Emmanuel Onwubiko: Between fake news and national security

“Without education, we are weaker economically. Without economic power, we are weaker in terms of national security. No great military power has ever remained so without great economic power.”
~Jon Maechan:

“Unless we have a well-educated people, we’re vulnerable on our national security.”
~Mark Hatfield:

Nigeria has since the last ten years and counting, encountered serious threats to our national security interests from a variety of armed non-state actors, one of which is from the boko haram terrorists.

These Boko Haram terrorists and the other affiliates- ISWAP are singularly responsible for about 30,000 deaths. Then a third most deadly terror group is made of armed non-state actors of Fulani ethnicity most of whom are imported into Northern Nigeria from outside of our shores through the deliberately sabotaged northern borders.

They (terrorists) kill, maim, destroy at will and these satanic activities have gone on for well over a decade.

But there is yet an intangible threat to Nigeria’s national security- the spread of fake news about the defence sector and some of their managers.

Fake news merchants carry their item of death which is a poisonous chalice that inevitably ruins the peace, tranquility and unity of any nation if not professionally handled and combated. The spread of fake news is not different from cyberbullying which is criminalised. Nigeria do also have a national legislation against cybercrimes.

Also a lot has happened in the area of managing available resources for the procurement of softwares and hardwares for use by the armed forces to prosecute the war on terror. There have been many questions and fewer answers regarding accountability and transparency.

In the same vein, there have been so much of made up, cooked up allegations and sponsored stories aimed at tarnishing reputations of certain powerful military officers who at one time or the other have had the privilege to be made heads of the respective arms of the armed forces of Nigeria by their perceived adversaries.

There is fundamentally a climate of fierce competitions by certain centrifugal and centripetal forces struggling to outmanoeuvre and edge each other out and by this class warfare, some innocent people are destroyed as collateral damage in the area of image mismanagement or deliberate sabotage.

One of the immediate causes for these tales and accusations is because of the successes recorded by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent corrupt practices and allied offences commission in arresting prosecuting and successfully recovering humongous amounts of public funds siphoned by these officers some of whom are already been prosecuted by the relevant anti-corruption agencies.

However, because of this disappointing outcomes aforementioned regarding how some of the service chiefs held and managed public funds, there is now this opportunistic tendency by some haters who are also bent on destroying reputations of some individuals within and outside of public offices. Some of these individuals even played positive roles during their tenures as those who provided useful information that nailed some of these thieves of public fund. So these forces have coalesced to fight back.

The former Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Yusuf Buratai is particularly one of those targeted by a particular presidency’s military advisor who is busy sponsoring phantom allegations of corruption against him even after he had left office as Army Chief and is the Nigeria’s Ambassador in Benin Republic.

As these allegations are thrown at him, Buratai has also responded robustly, thus denying all of these allegations. We will return to analyse these allegations but first, let us talk just a bit about the necessity of transparently managing public resources to safeguard Nigeria’s National Security Interest. A leading newspaper did an editorial recently.

That newspaper affirms truly that setbacks in the long-running war against insurgency raise posers on how the huge defence allocations of the past few years are spent. A report said allocations to the defence sector averaged $1.9 billion annually in the past 10 years, a tidy sum that should have translated to a more effective military campaign. Alas, while it is acknowledged that the military is stretched and fighting on multiple fronts, it is tragic that the Armed Forces are performing below par in the counter-insurgency campaign. It is time to probe defence spending and entrench accountability.

Recurring allegations that a percentage of the military budgets ends up in the private pockets of some of the top brass, bureaucrats, contractors, and politicians have been given some credence. Several former and serving military and security personnel have been investigated for embezzling funds and some arraigned by law enforcement agencies. Many others suspected of fraud are walking free.

The recent arrest of a military contractor and recovery of huge sums from his Abuja residence by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission is the latest pointer to the pervasive corruption. In the operation, the ICPC said it recovered N175.7 million; $220,965; luxury cars, including Mercedes G-Wagon, and 2022 edition of BMW units; customised mobile phones; several designer wristwatches, including three Rolexes, and some property documents.

Though a former Chief of Army Staff linked to the seizures has since denied it, the incident once again re-echoes the need for a thorough and comprehensive probe into the defence allocations and spending in the country.

Nigerians are doubly afflicted; hundreds are being killed, kidnapped, raped, and maimed by terrorists and sundry criminals, and homes, worship centres, the highways and waterways are unsafe. Some communities have been overrun by Islamic terrorists, bandits/terrorists, random killers, Fulani herdsmen/militants and kidnappers. Sadly, the billions of naira and dollars appropriated over the years are often not properly accounted for, with some stolen outright. The newspaper concluded.

