It is therefore necessary at this time of economic challenges, increasing violence and insecurity, that more calls be sounded for the institution of increased transparency in the security sector. It is time for President Muhammadu Buhari to approve the application of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 to procurement in the security sector, and while we are at it, it is time for the government to open up the expenditure process in the security sector to public scrutiny.
Nigeria has, in the last decade, witnessed an increasing incidence of internal violence. Insecurity of life and property is fast becoming the way of life. A cursory review of the national dailies will reveal a slew of disasters, such as suicide bombings by Boko Haram insurgents, bombings of the nation’s oil pipelines (the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy) by the Niger Delta Avengers and other affiliated groups from that region, the increasing kidnap of school age children, civil unrest due to religious clashes, the destruction of public and private properties, and the list goes on and on.
It is obvious to the ‘uninformed’ observer that Nigeria is fighting an internal war on so many fronts. This, in turn, has certainly justified the consistent increase of the nation’s defence budget in the past five years. Thus, when a once minister for Finance stated that no budgetary allocation would be enough to cater for military expenditure and that there was need for extra allocations to ensure that the defence sector receives adequate support in the fight against insurgency and terrorism, it was arguably difficult to counter that.
Thus from 2011 to 2014, there has been a consistent increase in the defence budget. Between those years, the total defence budget was about N3.69 trillion. However, it is important to note that it might be difficult to state with accuracy how much of the estimated budget was actually implemented in the defence sector, and the reason for this is not far-fetched. In no other sector is the expenditure process more shrouded in secrecy than in the defence sector.
Given the huge inflow in public funds to a sector, it is only reasonable that the processes through which these funds are expended are open to public scrutiny and heightened accountability measures, and that these trillions of naira of public funds budgeted and expended in the sector at the expense of other sectors is justified, with the corresponding outputs matching the funds. This cannot be said to be the case given the public spectacle between the current and prior governments on who made the most purchases, and the accusations that either no military equipment were purchased or that those purchased were outdated equipment.
In Nigeria, the process through which public goods, works and services are acquired is governed by the Public Procurement Act, 2007. Under the Act, several provisions institute mechanisms for accountability; thus, there are requirements for the publication of information on the advertisement of bids, approval mechanisms, procedure of bidding and public notice of awards of contracts, etc.
Unfortunately, the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 do not of themselves apply to procurements carried out by defence sector agencies.
Section 15 (2) expressly provides that:
The provisions of this Act shall not apply to the procurement of special good, works and services involving national defence or national security until the President’s express approval has been first sought and obtained.
Section 60 (interpretation section) defines “Special purpose goods” to mean objects of armaments, ammunition, mechanical and electrical equipment or other things, as may be determined by the president, needed by the Armed Forces or Police Force, as well as the services incidental to the supply of the objects.
Without a modicum of doubt, the defence sector needs sound financial policy and oversight structures that would ensure the protection and security of Nigeria and its populace. Going beyond the parliamentary oversight structures which current events have shown to be extremely lacking, oversight by the people is needed. Nigerians interested and capable of following the budgetary and procurement processes in the defence sector using the PPA, 2007 should be permitted to do so…
From the above, it is clear that for the Public Procurement Act to apply to the purchase of military armaments, ammunitions and arms, presidential approval must first be sought and obtained. It is not certain which entity has the duty to ask for presidential approval under the Act, and to the best of my knowledge, no president of Nigeria since the commencement of the Act in 2007 has given approval for the application of the Act to military procurements.
This is a major challenge given the increase in public funds being spent in the defence of Nigeria and it is especially worrisome with the rise in sharp practices in the sector charged with the protection of the Federal Republic.
If the provisions of the Act do not apply to these procurements, we need to ask: which rules guide defence sector procurements? And, how do these rules reduce the risk of corruption? Here again the opacity of the security sector is profound. The National Defence Policy acknowledges the existence of procurement procedures within the armed forces and enjoins the Ministry of Defence to ensure that the procurement process serves as a tool for technological transfer through skills acquisition and the enhancement of efficiency, as well as effectiveness. However, ready access to these procurement procedures is not available, as is the case with almost every other information sought from defence sector institutions, on the omnibus grounds of a “national security” classification.
Legitimately, certain categories of information may be exempt from public disclosure for a certain period of time, for the purposes of national security and protecting the sovereignty of Nigeria, and this is evidenced by the exemption clauses in the Freedom of Information of Act, 2011. On the other hand, recent studies have acknowledged the need for and the possibility of an upgrade in the information sharing procedures of the defence sector to include an enhanced public collaboration and participation. A policy brief on the benefits of public disclosure within a pre-determined and publicly available classification system is available for further reading here.
The cost of non-disclosure and non-participation in the procurement process of security sector agencies is evident when going through the national dailies. From the fabulous $2.1 billion dollars allegedly constituting the Dasuki electoral largesse funds to the 3.9 billion naira alleged fraud of Alex Badeh, the former Chief of Defence Staff; and these are just to mention a few. These sums were released on the basis that more arms and ammunition were needed to win the fight against insurgency in Nigeria. It is therefore with sadness that we must think about how many lives have been lost both on the battlefield and as a result of suicide bombings, and how many persons have been displaced and lost their homes as a result of the greed of people put in charge of the welfare and security of Nigeria.
It is disheartening to think that whenever disclosures are made of how much has been stolen and how these funds were shared to cronies or used to purchase choice properties, there is a huge social media and print media reaction. Everyone is outraged with calls for the head(s) of the culprit(s); accusations and counter accusations are thrown back and forth but no one thinks that these are just reactive cries; that more should have been done proactively to prevent such wastage and thefts of our common patrimony.
Without a modicum of doubt, the defence sector needs sound financial policy and oversight structures that would ensure the protection and security of Nigeria and its populace. Going beyond the parliamentary oversight structures which current events have shown to be extremely lacking, oversight by the people is needed. Nigerians interested and capable of following the budgetary and procurement processes in the defence sector using the PPA, 2007 should be permitted to do so by the relevant institutions putting special procurements of the defence sector within the scope of the Act (with specific limitations that cater to the peculiarities of military spending). It is already obvious that the lack of transparency, accountability and value for money in the methods through which the defence sector is equipped would naturally lead to situations where funds channelled to the sector would be exposed to corrupt practices. So it is time to change what currently obtains.
It is therefore necessary at this time of economic challenges, increasing violence and insecurity, that more calls be sounded for the institution of increased transparency in the security sector. It is time for President Muhammadu Buhari to approve the application of the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2007 to procurement in the security sector, and while we are at it, it is time for the government to open up the expenditure process in the security sector to public scrutiny. A classification of information system should be developed and shared with the general public. It will no longer suffice to say that even the rules of classification itself are classified. The time for change is now.
Nkemdilim Ilo is Procurement Monitoring Coordinator at the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC).