By Kingsley Omonobi, Emman Ovuakporie & Johnbosco Agbakwuru
ABUJA—The Chief of Army Staff, COAS, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, said yesterday that the Army cannot probe ex-service chiefs involved in procurement of weapons for the fight against Boko Haram because they had retired.
Buratai, who disclosed this while defending Army’s budget proposal before the House of Representatives Committee on Army, also lamented that the N160 billion budget approved for the Army by the Ministry of Budget and Planning was grossly inadequate to prosecute the war against insurgency in the North East.
His declaration came as the Army yesterday said it would not reabsorb the 250 soldiers dismissed last week for failing to join their colleagues posted to the North East, gross acts of indiscipline, cowardice and absence without leave.
According to him, all the service chiefs and other senior officers involved in the procurement have so far retired, hence the Army is limited on the extent it could go to investigate the procurement.
On Army budget, Buratai said the force had proposed N526 billion for 2016 fiscal year but lamented that only N160 billion was approved.
He pleaded with the committee to assist the force by ensuring that what it had earlier proposed was given so that the Army could carry out all its required assignments, including rehabilitation of barracks and welfare of officers and men of the force.
He said: “The ministry went below what we actually need minimally. This honourable House should assist to ensure that what we proposed is given to us.
“The significant drop is not from us but the Budget Office, but we will appreciate your efforts to make it up so that we can function well.
“If we can get N526 billion today, Nigerian army will not be the same again. We will make sure that our barracks are rehabilitated and troops and their families taken care of.”
On the release of the 2015 supplementary budget of N3.196 billion for the payment of salaries of Nigerian Army, including N1,987,056,478 for 72 recruitment; N768,637,124 for 62 regular combatant and N440,395,803 for 22 direct short service, Buratai said the Accountant-General of the Federation had announced the release of the fund.
He said: “The Accountant General of the Federation was in my office this morning (Wednesday) and said some funds will be released. I believe it is the supplementary budget.”
The COAS told the committee that the Army had deployed equipment to the North East where there is insurgency and the Niger Delta where there is renewed attacks on oil pipelines.
He said the Army concentrated more on ammunition, adding that the rate of expenditure on ammunition in the North East zone was very high.
The Army chief also lamented what he described as deduction at source by the Ministry of Finance on utility bills, especially power.
Commenting on the dilapidation of barracks across army formations, he said it was unfortunate that the barracks were left to decay for several years, adding that the situation required deliberate intervention by the Federal Government.
He said: “The situation in the Barracks requires maximum and urgent intervention from the Federal Government.
“This unfortunate situation should be reversed for us to perform our duty for the betterment of the country.”
Chairman of the House Committee on Army, Rima Shawulu, called for urgent review of the procurement of arms and ammunition for the Nigerian Army and all the security agencies operating in the country.
Shawulu, expressed concerns over the sorry state of facilities in the 30 military formations and barracks visited recently during the familiarisation tour conducted by the committee.
He said: “In all, we visited and related with officers in about 30 formations in the six geopolitical zines of Nigeria. The findings are sobering and a rethinking of the way we do things.
“It is sobering that the officers and men who have dedicated their lives to fighting to keep us safe, live in such scandalous accommodation. It is also shocking that the decay and rot in the system has been left unchecked and our soldiers fighting without required equipment.
“The controversies over the purchase of arms and ammunition or alleged purchase of inferior or substandard arms call for an urgent review of our processes. Indeed as several scholars, leaders and generals have repeatedly affirmed, war is too important to be left in the hands of generals.
“The world has moved on and in most democratic countries, representatives of the people, the parliament is involved in the details of implementation of budgets and procurement processes.”
No recalling 250 dismissed soldiers
Meanwhile, the Nigerian Army yesterday said it would not reabsorb the 250 soldiers dismissed last week for failing to join their colleagues posted to the north east.
The Acting Director of Army Public Relations, Sani Usman, said the soldiers were dismissed over gross acts of indiscipline, cowardice, and absence without leave.
“The attention of the Nigerian Army has also been drawn to a set of 250 protesting dismissed soldiers in Nigerian Union of journalists (NUJ) Secretariat, Kaduna, pleading through the media to be reabsorbed into the Nigerian Army,” Mr. Usman, a colonel, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“They were part of the 2,023 dismissed soldiers last year that were earlier reinstated into the Service by the present Chief of Army Staff. However this set of soldiers (the 250) absconded for more than one week when they were told that they were to move to North East on the 6th of January 2016.
“They started coming back when they realised that others were moved to units other than the theatre of operations in the North East. Please note that all efforts were made to make all the reinstated soldiers comfortable and integrate them into the system.
“The protesting soldiers are the few who are recalcitrant to military duties and discipline. They are simply not interested in army job but want to earn salary. No one should listen to them as they are not patriotic at all,” he said.
250 Soldiers protest dismissal
The 250 soldiers from the Nigerian Army School of Infantry, Jaji, Kaduna, had last Tuesday stormed the Nigeria Union of Journalists secretariat to protest their unlawful dismissal.
According to the embattled soldiers, they were dismissed unlawfully since 1st of February, this year for an offence they believed was pardonable.
The soldiers said they were part of 3,000 soldiers dismissed by the Nigerian Army last year for various offenses in the North-East while fighting the insurgents but were later reinstated after thorough screening to ascertain their credibility.
The soldiers, who craved anonymity, said they came to the NUJ secretariat to allow the public know about their predicament, especially, President Muhammadu Buhari and the Army authorities.
“We are young and ready to serve our country, we are ready to serve the Nigerian Army. We have families to cater for and we want to be pardoned for any offense we must have committed.
“We want the world to know that after we were reinstated in the Nigerian Army, we have received three months intensive training and for us to be dismissed now because we came late at the last parade, is inhuman,” one of the soldiers lamented.
On why they were absent at the last parade, one of the soldiers explained: “We had to walk for about 30 minutes before getting to the parade ground because most of the soldiers affected are not mobile and are not living inside the Army barracks.
“Some of us were not even aware of the parade taking place on that day. It was later we were alerted and when we got to the venue, we were ordered to submit our uniforms and other things belonging to the Army which we did.”
Military to close markets in Borno, Yobe
The Army also yesterday shut markets in Borno and Yobe states which Boko Haram terrorists use as cover to sabotage efforts of the military in the ongoing war against insurgency.
In a statement signed by Sani Usman, Acting Director of Army Public Relations, the Army said the traders engaged in illegal commercial activities such as trading and smuggling, especially during late hours.
The statement read in part: “This is more prevalent in some towns and villages within the North East especially in Borno and Yobe states.
“The unpatriotic and selfish elements have clandestinely been aiding the terrorists with logistics and other supplies, through smuggling and other forms of illicit trading, thus sustaining them, while the merchants of death make money out of it.
“From now on, some markets identified to be engaging in this illegal trade with the adversary in Borno and Yobe states will be closed. Any breach of that would be dealt with accordingly. The GOCs and other commanders have been directed accordingly.”