But again, it is important to state that Lieutenant General T.Y Buratai has distanced himself from the infantile accusations being sponsored by his adversary.

General Buratai spoke through his lawyer thus: “MY attention has been drawn to a recent publication on webpage of sahara reporters titled “EXCLUSIVE: Anti-graft Agency, ICPC Uncovers Billions In Cash Meant For Arms, Ammunition To Fight Boko Haram In Abuja Home Of Ex-Chief Of Army Staff, Buratai” which was published on23/06/2022.

I have gone through the said Publication and have interfaced with Ambassador T.Y.Buratai and can authoritatively say the content of the publication is false, concocted and malicious.

It is on record that on or about 5th April 2018 President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the purchase of equipment worth $1bn for the military through the Ministry of Defence. It is a fact that first batch of Six Super Tucano fighter jets arrived Nigeria July 22, 2021 while final batch of the 12 A-29 Super Tucano fighter jets arrived October 18, 2021. No Arms fund is ever missing contrary to some previous mischievous publications.

For the records no such amount (#850M or any similar sum) was found with Ambassador Buratai nor does he have any Aide bearing such name. Ambasador Buratai has no office or house in Wuse Abuja(address not supplied by SR) nor does he have any bulletproof cars, BMW, G-Wagon (Particulars of vehicle not also supplied by SR) worth N450m and neither is ICPC investigating any such.

We view this as an orchestrated act aimed at tarnishing the image of LT General T.Y Buratai and we shall take all legal steps to hold the publishers accountable for such grievious character assassination on the image of LT.T.YBuratai(RTD), the lawyer concludes.

The newspaper has continued to dish out the same falsehood and as I understand, the retired Military General Buratai has gone ahead to fire a warning shot and threatened a law suit.

The sad thing is that some groups have persisted in spreading fake news and the following is one of those fake and wildly unsubstantiated news which remains a big threat to national security.

Hear them: “Following the viral news (from reputable Media Organisations) on the burst and arrest of a particular suspect and a military contractor in connection with money laundering tip off from the NFIU, under the watch of erstwhile Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Buratai Tukur (Rtd), the Human & Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Center) has petitioned the Independent Corrupt Practices & Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) to carry out in-depth investigations and adequate prosecution of everyone involved in the malfeasance.”

In a statement made available to us, HEDA’s Chairman, Olanrewaju Suraju, who addressed the chairman of ICPC, Professor Bolaji Owasanoye and Chairman of Code of Conduct Bureau, Professor Mohammed Isah said the level of gross abuse of office and other misconducts are unbecoming under this administration.

“HEDA commends ICPC on the recent achievement on the burst and arrest of a particular suspect and a military contractor in connection with money laundering tip off from the NFIU. A media organisation, Saharareporters had published the story connecting the searched building and the money (billions of Naira and Hundreds of thousand US dollars), wristwatches and other items to the former chief of Army Staff and current Nigerian Ambassador to Benin Republic, Retired General Tukur Buratai.

“As a leading Anti-Corruption Organization in Nigeria and Non-partisan Human Rights and Development league with the mandate to protect and promote universally recognized human rights, public accountability, transparency and environmental justice in Nigeria and Africa in accordance with International best standards, we are worried to about such abuse of public trust, hence the need to act fast.”

However, what is worrisome is how a group is so fixated on seeking to destroy the reputation of an individual without any shreds of concrete evidence. Why link General Buratai to a criminal investigation that even the investigating authority said he is not involved?

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) said that the Abuja house recently raided by its operatives and from which high-valued assets were recovered belongs to a military contractor.

Media reports had suggested that the house belonged to a former Chief of Army Staff and current Nigerian ambassador, Tukur Buratai.

Reacting to the claim in a statement by its spokesperson, Azuka Ogugwa, on Friday, ICPC confirmed that its operatives raided the house in Wuse 2, Abuja, on June 16, but described the media reports as “inaccurate and concocted”.

“The attention of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has been drawn to some inaccurate and concocted reports in the media about the seizure of multibillion-naira cash, dollars, Rolex watches stockpiled in an Abuja property,” the statement said.

The commission, which said the operation was conducted as part of an investigation into a suspected money laundering case said the property is owned by the owner of K Salam Construction Company, a military contractor.

It explained that the Managing Director of the company, Kabiru Sallau, was arrested during the operation conducted between 5:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m. on June 16 in the Wuse 2 Area of Abuja.

