The Peoples Democratic Party has called on Nigerians to resist the attempt by the presidency to take $1bn from the national coffers under the guise of financing the military.
The Minister of Defence, Mansur Dan-Ali, had told State House correspondents in Abuja on Wednesday that Buhari had approved the purchase of equipment worth $1bn for the military.
The minister was silent on the source of the money.
But the main opposition party on Thursday said, rather, the money was meant for financing President Muhammadu Buhari’s interests in the All Progressives Congress’s national convention and for the 2019 electioneering.
The PDP called on the National Assembly to commence appropriate constitutional legislative actions against Buhari bordering on gross misconduct for unilaterally approving the release of the fund without the application of legislative instrument.
The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said its investigation revealed that the presidency wilfully sidestepped the National Assembly to avoid legislative scrutiny and accountability and pave the way for the diversion of the fund for selfish partisan purposes.
Ologbondiyan alleged that the Federal Government was using the Economic Council to loot the treasury.
He said, “It is a notorious fact that the presidency and the APC have been plotting to loot this $1bn from our heavily depleted Excess Crude Account since last year in the guise of fighting insurgency.
“This is the same Buhari administration that has been bragging about technically defeating the insurgents. This is also an administration that is not known to have exhausted subsisting budgetary allocations for defence.
“Nigerians are thoroughly disappointed that President Buhari, the same African Union ‘anti-corruption champion,’ who swore to be above board and to protect the constitution and our laws, has allowed himself to yield to temptation of resorting to ways which are totally at variance with the laws and democratic tenets.
“Democracy thrives on constitutional processes of separation of powers, due diligence and transparency, and not on totalitarian tendencies.”
Ologbondiyan said the PDP believes the President, as a leader, ought to have known that he is in no way above the law.
He called on the National Assembly to look into the constitution and impose appropriate legislative instruments against the President, if any part of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) had been breached by his (Buhari) unilateral decision.
He said there were reports that the President was using the fight against the insurgents as a conduit to siphon money.
Ologbondiyan said, “The National Assembly should scrutinise the constitution and other statute books for the purposes of strengthening the laws guiding the application of funds in our country, particularly under this inherently corrupt and incompetent administration.
“Moreover, since it has come to light that the Buhari administration is using the fight against insurgency as a conduit to siphon funds, as evinced in the alleged looting of the N18bn Internally Displaced Persons’ funds, we demand an independent investigation into the processes of release and utilisation of all special funds for war against insurgency in the last three years.”
Diverting money is PDP’s job – APC
The National Publicity Secretary of the APC, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, however, denied the PDP allegation.
Abdullahi said in a text message that the former ruling party decided to make the allegation because that was what it did during the 2015 general elections.
He said, “There is no such plan. But it is easy for the PDP to make this wild allegation because they know that was how they got the money to fund their elections in 2015.
“It is what they are adept at doing: diverting money meant for security to fund their party.”
$1bn duly approved, says Buhari’s aide
The Personal Assistant to Buhari on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, on Thursday said there was no illegality in the $1bn the President approved for the procurement of military equipment.
She said the release was approved by the National Economic Council and the state Houses of Assembly.
Onochie stated this in a message she posted on her Twitter handle, @Laurestar.
She wrote, “The NEC, made up of state governors, approved the $1bn given to the military to purchase arms.
“The state Houses of Assembly approved same. There is no illegality in the release of the fund to the military.
“No one should play politics with the security of Nigerians.”
The President’s Personal Assistant on New Media, Bashir Ahmad, also re-tweeted the message.
‘Fix moribund defence architecture’
The lawmaker representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District, Senator Shehu Sani, stated that the $1bn approved for the purchase of military hardware would be wasted without adequate attention to the welfare of soldiers.
Sani, in a Facebook post in reaction to the approval of the fund by Buhari, also said the defence architecture of the country had become moribund and called for local production of equipment.
The post read, “A billion dollar to purchase arms will not make sense if we don’t factor in the welfare and wellbeing of the officers and soldiers fighting the war. A special fund for the injured, the orphans and widows of our fallen soldiers should be factored in. A weapon cannot fight a war without the men to use it.
“We also need to remind ourselves that our defence industry is moribund before we enrich arms manufacturers in other nations. Our being self sufficient should not be about rice alone.
Buratai justifies more funds for military
The Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Buratai, however, said the fund would boost the efforts in the war against insurgency and other security challenges facing the country.
Buratai said the operational capability of the army presently depended on the “availability of requisite hardware, highly trained personnel and other essential resources.”
The army chief said this on Thursday at the second Nigerian Army Procurement Seminar in Abuja, noting that there was an “acute need to strengthen the capacity of the army in meeting growing security challenges.”
He said, “The security challenges facing our country manifest in the forms of terrorism, insurgency, separatist movements and banditry, among others.
“Our capability is increased in terms of the platforms that would be procured and in terms of the training that would be carried out. Once this equipment is procured, it means further consolidating on other areas where there are challenges so that the troops will be able to use this equipment and operate very efficiently to be able to defeat all those criminals.”
President needs N’Assembly approval – Reps panel chairman
The Chairman, House Committee on Army, Rimande Shawulu, at the army’s event, said the fund could not be released without the approval by the National Assembly.
Shawulu said the President did not have the sole power to approve money for arms procurement without the mandate of the legislature.
“The fact of the matter is that there are processes for money coming into the federation accounts and for the money being used. And we must note that a lot of times, pronouncements are policy statements. It is not that when the announcement was made, the federation account was debited immediately.
“When the President says he was going to spend money, there is a process that would follow before the money is spent. So, it is not as if the money has gone out. However, if money has gone out without parliamentary approval, that is a problem. It is a very serious problem.”
Some leaders of the House of Representatives avoided making comments on the $1bn on Thursday when a source sought their reactions.
The House Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, did not reply to two text messages sent to his mobile phones although the electronic feedback indicated that Gbajabiamila read both messages.
The Majority Leader also read a message sent to him through WhatsApp, but he failed to reply to it.
The Deputy Minority Leader, Mr. Chukwuka Onyema, claimed that he was not aware of the official position of the House on the matter.
He, however, said that the position of the National Assembly would depend on how the President sourced the money.