President Muhammadu Buhari recently approved $1 billion for
procurement of security equipment. Many concerns were expressed about
These included the approval of such colossal sum by the president
without authorization by the National Assembly, and the rationale
behind such huge expenditure to combat an organization that the
government claimed had been “technically defeated”. Some were
concerned that the money was simply Buhari’s re-election budget
masqueraded as funds for arms. Of course, the cynicism of many
Nigerians stemmed from a telepathic understanding that the fund might
be embezzled by an assorted selection of parasites in governments. The
situation is in fact much more complex and the actors more
The arms market constitutes less than one percent of global trade but
contributes 50 percent of corrupt deals in the world, according to a
US Department of Commerce report. One study shows that up to 15
percent of money spent on weapons were bribe payments. Such payments
are technically not legal in most countries but are categorized under
“consultancy fees” or “commission” in several others. In a country
like Nigeria, averagely smart officials and their business partners
will likely get away with it. Transparency International estimates
bribe payments in the arms industry to be worth $20 billion per annum.
Therefore, Nigeria’s $1 billion extra-budgetary arms fund is a small
part of a larger global oasis of corruption. Tope Oriola Sahara
A study by Morris Szeftel demonstrates (and this is no comfort) that
countries like Russia, France and Italy lose larger sums to defence
industry corruption although such corruption on the African continent
tends to be more damaging to socioeconomic development and political
How will Nigeria’s $1 billion arms fund be spent? We can make a number
of intelligent hypotheses based on available evidence from studies on
arms procurement in Africa and around the world as well as evidence
First, the equipment will likely be bought from third parties rather
than directly from manufacturers. Therefore, Nigeria will pay more per
unit. Second, used weapons will likely be acquired instead of new
ones. This keeps alive the carousel of corruption since we will need
(earlier than usual) another budgetary allocation for the same or
similar equipment. Consequently, Nigeria can expect to mint new
The latter will come from four categories of persons: A small number
of top military officers, defence ministry officials, the famed
“cabal” in the presidency and arms dealers (local and foreign).
To be fair, this is not a particularly Nigerian phenomenon.
Sanjeev Gupta and his colleagues have linked the phenomenon to the
intense competition among arms manufacturers and dealers, which leads
to willingness not to play by rules. Other factors in the scholarly
literature include the fact that defense procurement is often
concentrated in a small number of state officials and the market for
military equipment tends to have a small number of producers and
Therefore, the arms money will be spent in a market that is far from
competitive. Considering that defence spending is generally opaque, as
it is treated as a matter of national security, more opportunities
exist for corruption.
We may also add a small but significant detail: Many military
equipment are highly technical in nature. This implies that only a
small number of people — military or civilian — understand what they
mean and how much they truly cost. For instance, how many officials in
the Ministry of Defence or the Defence Headquarters know the
difference, degree of tactility or inter-operativity of the following
types of drones MQ-9 Reapers, RQ-7 Shadows, RQ-4 Global Hawk and
AeroVironment Wasp IIIs? The National Assembly might be totally
hopeless even if it were not dysfunctional in exercising oversight on
such purchases. The equipment may be over-priced under extremely
technicist and fancy names.
The analysis above presupposes that arms are actually purchased. One
basic form of corruption in arms procurement is simply not buying any
arms. Nigeria is one of the global leaders in this area. Recall that
several former service chiefs are currently facing corruption trials.
One of those is former Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Umar
Dikko, facing charges of fraud amounting to approximately N9.7billion.
One prosecution witness said that he “personally” gave Dikko
N558.2million per month from November 2010 to September 2012,
according to a statement by the EFCC.
Dasukigate offers insight into the penetralia of defence corruption in
Nigeria. Those who shared the $2.1 billion arms fund come from an
eclectic mix of backgrounds: Politics, media, military, traditional
institutions and the clergy. The scandal began from the president, who
seemed to have approved the funds without oversight. Categories of
persons charged with receiving the arms money included 17 serving and
retired senior military officers. At least 241 companies were alleged
to have been involved. My analysis of a presidential statement issued
on Dasukigate suggests a huge turnover in the Permanent Secretary and
Director of Finance and Accounts at the Ministry of Defence.
These two positions are lucrative; Nigerians should be on the lookout
vis-à-vis the new arms fund. Of the 12 indicted civil servants in
Dasukigate, 10 were from the Ministry of Defence. Three of the
officials from the Ministry of Defence had served as Permanent
Secretaries while five had served as Directors of Finance and Accounts
at the Ministry of Defence. This is no coincidence. Consequently,
Dasukigate is an exemplar of what may happen to the current arms
However, let us assume that the $1 billion is truly for arms purchase.
Many of the purchased equipment will have a shorter lifespan than
anticipated due to poor maintenance culture. For instance, Nigeria’s
Aerostar drones bought from Israel in 2006 were quietly rotting away
in 2014 when needed to assist with the rescue of the Chibok girls.
A May 2014 Reuters report quotes an Israeli source: “We did receive an
inquiry from them (i.e. Nigerian officials) about spare parts, but it
never turned into a deal. I wish it had… (The drones) are probably
parked in a yard somewhere”. The report estimated that each drone
would have cost between $15 million and $17 million. Nigeria relied on
drones from the US and the UK for reconnaissance immediately after the
Nigeria would be fortunate to have 50 percent of the funds actually
spent on tangible weapons and equipment. How’s that possible? The
bidding process is rarely open, 15 percent is routinely spent on
commission, 15 to 20 percent often goes to overpricing by third party
“sellers”. State officials may also add five to ten percent in
addition to the price offered by third parties. Miscellaneous or
logistical spending may take up to five percent.
This includes first class or business class travel, 5-star hotel
accommodation as well as estacode for some government officials. The
deals are rarely concluded in a single meeting; therefore, there may
be multiple travels by several officials responsible for arms
You may also add to that embezzlement of 10 to 15 percent of money
designated for maintenance.
Maintenance costs are usually (but not always) factored into arms
deals. Consider that the March 2018 $1.076 billion arms deal between
the US and Saudi Arabia included $300 million for spare parts for
military vehicles and $106 million for helicopter maintenance,
according to an al-Jazeera report. That was over 37 percent of the
Embezzlement of maintenance budget tends to be routine in the
developing world. Maintenance costs are inserted into subsequent
budgets with few people aware or recalling that it had already been
included in the initial purchase. Poor maintenance means restarting
the process described above.
These are conservative estimates depending on the government’s
brigandage and complicity at the highest level. It is simple
arithmetic. Nigeria would be fortunate to have real value for 50
percent of the total arms budget.
It is the nature of two beasts: The peculiarities of the defence
industry as a cesspool of corruption everywhere in the world and the
particularities of Nigeria, one of the world’s most corrupt states
with expensive elite.
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