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On military’s housing deficits

By Emmanuel Onwubiko

FOR more than two years now, I have got used to always supporting the military  veterans who usually celebrate their remembrance day every January.

A particular female Airforce operative often coordinates one of the activities to attract citizen-led support for the marking of the Nigerian military remembrance day. She has always persuaded me to donate some money to buy the military commemorative badge each time she displayed it somewhere in the Central Business District of the Federal Capital.

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This lady is so devoted to her duties that she comes so early to start canvassing for support and then departs very late in the evening.

I also met a very senior military officer who used to be a neighbour somewhere in Wuse 2 Abuja and he informed me about the severe housing deficits affecting the armed forces of Nigeria.  I actually went out of my way to find out why he was not living within a military base or what we know as barracks.

These conversations took place about two or three years ago. He made me to understand that not all the military operatives and officers were quartered in the barracks due to insufficiency of amenities and housing assets to comfortably provide the housing needs of the military families.

The two scenarios depicted above came flashing back into my subconsciousness when I read the presentation by the Chief of Army Staff, Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai during his duty tour of military housing facilities in the North East. Buratai who spoke when he visited the headquarters of the North East Development Commission, said the army barracks in Monguno and Bama in Borno State, destroyed by insurgents, needed reconstruction.

He asked the commission to help to rebuild some of the destroyed barracks. According to a news report, the Army chief offered the best explanation for why the country should, as a matter of urgency, effect measures to address the grave housing challenge confronting the military.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the commission, Paul Tarfa, said that the commission would look into Buratai’s request and do its best to assist the army. Acknowledging that combating the insurgents would require both kinetic and non-kinetic approaches, Gen. Buratai said Nigerians must realise the long-drawn nature of the battle and the need for persistence.

The chief of army staff has indeed touched on a very strategic aspect of our national life which I believe needs to be looked at critically because of the implications these housing deficits for the military may have on our overall national security interests. Importantly, what he has said is what is expected from every good and forward-looking leader. If he was a selfish leader, he could have overlooked this critical issue because to start with, as the number one Army officer, he does not have the experience of poor housing.

Although, it must be noted that housing challenges in the military did not start today, the fact that it is now at the front burner of national discourse shows that the relevant authority may be persuaded to do the needful to address the challenges. I am, therefore, suggesting that a substantial percentage of houses forfeited by convicted looters in Nigeria should be handed over to the military for the purposes of housing and accommodating troops.

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Allied Offences Commission the other day said hundreds of housing assets were seized from unnamed government officials who denied ownership of those houses. I propose that those forfeited houses be donated to the army to house their troops.

I will relate my statement to a research work done by an investigative journalist on the housing deficits afflicting the armed forces of Nigeria to show the necessity for calling on the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration and the National Assembly to take steps to address the housing needs of the military. But first, let me show how advanced societies like the United States of America provide qualitative housing facilities for serving soldiers. Information I gleaned from the United States’ military website said this about housing for the United States’ military:

“On-base housing varies by rank, location and family situation. All recruits live in the barracks during Basic Training. Upon completing basic training, most single service members are required to live on base for a period of time.

“On-base housing varies from one location to the next, but generally speaking, it is similar to living in modern college dormitories and apartment complexes. Service members with families who live on base have a variety of options, such as apartments or single-family homes.” Also, service members who live in off-base housing are given a basic allowance for housing, BAH, which varies depending on the cost of living in their area. Also, keep in mind that off-base housing is granted based on a service member’s rank and family status.

The Ministry of Defence and Presidential Committee on Barracks Rehabilitation each year allocate funds for the rehabilitation of dozens of army, air force and navy barracks around the country. But observers say that such neglect is common in army barracks nationwide.

In 2010, the Millennium Development Goals, MDGs, office renovated two more blocks in the other ranks quarters, along with the clinic, primary school and commanding officer’s residence. For the next four years, no renovation work was done in spite of the billions of naira allocated for barracks rehabilitation nationwide.

Between 2012 and 2014, the Nigerian Army budgeted N4,220,908,807 (US$21 million) for barracks rehabilitation. During the same period, the Presidential Committee on Barracks Rehabilitation, PCBR, a department under the Presidency, budgeted N6,688,843,892 (US$33.4 million) for the rehabilitation of army, navy and air force barracks in the country.

In the same period, the army also allocated N278,548,812 (US$1.4 million) for the provision of water to army barracks around the country. Apart from these allocations, the 244 Battalion has had money specifically set aside for it. In 2012, the PCBR allocated N22,125,000 (US$110,426) for renovation works in the barracks, although the following year this figure fell to N3,331,359 (US$16,600).

Each year, the government allocates money for so-called constituency projects initiated by lawmakers, such as environmental or economic projects. In 2014, N150 million (US$748,649) was allocated for renovations and road resurfacing at the 244 Battalion as part of these constituency projects. Despite all this funding, only 18 more buildings were renovated in 2015.

Twelve of these were in the commissioned officers’ quarters with the remaining six in the NCO quarters. Out of the 101 buildings meant for other ranks, 25 blocks containing 300 one-bedroom flats remained uninhabitable, he stressed.

By and large, I will suggest that the housing needs of the military should be given high priority attention. In terms of accountability and transparency in the Army, the current Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai has garnered praises even from very unlikely quarters like the Lagos based non-governmental organisation – SERAP which wrote the Army a freedom of Information request on Army expenditures for the counter terror war and was shocked to receive overwhelming quantity of adequately explained budgeting and expenditure profiles of the Nigerian Army.

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