Politics

Missing firearms: How far can Reps go with police probe?

The House of Representatives Thursday, last week passed a motion to investigate alleged loss of firearms from the police armoury. PHILIP NYAM reports on the proposition

Recently, the media was awash with stories over a report by the Office of Auditor General of the Federation (AuGF), wherein over 178,000 firearms and ammunition were alleged to be missing from the police armoury in 2019. The report gained currency because it came at a time the nation is faced with unprecedented security challenges that are difficult to resolve.

While bandits (now terrorists) are on the prowl kidnapping, killing and ravaging villages, Boko Haram and ISWAP have also resumed full scale operations in the North-East and North-West. In the South-East, unknown gunmen are also having a field day, attacking residents who flout the sit-at-home order by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).

Although spokesperson for IPOB, Emma Powerful, has consistently maintained that the proscribed group has withdrawn the order and does not know the identity of those enforcing the directive, harassment and killing of persons as well as destruction of goods and property has continued unabated. Not a few Nigerians were agitated by the AuGF’s report wondering at the negative impact of that colossal amount of arms in the hands of the wrong persons. It was in the light of this that the House of Representatives upon resumption from the Christmas and New Year break swung into action to unravel the mystery behind the missing arms.

In adopting the motion, the House unanimously mandated its Committee on Public Accounts to establish the veracity of those allegations and conduct due diligence of the control processes of the armoury of the Nigeria Police Force and report back within four weeks. It also called on the Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, to take urgent actions to apprehend those culpable for the depletion of the armoury of the police force.

AuGF’s report

The Office of the Auditor General of the Federation (AuGF) had indicted the police high command over the alleged disappearance of about 178,459 different types of arms and ammunition in 2019. The report, addressed to the Clerk to the National Assembly, Amos Ojo, dated September 15, 2021 and signed by the AuGF, Adolphus Aghughu, claimed that the police high command failed to keep a record of unserviceable and expired firearms and ammunition. The report referenced AuGF/ AR.2019/02 expressed concern over the development since the missing arms could find their way into the wrong hands.

The report blamed the situation on alleged weaknesses in the internal control system at the Nigeria Police Force. The disclosures were contained on pages 383 to 391 of the Auditor- General for the Federation report on non-compliance/internal control weaknesses issues in Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria for the year ended December 31, 2019.

The report read in part: “In the event of any loss of stores, the officer in charge of the store in which the loss occurs shall report immediately to the head of department or unit but not later than three days, by the fastest means possible, if the loss occurs away from headquarters. “Audit observed from the review of Arms Movement Register, Monthly Returns of Arms and Ammunition and Ammunition Register at the Armoury section that a total number of lost firearms as reported as at December 2018 stood at 178,459 pieces.

“Out of this number, 88,078 were AK-47 rifles, 3,907 assorted rifles and pistols across different police formations, which could not be accounted for as at January 2020. “Formal report on the loss of firearms through dully completed Treasury Form 146 (loss of stores), were not presented for examination. Records obtained from force armament at Force Headquarters showed 21 Police Mobile Force (PMF) Squadron, Abuja, did not report a single case of missing firearm, whereas the schedule of missing arms obtained from the same PMF showed a total of 46 missing arms between the year 2000 and February 2019.

“The value of the lost firearms could not be ascertained because no document relating to their cost of acquisition was presented for examination.” The report equally stated that “several numbers of firearms from the review of Arms Issue Register, Monthly Returns of Arms and Ammunition obtained from Force Armament, Force Headquarters for various state commands, formations, zonal offices, training institutions, squadrons and physical inspection of firearms and ammunition at the Force Headquarters have become unserviceable and dysfunctional. “Records of the total number of unserviceable firearms were not produced for examinations and there were no returns from Adamawa State Command, Police Mobile Force (PMF) 46, 56, 64 and 68 for the period under review.