The media reports the ICPC reacted to indicated that over a billion naira with over 50 luxury watches, including at least two Rolex varieties, were recovered from Mr Buratai’s house during the operations.

But the ICPC confirmed recovering the sums of N175,706,500 and $220,965 along with cars and several designer wrist watches, including three Rolexes.

“The commission recovered money and other items from the property viz. N175,706,500; $220,965; G-Wagon; 2022 editions of BMW and Mercedes Benz cars; customized mobile phones; several designer wrist watches, including three Rolexes, and some property documents,” the ICPC statement reads.

ICPC says investigations are ongoing.
It was reported that some officials of the ICPC stormed the house beside the National Open University of Nigeria Campus in Abuja last week after it received a tip-off from a whistleblower.

It was also said that the huge cash was part of the billions of naira earmarked for the purchase of arms and ammunition by the Muhammadu Buhari-led government.

ICPC has clearly stated as follows: “The attention of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has been drawn to some inaccurate and concocted reports in the media about the seizure of multibillion-naira cash, dollars, Rolex watches stockpiled in an Abuja property.

2. The Commission wishes to state that ICPC operatives raided a property in Wuse 2 of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, on Thursday, 16th June, 2022 between 5:00pm and 12:00am in suspicion of money laundering . Facts available for the time being indicates that the property is owned by owner of K Salam Construction Company, a military contractor.

3. The Commission recovered money and other items from the property viz. N175,706,500; $220,965; G-Wagon; 2022 editions of BMW and Mercedes Benz cars; customized mobile phones; several designer wrist watches, including three Rolexes, and some property documents.

4. The Commission arrested the Managing Director of K Salam Construction Company Nigeria Limited, Mr. Kabiru Sallau and investigation is ongoing.

5. The Commission is yet to conclude its investigation and prefers not to preempt its outcome and also avoid the frenzy of a media trial.Signed: Azuka OguguaSpokesperson, ICPC.

Tukur Buratai, former chief of army staff, says repeatedly that he has no link to the items recently seized by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in Abuja.

The ICPC had, on June 16, raided a property in the Wuse 2 area of the federal capital territory (FCT), on suspicion of money laundering.

The commission said it recovered money and other items from the property including N175,706,500, $220,965, a G-Wagon, 2022 editions of BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars and customised mobile phones.

Several designer wristwatches, including three Rolexes, and some property documents were also recovered.

Initially, the ICPC had failed to mention the name of the owner of the Abuja property, and there were claims that the seized items belonged to the former army chief.

But in a statement on its website, the commission had said “facts available for the time being indicates that the property is owned by the owner of K Salam Construction Company, a military contractor”.

“The commission arrested the managing director of K Salam Construction Company Nigeria Limited, Mr Kabiru Sallau and investigation is ongoing,” ICPC added.

Meanwhile, reacting to the allegation through Ugochukwu Osuagwu, his legal adviser, at a media briefing on Monday, Buratai described the reports linking him to the properties as “filled with mischief, baseless and concocted”.

“Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai has no relationship with the said properties nor does he have any relationship with the said K Salam Construction Company Nigeria Limited. These are fabricated lies to criminally defame the image of Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai,” he said.

“First, ICPC, in a press release on June 24, 2022, denied any involvement of Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai with their investigation of the Wuse 2 property.

“Secondly, Corporate Affairs Commission, in a letter dated Monday, 27 June 2022 and signed by A.G. Abubakar clearly exonerated Lieutenant General T.Y. Buratai with any relationship with the said K Salam Construction Company Nigeria Limited. Messrs. Muhammed Ahmed Sallau and Sallau Kabiru are the owners of the said company.

“Thirdly, a check on the FRSC website on the number plate: ABJ98BH attached to the Mercedes-Benz is false; checks show that the said plate number belongs to a Toyota Corolla custom colour.

“We, therefore, use this medium to urge restraint on those who are trying to politicise what is purely a matter being investigated.

“With ICPC having cleared the air on this subject matter, it will be preposterous to now try to politicise the matter.”

Osuagwu added that Buratai is already taking action against those spreading the “falsehood”.

In conclusion, this writer and the coalition of human rights stakeholders want the Nigerian Press Council to publicly wage war against fake news to stave off these waves of deliberate attacks against our national security interests.

EMMANUEL ONWUBIKO is head of the HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA and was NATIONAL COMMISSIONER of the NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION OF NIGERIA.

Emmanuel Onwubiko: Between fake news and national security