2 billion contract payment default. In January, 2008, the then Chief of Army Staff, Lukas Yusuf, acting for and on behalf of the Federal Government requisitioned Esquire Ventures Ltd, Profitel Ltd, Century Communications Ltd, and Jonny-Way Investments Ltd to supply various specialised military items to be used by the Nigeria’s contingent to a UN sanctioned troops deployment to Darfur and Sudan. The contract cost was put at N1.2 billion.

As gathered, the companies supplied these items between January and August 2008. Initial cost of their supply to the army was put at N660,000,000. The companies were advised to make the supply because of the note of urgency expressed by the army and the assurance that the mobilisation fee was being processed. Of these monies, Lt. Gen. Yusuf paid only N175 million shortly before he was retired. The outstanding balance stood at N476 million.

When Lt. Gen Dambazau took over as COAS, the army was reportedly paid by the United Nations in respect of these military items to be used by the Nigerian peace keeping troops in Darfur.

Soon, there were reported stories of the money being allegedly diverted. Rather than pay the contractors, Dambazau allegedly instructed that the money be deposited in special accounts and used for other purposes at the expense of the contractors and the welfare of the Nigerian troops in Darfur.

Following pressures from the contractors, Dambazau set up two committees, one of which was headed by Major-General Azurunwa, to verify all contracts awarded by his predecessor.

The Major-General Azurunwa committee after visiting all the depots where the supplies were made, and checking out all documentations from both the contractors and the supply depots, came out with a report, which certified that the contracts were duly executed and should, therefore, be paid by the army authorities. After the report, Danbazau again asked two other generals to negotiate with the contractors to give the army some discounts on the outstanding debts and also to agree for the debts to be paid in two installments.

The money was never paid forcing the contractors to take the matter to court. Long before the arms probe by Buhari, the Nigerian army and indeed the armed forces have been under the shadows of widespread corruption believed to have been a carryover from the military era. Some analysts, even insiders, believe that corruption in the army was worsened by sharp practices such as over inflation of contract values, diversion of pension funds, and intimidation of contractors, withholding allowances and many others.

Senior officers heading the financial branch of their arm of the armed forces usually become instant billionaires on retirement. Successive Chief of Army Finance, Chief of Air Finance or Chief of Naval Finance never retire from the service without billions of naira allegedly stashed away in their private accounts.