• Presidential panel uncovers billions of naira unexecuted contracts

From Molly Kilete, Abuja

THE presidential commit­tee set up to probe illegal purchase of arms for the ongoing counter-terrorism war in the North East has concluded arrangement to beam its searchlights on the Nigerian Navy, Daily Sun can authoritatively reveal.

The probe will begin on May 1.

A competent source revealed that funds run­ning into billions of Naira, earmarked for the purchase of equipment, which has not been purchased or delivered, have been traced to the Nige­rian Navy, even though the source says it is not as messy as that of the Air Force and the Nigerian Army.

The panel is to invite past and present chiefs of naval staff, Chief of Training and Operations (C-TOPS), Chief of Policy and Plans (COPP), Chief of Accounts and Bud­gets as well as directors in the finance department to ex­plain what they know about the purchase of arms for the counter insurgency war.

The source said although it has not yet decide on whether or not to invite the past navy chiefs, the evidence by those invited would determine the fate of past CNS.

The source, who would not want to be mentioned, told Daily Sun that investigations showed that huge sums of money allocated to the navy for the counter insurgency operation was not accounted for.

According to the source, “the Nigerian Navy is the next service that we are going to invite concern­ing purchasing of arms and ammunition. I must, however, say that the amount we are investigating is little compared to that of the Air Force and the army. That is probably because Boko Haram operations is not a navy operation, but they are still involved in the arms purchase.

“Navy was given a specific amount of money but not as much as army and NAF, but we will find out what they did with that money. That is why we will invite past and present CNS, if the need arises. But we will also invite the past and present chiefs of policy and plans, chief of administrations, budget­ing, departmental chiefs and anyone that has something to do with contract procurement because the navy collected money that they have not been able to account for.

“We also have instances where the navy collected money from Federal Gov­ernment agencies without informing the Defence Head­quarters.”

Meanwhile, more army officers are expected to appear today and tomorrow before the panel to explain what they know about the purchase of arms and am­munition. This is coming just as our source said 40 serving and retired army officer have so far appeared before the presidential panel, which have penciled down 60 army officers to appear before it.

Most of the officers who appeared before the panel are said to have given useful information to the panel.

The source said though the panel has not yet invite any former or present chief of army staff, revelations made by some of the officers in their confessional statements, indicted some army chiefs in the area of misapplication of funds running into billions of Naira and dollars.

According to the source, “there are instances where the army collected huge amounts of money from the Federal Government agen­cies for specific purposes and spent it without referring or informing the Defence Headquarters, and we are talking about money running into billions of Naira.

“We have instances where army officers and service chiefs collected money from government agencies and spent it on entirely differ­ent purposes other than for that for which it was given without authorisation.

“For instance, we have uncovered instances where the approving authority collects money for purpose A, and spent it on purpose B, without virement; it is unlawful to do that and a lot of money will be coming out by the time we finish.”

Asked to comment on speculations that mem­bers of the panel members were specially selected to witch-hunt members of the opposition and anyone who stood in the way of President Muhammadu Buhari in the last elections, the source said members of the panel were men of integrity who had successful careers in the Nigerian Armed Forces.

The source who spoke on how the panel operates, said, “we are not a court, but an administrative panel and we work with the documents in our possession. We don’t need to invite anybody to face the panel with the kind of documents that we have, but you see we have to do that out of courtesy. It is out of fairness that we invite whosoever that is involved to come and say what he has to say.

“If your name is in our books, we invite you to hear from you. We have invited both serving and retired officers and if indicted at the end of the day, we write our reports and send to the convening authority, who decides whatever they want to do with our report. We have no powers to send anybody to court. There has been a lot of exaggeration.

“We are not out to witch-hunt anybody; we are re­tired military personnel with very high integrity and the panel is not being dictated to by anybody. The panel is not tele-guided by anybody and the panel is not biased.

“What we do is we peruse documents, accounts and contracts from the three services, Army, Navy and Air Force, and from there we dig out the facts.

“So far, we have invited 40 serving and retired army officers that have something to do with procurement. While the panel is expected to conclude its interview of army officers by the end of April, and commence with officers of the Nigerian Navy, the panel may ask for another extension to enable it do a through job.”

A top security source told Daily Sun that the panel, which will conclude its nine months time frame at the end of May, may apply for an extension to enable it conclude reports and make recommendations to the convening authorities.

When contacted last night, Commodore Chris Ezekobe, naval spokesman, said he could not comment until he gets to the office today to know the details.