According to reports, the 13-man Committee on Audit of Defence Equipment Procurement (CADEP) set up to probe arms procurement contracts between 2007 and 2015, is now set to quiz the Minister of Interior, Lt-Gen. Abdurahman Dambazau (rtd), according to reports.
The panel will, today, begin sitting to scrutinise procurement papers in the Nigerian Navy between 2007 and 2015, as well as probe arms purchase in the Nigerian Army and the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) between 2007 and 2010.
There have been strident calls from individuals and groups for the probe of Dambazau, who served as the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) between August 2008 and September 2010.
In fact, it was alleged that the Interior Minister had been working tooth and nail to suppress the arms panel report, before its release last week Thursday.
Also to appear before the Air Vice Marshal Jon Ode (rtd)-led panel, are three former Chiefs of Defence Staff (CDS) – Air Chief Marshal Oluseyi Petinrin (rtd), Admiral Ola S. Ibrahim and Air Chief Marshal Paul Dike (rtd). All the former Chiefs of Naval Staff from 2007 to 2015 – Vice Admirals G.T.A. Adekeye, I.I. Ibrahim, D.J. Ezeoba and U.O. Jibrin – are also to appear before the panel. Dambazau, Petinrin, Ibrahim, Dike, Ezeoba and others will be asked to explain contracts awarded during their respective tenures as COAS and Chief of Naval Staff (CNS).
It was gathered from highly placed military sources that General Owoye Azazi (rtd) and Lt-Gen. Luka Yusuf (rtd), who had served as CDS and COAS, respectively, would have appeared before the panel, were they not late.
“I can confirm to you that the Audit Panel, which had been on a 10-day break, will reconvene this week, to commence work with immediate effect.”
Among those to appear in this final batch are Dambazau, Air Force chiefs between 2007 and 2011, and Naval chiefs from 2007 to 2015.
“They will all be confronted with documents regarding contracts and procurement transactions during their tenures,” the source said.
This is as it was further learnt that an ex-COAS, Lt-Gen. Azubike Ihejirika (rtd) and his predecessor, Lt.-Gen. Kenneth Minimah (rtd), may be interrogated by a special team of operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) this week.
The arms panel had in a report on the procurement of the Nigerian Army released last week Thursday, indicted 54 individuals and companies.
One of the sources, who spoke in confidence, said palpable tension may have gripped senior military officers, who held some strategic positions during the tenures of the former Service Chiefs scheduled to face the panel this week, all things being equal.
Investigation revealed that President Muhammadu Buhari had met with members of the panel, where he extended the period of their assignment, gave them a new terms of reference, and charged them to remain firm and focused in the audit task.
Also to face scrutiny, are former officials in the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), Ministry of Defence (MOD), as well as the Defence Industries Corporation of Nigeria (DICON).
Giving some details, the source disclosed that one of the service chiefs was fingered in the construction of a military hospital in a Northern state. The hospital was said to have served as a conduit through which billions of naira was allegedly syphoned.
The current COAS, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, was quizzed by the panel, though nothing was said to have been established against him.
Speaking against the backdrop of Ihejirika and Minimah’s indictment, another source hinted that: ”Both former Army Chiefs, including 52 others, have had their international passports impounded.
“I also heard that both men are under surveillance, as the EFCC sets out on a further investigation.” Meanwhile, indications have emerged that the 13-man panel may be confronted with challenges of gathering documents and information, owing to the arrest and detention of Air Commodore Muhammed Umar (rtd).
“The arrest of retired Air Commodore Umar, may pose some challenge to information gathering. He was largely responsible for gathering of information, considering his vast networks and connections during the probe of procurements in the Army and Air Force,” the source hinted.
Umar, who is a member of the Ode Committee, was arrested by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) recently.
The newspaper was also told of a businessman, who had offered to return a huge sum of money he received from a former Naval chief, without commensurate execution of contracts.
It was learnt from informed sources that the man, who is said to be a close friend of the former Naval chief, had approached the panel, with a view to returning the said money, which he said he neither worked nor asked for.
One of the sources said that the panel, conscious of its terms of reference, which did not include receiving of funds, directed him to the EFCC.
“You know interesting discoveries were made by the panel. Do you know that in the course of our sittings, a civilian, who is a friend of a former Chief of Naval Staff, walked into the committee that he wanted to refund money the ex- Naval chief paid into his company’s account?
“The man said he did not do any work, but that the money was paid into his account on the instruction of his friend, the Naval chief.
“The committee said there was a procedure to follow, which required him to go and make the refund at the EFCC,” the source said.
A source close to the panel said that the panel is billed to invite the businessman to testify against the former naval chief.
Already, the 13-man panel has released reports on the Nigerian Air Force and Nigerian Army, wherein it indicted top senior serving and retired military officers, politicians, and firms.