If a budget of almost One Trillion Naira (N1trillion) is too small to fight Boko Haram, then I wonder how much those people who are sponsoring the terrorists have? like seriously! Here’s what the Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro told Punch on the controversial issue:
Recently President Jonathan approached the National Assembly for $1bn to fight insecurity. Can you explain in specific terms what the money will be used for if the loan is granted?
The money is to beef up our security capacity and acquire more equipment needed to make us a very strong country. And don’t also forget that in order for you to have peace, you must be prepared for war. So, I think what the President is doing is in the right direction. In fact, if this had been done before now, we would have been in a position to crush this Boko Haram insurgency faster and with the necessary swiftness.
Isn’t this loan an evidence that we cannot win the war on terror without foreign intervention?
No, I disagree. We have had a more difficult situation in this country in the past and we succeeded in dealing with it. Although the boundary for the war then was clearly defined but in this instance, we don’t have a clearly defined boundary and the insurgents are faceless. That is the only difference but I can assure you that this is a battle we are going to win because I am a good student of history and there is nowhere in history where evil has triumphed over good. For us as a nation, collaborating with other countries makes good sense because terrorism is no longer a local issue; it has becomed global issue. Trying to localise a global issue would be a mistake on our path because from what we are looking at and what we have seen, it is evident that their funding is not coming from Nigeria alone but it is also coming from outside and it is the effort of other friendly nations that we can all work together to bring this to an end and that is why the Federal Government has accepted from the United States, Britain and France and other nations that have agreed to support us in overcoming this challenge.
Is it that Boko haram will defeat Nigeria if the $1billion is not granted?
Whether the loan is granted or not, we are going to defeat Boko haram, mark my words. But the President is preparing us for the future. We must continually make progress and part of making progress is retooling yourself for the challenges ahead of you. Those challenges, you don’t know the form that they will take but a wise man always prepares for the dry season and I think what the President is doing goes beyond today.
But what about the N968bn budgeted for defence as well as the billions spent over the years?
When such a budget is made, always try to understand the breakdown. You have a military that also must be properly taken care of. There are other issues to deal with because you look at salaries, emoluments of the personnel, the barracks, maintaining the existing equipment at their disposal etc. When you look at some of the vessels that we have today, to even fuel one of them will cost close to a billion naira a year. Let us take NNS Thunder (a naval warship), for instance. If we use Thunder the way it is meant to be used, there is no way we will not be buying close to half a billion naira worth of fuel to maintain it and that is not the only vessel we have, there are a lot more that require a lot of money to manage and maintain and beyond that, if you look at the army and air force, you’ll understand that maintaining a strong military does not come cheap. And you will agree me with me that if not for the Nigerian military, there may have been a state of anarchy in the country today because we deployed them almost everywhere that has crisis. Even in terms of fighting armed robbery, they are also part of that effort. We have stretched the military to the limit if not beyond and yet they are still performing at their best so the only way we can make their job lighter is if modern equipment are procured that will lessen the burden of work and certain things are also put in place capacity for preventive strikes. As they say, prevention is better than cure and you can only acquire that when you make wise investments.
We fought civil war for 4 years without borrowing. Why does Nigeria now need to borrow $1bn?
For every generation, there is a different challenge. The challenge of our time is different from the one faced by our forefathers. Bear in mind that we were just coming out of colonialism then and also we just ran into oil money. The situation now is different. Nigeria’s population was about 60 million and now you have a country that is about 170 million. Our revenue has not increased at the pace our population has increased. The kind of revenue that came in during the time you are talking about was far more than the needed expenditure that as some point, it was said that our problem was not money but how to spend it but you will agree with me now that our problem is not how to spend money but how to make money so we are facing a very different period and the challenges are not the same. I understand that we can be more prudent with spending but the challenge we have now is far bigger than the challenge we had then. Don’t forget also that in the last 25 years, no major acquisition of military equipment was made in this country. Don’t forget that once the investment is made now ($1bn), we won’t have to make it again for the next 30-35 years so that is the beauty of making the investment now.