Grumblings in Nigerian Army over alleged theft of $6.3m UN peace keepers’ allowances
Even though their professional creed would not let them speak out, a good number of Nigerian soldiers and officers are unhappy with their superior officers, who they accuse of embezzling funds meant for the welfare of the subordinates.
For this reason they have quietly spoken out accusing the Nigerian military authorities of embezzling about $6.28 million (N2.318bn) paid by the United Nations Peace Keeping mission office as allowances for about 600 Nigeria soldiers and officers, who took part in a peace mission in Sudan between 2013 and 2015.
The soldiers in an anonymous letter to the Chief of Defence Staff, Maj Gen Abayomi Gabriel Olonisakin; Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, and the Nigerian Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, and sighted by Ripples Nigeria gave details of the operation, the amounts involved, and suspected culprits.
In the letter, they raised the alarm over the alleged non-payment of their foreign operation allowances. This fraud was allegedly “perpetrated by some generals of the Nigerian army against the Nigerian battalion (NIBAT 43) who went for a United Nation’s Peace Keeping Mission in the Darfur Region of Sudan in the year 2013 to 2015”.
How the alleged fraud was perpetrated
The Nigerian Battalion (NIBAT 43) comprising 800 Officers and soldiers, were supposed to have received the sum of $7,874 each, which was said to have been paid by the United Nations to the Nigerian Army authority to settle the battalion (NIBAT43) for their effort in securing a location (EL-DEHIN CAMP) meant for a different battalion (PAKISTANI BATTLION) for six months.
The protesting soldiers in their petition said, “The operation was carried out at the instructions of the then Brig. General Ijioma Nwokoro Ijeoma, the then Sector Commander in charge of Sector South in the Nigerian camp (NYALA SUPER CAMP) in Sudan.
“The Nigerian contingents after completing the rigorous task of securing the abandoned location in Sudan were entitled to be paid $7,874 each. The location was originally meant to be mounted by the Pakistani Army but for an unknown reason the Pakistani Army Authorities moved their troops out of the said location, thereby increasing the volatility of the aforementioned location.
“The need to secure the location was paramount, for this reason, the United Nations high commission in Sudan, requested the assistance of the Nigerian Battalion to cover the said location in addition to their original location. The request was made in the last 7 months of induction of the Nigerian Battalion (NIBAT43) in the mission. The Nigerian Battalion accepted the additional task and secured the location at EL-DEHIN CAMP for six months before they were de-inducted from the mission back to Nigeria.
“During the exit of the Nigerian Battalion from the EL-DEHIN CAMP of the Pakistani Army, the Pakistani Army Authority in Sudan, were invited by the United Nation’s high commission to sign the allowance accrued for the work done in that location since it was originally meant to be occupied by the Pakistani Army. But, the Pakistani Army Authority rejected collecting the money for integrity sake and directed the UN High Commission to pay the money to the Nigerian Battalion (NIBATT 43) for securing the location on their behalf within the period.
“The Nigerian Army Authority was thus paid the money for onward disbursement to the Nigerian Battalion. Each officer and soldier in the Nigerian Battalion was meant to be paid $7,874. As announced by the UN High Commission. But it is saddening to know that the aforementioned amount totaling $6,299,200 dollars meant to be disbursed to the officers and soldiers of Nigerian Battalion NIBATT 43 was corruptly pocketed by the Nigerian top military officials in charge of Nigeria’s Peace Keeping Operations in Sudan till date. As such, a single penny of that money was never paid to any contingent member of the Nigerian Battalion (NIBATT 43).
“Since the de-induction of the battalion from the mission in January 2015, the Nigerian army authority has consistently made series of promises to pay the money to troops of the battalion without any effort put in place for the payment for the past two years and four months now.
“The parties who pocketed this money know very well that officers and soldiers cannot protest against this corrupt act, because of the law guiding the military. This has given them the impetus to strangle grip this money without fear of any criminal litigation against them. Since the event of the payment made, the Nigerian army authorities are making it seem as if the money has not been paid by the United Nations. But the fact remains that; the UN has never owed any organization who has worked for the Commission. This act by the Nigerian army is greatly tarnishing the good image of the UN as it paints the UN as an organization incapable of meeting its financial obligations to the UN forces.
“The following are names of top Nigerian military officials who were in charge of the Nigerian Battalion in Sudan and the Chief of Army Staff with whose consent the additional duty was carried out. It is thus assumed, that the money was disbursed in the knowledge of the following names;
• Retired Major General Ijioma Nwokoro Ijioma; former Sector South Commander (the commander of the Nigerian battalion) in Sudan
• Brigadier General J.E Jakko Director of Army Finance and Account.
• Major General Hassan Umar Director of Army Training and Operations (DATOP)
• Lieutenant General Turkur Buratai the Chief of Army Staff.
Concerns over official intimidation and call for justice
“We urge the Nigerian authorities to investigate this case and help us to recover this money either from whoever has pocketed it or if it is only being held by the Nigerian Army Authority, the Chief of Army Staff should tell the whole Nigerians why the army has refused paying money disbursed by the UN to be paid to officers and soldiers of NIBAT 43 who were strained for 6 months carrying out operation meant for two battalions. Because of how rigorous the task of that particular mission was, one of our soldiers lost his life in the course of the operation.
“The above mentioned authorities and every other human right activist is our last resort, and we plead on them to come to our aid in order for this money to be paid. We know very well that the Nigerian Army Authorities would never pay this money if they are not persuaded or even coerced. All our hope is therefore on the authorities to whom this open letter is addressed to, and greatly plead with them to come to our aide with a view to getting these monies from whoever is holding it because as far as we know, they do not intend to release the money, otherwise, why have they not paid the money for the past 3 years.
“They believe that since our officers and soldiers are taken to the North East fighting Boko-Haram, there will be nobody around to ask for the money and that is one of the reasons why they have pocketed the money”.
Getting at the truth
In efforts to get to the bottom of the matter, Ripples Nigeria first paid a visit to the National Information Officer (NIO) of the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC) Mr Oluseyi Soremekun, at his office in Ikoyi area of Lagos.
He noted that the United Nations does not owe allowances for Peace Keeping missions anywhere in the world, as same are promptly paid to the appropriate authorities of the troops’ countries.
According to him, payment are not made directly to the troops, but to military authorities in their respective countries, which is subsequently responsible to pass same to the soldiers and officers.
When pressed further to ascertain whether or not the payment for Nigeria Battalion 43 was duly released, and if so, how much it was, Mr Soremekum offered that the UNIC does not deal with issues related to Peace Keeping Missions.
He directed our correspondent to contact the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) for such information. However, the DPKO was yet to respond to an e-mail enquiry on the matter as at the time of this report.
A similar e-mail to the Nigeria Army authorities also went un-replied, as at the time of this report. Phone calls to the Director, Nigerian Army Public Relations, Colonel Sani Usman also went unanswered.
He later sent a message that our correspondent sends an SMS. Well over 48 hours after the SMS was sent to him seeking clarification on the alleged fraud, and injustice on the Nigerian soldiers and officers, he was yet to respond.
Meanwhile the affected soldiers and officers continue to wait, hoping, and praying that their cries for justice will be heard, and that they will be adequately compensated with their rightful dues for risking life and limb for country.
It would be recalled that in January and March of 2015, 66 soldiers of the Nigerian Army were sentenced to death by firing squad for mutiny, by separate Court Martials.
The sentences were however commuted to 10 years in prison by Buratai who ordered a legal review of the cases. following a series of petitions.
A number of them were accused of of mutiny for protesting what they felt was inhuman conditions and treatment.