“Similarly, returns were not submitted by some police training institutions and some formations, and physical verification of firearms and ammunition at the Force Armament, Force Headquarters showed a large quantity of damaged and obsolete firearms which needed to be destroyed.”

The motion

The motion to investigate the authenticity or otherwise of the allegations of missing arms was sponsored by the deputy minority leader, Hon. Tobi Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu) and seconded by the chairman of the House Public Accounts Committee, Hon. Wole Oke (PDP, Osun). Presenting the motion, Okechukwu noted that the report of the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation on alleged disappearance of about 178,459 different arms and ammunition of the Nigeria Police Force in 2019 was recently reported in some national dailies.

He further noted that the audit of Arms Movement Register, Monthly Returns of Arms and Ammunition and Ammunition Register at the Armoury Section reveals that a total number of lost firearms as at December 2018 stood at 178,459 pieces. Okechukwu said out of this number, 88,078 were AK-47 rifles, 3,907 assorted rifles and pistols across different police formations, which could not be accounted for as at January 2020. He added that findings in the report indicated that the police high command failed to keep records of unserviceable and expired firearms and ammunition; owing to non-compliance to the internal control system of the Nigeria Police Force.

“Records of the total number of unserviceable firearms were not produced for examinations and there were no returns from Adamawa State Command, Police Mobile Force (PMF) 46, 56, 64 and 68 for the period under review. “Dully completed Treasury Form 146 (loss of stores) was not presented. Records obtained from force armament at Force Headquarters showed 21 Police Mobile Force (PMF) Squadron, Abuja did not report a single case of missing firearm, whereas schedule of missing arms obtained from the same PMF showed a total of 46 missing arms between the year 2000 and February 2019.

“The value of the lost firearms could not be ascertained because no document relating to their cost of acquisition was presented for examination. We are mindful of the worsening state of security, kidnapping and banditry in the country and concerned that the missing arms could have found their ways into the wrong hands. We are also Mindful that Nigeria did not undertake any war in recent times”, he submitted.

Speaking further, Okechukwu expressed worry over poor compliance within the internal control system of the Police Force that has led to the prevailing state of unaccountability of dangerous weapons in the possession of unknown elements. The deputy minority leader said he was dismayed that the police did not report a single case of missing firearms despite the evidence of the loss of the huge cache of these firearms. He expressed concern that such firearms unaccounted for could be responsible for the increase in the diverse cases of insecurity and banditry bedevilling the nation.

He called on the House Committee on Public Accounts to conduct an audit and report back to the House within four weeks for further legislative action. He also called on the Inspector-General of Police to take due action to apprehend those behind the incidents. He further called on the House Committee on Police to ensure compliance.

Contributing to the debate, the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase proposed an amendment to the prayer of the motion clarifying that an ad-hoc committee already chaired by the chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata (APC, Adamawa) recently constituted by the House with the mandate of handling a strikingly similar case. He advocated that the motion should be consolidated with that referral and that the ad-hoc committee should be allowed to take the motion under its purview as there is a high sense of culpability by officers of the police force in the case.

In response to the submission of the deputy speaker, Hon. Wole Oke advised that since the report originated from the Auditor General’s office, it was only natural that the Public Accounts Committee is involved in the investigation. Speaker of the House Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, while acknowledging Hon. Oke’s view, noted that the ad-hoc committee was constituted to handle a similar issue and that it would be foolhardy not to let it undertake its mandate, pending a vote by the House to rescind the earlier resolution that constituted the ad hoc committee. Against the backdrop of the Green Chamber’s resolve to carry out the investigation, questions are being asked, especially among civil society groups as to how far it can go with this inquest.

The pessimism by most of these groups is based on the fact that several reports of probes instituted by the two chambers of the National Assembly on key national projects and issues are yet to be seen many months after the lawmakers concluded the assignment. Whether the investigation on the alleged missing arms and ammunition from the police armoury will be different would be determined by time?

 

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