The truth they say is a bitter pill to swallow, but who wouldn’t swallow a bitter pill if it helps you get better? The much vilified Nigerian Army recently accused the Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala of underfunding them in their battle against Boko Haram, with the Minister firing back that her ministry has released N130 Billion to them in the first quarter (Q1) of the year which includes N80 billion of personnel costs and another N3.8 billion to them recently.
A quick look at the country’s 2014 budget shows that the Federal Government is to spend N968 billion on defence about a quarter of its N4.9 trillion budget. Do the math and this translates to the Defence Ministry (MOD) and indeed the army receiving N322 billion in every quarter of the year (i.e Q1-Q3). For the first quarter (January-April) the coordinating minister for the economy was only able to release N133 billion approximately leaving a deficit of N189 billion (i.e N322-133). Of the lot released N80 billion is for personnel cost amounting to about 60% being spent by the MOD on recurrent expenditure and the remaining N50 billion which is roughly 40% on capital expenditure. Thus with a shortfall of N189 billion in the first quarter alone it means roughly N113 billion (60%) is still outstanding for soldiers salaries, welfare provisions and maintenance in the past four months of the year alone and we are in the fifth month going on to the sixth. It also means N76 billion from the first quarter is outstanding to buy modern equipment and fighting gear for our troops. It would thus be foolhardy for anyone to be blaming military commanders or MOD chiefs for paying soldiers on the frontline against Boko Haram N15,000 of their monthly salaries instead of the N30,000 they are meant to receive.
I would not in anyway defend the corruption that has gone on for year at the MOD where monies meant for equipping the armed forces with modern equipments are either outrightly stolen or cheap and at times obsolete equipments purchased, but having grown up in military circles I know soldiers do not play with their salaries no matter how meagre and their commanders do not have a culture of looting their salaries, otherwise there would have been lots of unrest in the armed forces. There is thus a lot of explaining we need the finance ministry to do as to how N130 billion would be enough for the MOD in the first quarter of the year when the budget for that quarter alone is N322 billion.
Boko Haram’s onslaught has helped further expose to Nigerians the fact that we run a voodoo economy where everything works on paper and on power-points but nothing to show on the ground for Nigerians. Rather than plug every black-hole in our public finances by closing down rackets and scams in the economy e.g. NNPC’s short-change of the federation account, fuel and kerosene subsidy payments, unnecessary devaluing of the naira, CBN’s voodoo monetary payment system and monopoly of forex trade etc. we are always being lectured by the finance minister on what GDP means using home-made cake like we are all a bunch of fools she’s doing a favour by accepting to serve her fatherland.
Former CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido was quoted as saying in 2013 : "…First of all, you have got liquidity surplus in the banking industry; …there is over N1.3tr or so sitting in banks and belonging to government agencies. Now basically, they (these funds) are at zero percent interest and the banks are lending about N2tn to the government and charging 13 to 14 per cent! Now, that is a very good business model, isn't it? Give me your money for free and I lend it to you at 14 per cent; so why would I go and lend to anyone?". (see Thisday Newspaper 24th July 2013). It shows the kind of stupid way we run our economy where we create artificial liquidity in the system by injecting fresh naira funds into the economy every time we get fresh dollar payments from crude oil sales and then the CBN has to mop up this excess liquidity it created in the first instance, by borrowing government money back from the banks at attractive rates of 12-14% leaving the bank CEOs and owners popping champagne while the rest of Nigerians including our soldiers fighting the terrorists are languishing in poverty.
It’s commendable Sanusi increased the Cash Reserve Ratio for government deposits in banks to 75% before he left office this year and I posit that should even be increased to 100% as government money particularly monies budgeted for recurrent expenditure has no business lying in banks creating excess liquidity and we then have to go borrow it back from them at exorbitant rates. This crowds out the real sector including SMEs who the banks would hardly loan monies too and if they do, its at high interests rates of more than 20%.
Its no wonder the country’s domestic debts has ballooned to over $45 billion -mostly on unproductive loans- and over N712 billion is budgeted to service domestic debts this year alone. We have a coordinating minister for economy who is not bothered about all these but wants us to applaud her when she releases N130 billion out of N322 billion budgeted for the defence ministry in the first quarter of the year probably due to the fact that there is a shortfall in government’s revenue but that should be no excuse to keep our soldiers on half empty stomachs and ask them to lay down their lives fighting evil men. Space would not permit me to do justice to our voodoo economy but I would devote a full article to that some other time.
