Cheta Nwanze, Lead Partner, SBM Intelligence

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Subjects of Interest

  • Fiscal Policy
  • Geopolitical Analysis
  • Governance
  • Politics

As Zamfara State Government buys arms from Turkey 12 Nov 2021

The news last month that the Zamfara State Government has agreed a deal to acquire drones and other aerial surveillance equipment from Turkey was largely unnoticed. But it was an important development in Nigeria’s geopolitical trajectory.

Zamfara State Governor, Bello Matawalle, had travelled to the United Kingdom and Turkey in the search for a lasting solution to the problem of banditry in the state. Turkey is a problematic choice for the acquisition of arms. The country is in an authoritarian grip of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who, during his official visit to Nigeria later last month, claimed some Turks who planned the 2016 coup against his government were residing in Nigeria. He has been belligerent towards its long-term Western allies, while courting fellow autocrats including the Russian strongman, Vladimir Putin.

The UK could have been reluctant to sell arms to Matawalle on concerns over how the weapons could be used to violate human rights. Last year, the UK parliament asked Downing Street to investigate human rights abuses by the Nigerian government and security agencies against the citizens. The government in Ankara is unlikely to be bothered over human rights in Nigeria, given its record against its own people. Indeed, the weapons could end up in the hands of the so-called bandits operating in Zamfara and other states of the Northwest. On many occasions in recent time, bandits operating as militias have carted away military weapons after successful attacks on military barracks in the north where insurgency and banditry have remained major security challenges for the country.

Procurement of high-tech surveillance hardware from Turkey is a sad reminder of how Nigeria has failed to rise as an economic power with domestic military capabilities. Like Turkey, Nigeria was one of the N-11 (Next Eleven) countries identified by the investment bank, Goldman Sachs, as having a high potential of becoming the world’s largest economies in the 21st century, along with the BRICS countries: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The other N-11 countries are Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea and Vietnam. Among the countries, Nigeria has performed the worst: hamstrung by bad leadership, domestic insecurity, and rising poverty, the country is the only one among the group without a local semiconductor industry.

Also, this direct intervention of Zamfara State Government indicates failing confidence in the efficacy of military operations in the state. From courting ‘repentant’ bandits to military campaign against banditry and kidnapping, the intervention has lacked focus. Indeed, last year, the then-Chief of Air Staff announced that eight new Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs), which was to soon arrive the country, would be deployed to Katsina and Zamfara and other locations. This has remained a promise. To make matters even less assuring, the military has continued to suffer casualty in Zamfara. For instance, on 13 October 2021, bandits killed at least five soldiers in an ambush on their vehicle at Wanzamai community in Tsafe Local Government Area of Zamfara.

Most concerning is Governor Matawalle’s seeming failure to adhere to due process in his efforts to provide needed weapons to bolster military response to banditry in Zamfara. From media reporting, no officials of the Federal Government (FG) accompanied the governor on his window shopping for the military-grade equipment and when he signed the deal with Turkey. Military is in the Exclusive List of the Nigerian constitution, which the FG is exclusively responsible for. State governments do not have the power to negotiate arms deals with sovereign states. For them to import arms, they have to obtain import waivers from the Office of the National Security Adviser and Import Duty Exemption Certificate from the Ministry of Finance. No indication that these were done. Without federal approvals, the deal by Zamfara State Government with Turkey is illegal and null and void.

The concerned federal authorities have been muted in their reactions. Matawalle is a member of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC). He may, therefore, have partisan cover for the deal, making the legal requirements an avoidable inconvenience in the Nigerian style. Similarly, President Muhammadu Buhari’s pandering to northern hegemony might have shielded Matawalle from due process on such a grave matter.

The immediate past governor of Ogun State, Ibikunle Amosun, rightly got the flack when a Premium Times investigation in 2019 revealed that his government did not put in the necessary paperwork and obtain federal approvals in procuring 13 units of Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), 1,000 units of AK 47 rifles, two million rounds of ammunition, 1,000 units of bullet proof vests, 500 bulletproof helmets and other security communication gadgets. The overarching concern then was that the sitting governor had acquired these arms since 2012. Whereas he claimed that the procurement was for state security, he had delayed the handover until after the 2019 general election.

Nigerian politicians are known to acquire arms for prosecuting elections. After deploying them to foment electoral violence, the arms are never totally mopped up from the political thugs to whom they were allocated, and who would later use the weapons for other criminal acts including gang wars, kidnap for ransom, and armed robbery.

The spending for arms by the state governments is often also without public accountability. The rising insecurity in the country and the lack of state capacity to effectively combat are evidence that the people are not getting value for such expenditures. In its 2017 appropriation bill, the Kaduna State Government earmarked over N2.55 billion to procure CCTV cameras and drones to provide adequate security cover in the state. But there’s no record that this purchase was made. In August this year, the state governor, Nasir El Rufai, reportedly urged President Buhari to deploy federal surveillance systems to combat insecurity in his state. Zamfara’s latest adventure may probably end the same way.

In Nigeria’s federalism, the states are semi-autonomous. With the excessive concentration of power at the federal level, there has been a strident call for devolution of power to the states. Introduction of state policing – i.e., the establishment of state police – has repeatedly been advocated in the broader agitation for a constitutional restructuring of the country. But the governors undermine the agitation for devolution of power in Nigeria’s federalism by their routine evasion of due legal and administrative processes and public accountability.

It is important for citizens to insist on the accountability of the state governors while not abandoning the call for political restructuring of the country. This is not only because the federal government has been unable to effectively discharge its many responsibilities, but also because the power allocation in the country needs to conform to the principle of federalism.

Cheta Nwanze is Lead Partner at SBM Intelligence.