Missing police firearms: How far can Reps go in its probe?

Last week, attention of the House of Representatives was drawn through a motion by Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu, to an audit report indicting the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) about the inability to account for a huge number of firearms and ammunition. JOSHUA EGBODO writes on possible hurdles  before the panel it mandated to investigate the allegation.

Damning audit report
A report made public recently by Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AuGF), suggested that 178,459 firearms and ammunition of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) got missing within the period, its scrutiny covered, leaving many Nigerians in bewilderment over why records of such sensitive security equipment would be properly kept.

The scrutiny reportedly took into consideration arms movement register, monthly returns of arms and ammunition, and ammunition register at the armoury section of the NPF.

The discoveries were, however, that of the said number of missing firearms and ammunition, 88,078 were AK-47 rifles, 3,907 assorted rifles and pistols across different police formations, and could not be accounted for as at January 2020, while a breakdown of the missing firearms showed that 601 firearms are missing from 15 training institutions; 42 in 23 formations; 1,514 missing in 37 police commands; 29 missing in zone 1-12 were not also reported as required by law, with 1,721 firearms missing in Police Mobile Force (PMF) 1-68.

According to the report, checks on the force armament unit at the Force Headquarters showed that 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 number of 46 missing arms between year 2000 and February 2019.

Value of losses unknown
Another worrisome aspect of the report was the inability of auditors to ascertain the monetary value of the missing firearms and ammunition. “The value of the lost firearms could not be ascertained because no document relating to their cost of acquisition was presented for examination”, the audit report had stated.

Beyond the missing firearms
Outside the missing firearms and ammunition, the audit report also indicted the NPF as it explained that 10 contracts totaling N1.136 billion were awarded to a single proprietor in the name of different companies, disclosing that in the companies’ profiles, the phone numbers and email addresses of the three companies were the same. “The three companies did not disclose their relationship in accordance with the fundamental principles of procurement as required by extant regulation”, the Auditor General’s Office said in the report.

It further said that the sum of N924.985 million was paid for 11 contracts involving construction of three units of Gunshot Spotter System, supply of 50 units of Ballistic Roller Trolley and 20 units of Ballistic Mobile Surveillance House in some selected Commands and Formations. 

“Final payments were made in March 2019 without evidence of execution. Documents such as end user certificate, store receipt voucher (SRV), store issue voucher (SIV), job completion certificate were not presented for audit examination”, adding that the items claimed to have been constructed or supplied at the Force Headquarters, Federal Capital Territory (FCT) command, explosive ordinance disposal (EOD) unit and (PMF unit as specified in the award letters revealed that the contracts were not been executed by the time of physical verification of the purported items in June 2020.

Reps’ intervention
In the wake of controversies and wide debate over the report, the House of Representatives, last week passed a resolution, directing its Ad hoc panel, under the leadership of Chairman of the Rules and Business Committee, Abubakar Fulata, which was already investigating the alleged clandestine release of arrested bandits and other criminals by the same police, to expand the scope of its probe to cover the fresh allegation of missing 178,459 firearms and ammunition. 

Pundits saw the move as commendable in the face of the worsening insecurity in Nigeria, NSITF widespread cases of terrorism, insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, communal clashes, armed robbery and many more. Sponsor of the motion following which the resolution was arrived at, and Deputy Minority Leader of the House, Toby Okechukwu had in his submissions also expressed worry that the missing arms could have found their ways into the wrong hands.

A new twist by Wase 
While debate on which committee, between the Fulata’s Ad hoc team and the Public Accounts Committee of the House, should be given the mandate to investigate and ascertain the veracity of the allegations was still on, a new twist was added by Deputy Speaker Idris Wase, who noted that information available to him had showed that case of missing firearms may not be limited to the Nigeria Police Force alone, insisting that there were high level of culpability by personnel of the nation’s security forces in the rising insecurity being faced by the country.

The mandate
After various suggestions, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila finally settled for Wase’s suggestion that the House consolidate the current motion with that which earlier gave mandate to the Ad-hoc committee set up last December, to investigate the allegations on the release of bandits and kidnappers arrested and handed over to the Police, by communities and other security agencies across the country, to expand its scope to cover the missing firearms. It has four weeks to report its findings back to the House.

But for the audit report…
However, analysts have questioned the effectiveness of oversight function of the parliament, especially with a standing committee of the House over Police Affairs. To such pundits, should the report of the Auditor General of the Federation be awaited before the House embarks on a function that is constitutionally guaranteed for it?

How far can panel go?
There have also been worries expressed on how far the committee can go in the investigation, especially in the face of information deliberately hidden, or not kept due to negligence by the police authorities, a development the Auditor General already raised queries on in the controversial report. To such, courage and expertise is highly required to deliver anything tangible in this case.
Outcome and impact
As serious as the matter is to many security experts, report of the panel may end up in the shelves without any action in the long run. This perception is hinged on the fact that whatever the panel recommended, and possibly adopted by the House may still be seen as “mere advisory”, as was the case with similar probes in the past. To them, however, a nation facing insecurity at the level we were today, should not let a matter of this nature slip.