For the President himself and his wife. As much as I have never been thrilled or interested in all the comic performances I hear she reels out, truth be told a man is influenced by the quality of the wife or partner he has. I would assume President Jonathan spends time with his wife and they engage on national issues, and if all she can come up with is the kind of things that she says and amuses Nigerians then the quality or lack of it is probably rubbing off on Jonathan himself. Listen to the president answer a question on the last presidential media chat, he says ‘‘There is no way $20 billion would leave this country and America would not know. America will know’’...That sounds to me like beer parlour talk coming from our president, something a plumber in Nigeria would say to his friends over a plate of nkwobi and a pint of beer. There is no way America would know everything Mr. President and even if they know, they can’t tell us everything!!
We are a sovereign country and we are expected to know everything about our own country. If $20 billion is missing, the security services and the president should be the first to know, not America. Enough of acting like a school boy president and start acting like the CinC of a free and democratic nation of 160 million people. Even Shehu Shagari a grade II teacher was more expressive and talked more intelligently than the current Ph.D holder of a president we have. We have always been told by looting rulers and their collaborating pastors to pray for our leaders because God put them in power mostly quoting 2nd Thessalonians 3:1, but what they fail to tell Nigerians is that God also asked leaders to pray for their followers first. Apostle Paul, together with Timothy and Silvanus who were church leaders at the time in their letter to the church in Thessalonian prayed for their followers before then asking for prayers (2nd Thessalonians 1 vs 11-12).
Our leaders and looters need to pray for us the followers, so that in 2015 we elect the right leaders who if faced with a kidnap situation like we have now, would secretly negotiate with Boko Haram and get all the 246 girls back and release few low-level militants in custody. A leader who would be fully expressive, intelligent, fight corruption aggressively, who is detribalised, leads our voodoo economy away from stagnation to prosperity and make us proud to be called Nigerians. It is then we would be justified to pray for such a leader and pray God delivers him/her from wicked men and women and people who would lead him astray from doing good. That is the logical sequence as evidenced in the holy book. Its not us praying for the so called leaders while they keep stealing and corrupting the nation.
I don’t care if Jonathan is the luckiest man from Otuoke or if he is the most blessed person by God what we care about is that he was voted by 160 million Nigerians and what we need is for Jonathan to please stand up and be counted. This would include asking Okonjo-Iweala to release the deficit of N189 billion Q1 budget for our army so we can be justified to ask them to fight.
For the much vilified army themselves, its time to come up with an effective strategy to fight Boko Haram after the safe negotiations for the abducted girls. What has happened to the National War College (NWC) or the National Institute for Strategic Studies (NIPSS) Kuru? Would there be no one in any one of these bodies that can research the terror group and come up with a comprehensive strategy to fight or contain them? Luckily, Cameroon has deployed soldiers to our border with them and we need Niger as well as Chad to do the same so we can close the rear base or exit of Boko Haram. The army can then go after them with special forces on specific target and destroy counterattacks backed with aerial power from the air force and predatory attack from US drones stationed in Chad. The special forces would need careful recruitment and training which we can get from foreign partners.
It would be half-truth to say the army can’t defeat Boko Haram but the truth is it can’t be done conventionally as our soldiers are taught which is why we are losing men and hardware. A typical Boko Haram guy would carry a RPG, machine guns, AK-47 and grenades and would just want to blast his way to glory compared to a soldier who would be conventionally armed with just an AK-47 so when they attack it looks overpowering and the soldiers blame their commanders for not supplying them with enough ammunitions. It's a wrong way of fighting a faceless and nimble force like Boko Haram who attack indiscriminately with none or shifting front lines. We need to fight with superior strategy. That would include blocking all their retreat routes, lock them down to a particular location--which becomes a frontline somewhat--and then use aerial bombardments as well as special forces to attack. For the guys and well paid commanders at the MOD its simple commonsense, otherwise the army would keep been insulted as ineffective by everyone.
Ola’ Idowu is a Management Consultant and Researcher writing from the UK. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters.