SaharaReporters has obtained documents relating to a scandalously inflated $500 million defense contract that President Goodluck Jonathan awarded to Arthur Eze, a Nigerian businessman with a shady past, a close friend of the president and his wife, and a major financier of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Our security sources said some officers of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) were furious over the jumbo contract described by one source as “a pure waste.” The sources, most of them military personnel, told our correspondent that, in addition to its sheer extravagance, the contract has also saddled the Nigerian military with helicopters that have limited or no combat utility.
The documents obtained by our correspondent reveal that Mr. Eze, the chief executive of Triax, received the gigantic sum of $466.5 million in order to weaponize six Puma helicopters with the aid of an Israeli company named Elbit Systems. This meant that each weaponized helicopter cost close to $78 million. “For the price of each helicopter provided by Engineer Arthur Eze, the Air Force could have acquired seven top grade military helicopters,” said one of our sources.
Our sources also noted that the haste with which the contract was initiated, approved and executed raised serious questions. A memo dated November 20, 2014 and submitted by the Chief of Air Staff, A.N. Amosu, revealed that Mr. Eze had on November 4, 2014 submitted a proposal to the office of the National Security Adviser proposing to supply the upgraded helicopters to the NAF. The tone of Mr. Eze’s letter, obtained by us, indicated that he was deeply involved in sourcing and supplying hardware to the Nigerian military as it is embroiled in a fight against Boko Haram militants.
An Air Force officer said he was alarmed at the alacrity with which Mr. Eze’s overinflated proposal was approved by the NSA’s office. The NAF followed with an equally quick endorsement sixteen days later.
One of our sources accused President Jonathan and Mr. Eze of using the refusal of the US to sell Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria as an excuse to engage in a large-scale squandering of funds involving the Federal Government and Mr. Eze’s company, the Triax Company Nigeria Limited. “In the US, a brand new AH Cobra attack helicopter costs around $12 million each,” said a source at the NAF. He added: “That means that, with $400 million, Nigeria could have purchased up to 40 brand new helicopters.”
According to the source, the Cobra attack helicopter is one of the best US-made helicopters. “It is highly effective in the battlefield. It would have given us big battlefield advantage over Boko Haram,” he said.
In an additional proposal, Mr. Eze’s company sought to purchase 4,000 57mm S5 rockets, 400 80mm S8 rockets, 500 general-purpose bombs, and 20,000 units of unguided rockets. His company also received a contract to refurbish three C-130 planes that had been sitting at the hanger of the Nigerian Air Force for several years.
A final invoice Mr. Eze submitted to the Nigerian government showed that he would receive $466, 500,000 to supply six upgraded Puma helicopters, four units of single-seater Sukhoi Su-25K (“Frog-foot”) Soviet-made ground attack jets, and two upgraded Su-25UB trainers for $330 million. In addition, he would receive $14 million for the shipping of platforms/ground support/line replacement of the six Puma helicopters; $44 million for some arms and ammunition earlier proposed; $37 million for the maintenance of C-130 engines, and $40 million for unspecified armaments for the NAF.
Our military sources stated that Mr. Eze’s invoice for the supply of the refurbished aircraft was massively inflated by international and Nigerian standards.
Several of the sources said Triax delivered the substandard equipment after Mr. Eze further padded the cost of the refurbished helicopters and the C-130. The sources revealed that, since February 15, 2015, when Chief of Air Staff Amosu showed off the helicopters and C-130 planes, none of the aircraft has been deployed even once to fight Boko Haram militants. “They are not in any combat-ready condition,” one officer fumed. “We are looking at a total waste of money for no good reason.”
SaharaReporters could not ascertain from Mr. Amosu whether the Air Force had taken delivery of the other items listed on the invoice Mr. Eze had signed and submitted to the NSA’s office.
Mr. Eze’s partners in the defense deals is Elbit Systems, an Israeli company that has been involved in several scandalous defense contracts in Nigeria, including a multimillion dollar internet spying project.
Our sources wondered why the Nigerian government, which is in a critical stage of counter-insurgency operations against Islamist group Boko Haram, would strike such an overinflated deal with Mr. Eze’s firm to purchase antiquated helicopters and other equipment that were virtually discarded by Romania.
One clear answer may be found in the fact that Mr. Eze is one of the biggest personal financiers of Mr. Jonathan’s re-election. The businessman, who also controls huge interests in oil fields both in Nigeria and other West African countries, has been funneling millions of dollars into Mr. Jonathan’s campaign, said an insider PDP source. The businessman is extremely close to Mr. Jonathan and is reportedly well liked by First Lady Patience Jonathan because of his lavish presents to her, including million dollar gifts.
Mr. Eze is a big-spending billionaire who is an expert at ingratiating himself with those in power. During the brutal dictatorship led by the late General Sani Abacha, Mr. Eze became one of the closest confidantes of the general and his wife. He received a huge windfall when Mr. Abacha handed him the $120 million contract for rural electricity and water projects in the southeastern states. Even though the contract sum was borrowed from the African Development Bank, Mr. Eze pocketed the money without doing any of the projects, a scandal that led to the firing of the bank’s chief executive.
At the height of Mr. Abacha’s repression, Mr. Eze used to fly traditional rulers from the southeast on frequent visits to pledge loyalty to the dictator in Abuja. The Triax executive even stated once that he would go into exile if Mr. Abacha gave up power to an elected government.
Mr. Eze warmed his way to President Olusegun Obasanjo. As Mr. Obasanjo sought to change the constitution to extend his tenure, Mr. Eze was a vociferous supporter of the scheme.
His closeness to President Jonathan and his wife has brought him more riches through inflated contracts and great political clout. At the urging of Mr. Jonathan and his wife, the PDP national headquarters in Abuja allowed Mr. Eze to determine most of those announced as winners of PDP primaries for Federal legislative seats in the southeast, but especially in his home state of Anambra. In most cases, the businessman’s candidates were declared winners of primaries that were either not held or were heavily manipulated.