Huge security votes and massive insecurity

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Each state government sets aside certain amount of money as security votes, which they argued becomes handy during any infraction on the peace and stability of the various states. It has been argued that such monies lines the pockets of the state governor as it is unaccounted for. However, at the 2019 Quarterly Policy Dialogue organised by the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN), the training arm of the ICPC, legality and constitutionality of security votes dominated discussions, as stakeholders are polarised with regard to its authenticity, writes OBIKE UKOH.

At the 2019 Quarterly Policy Dialogue organized by the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN), the training arm of the ICPC, legality and constitutionality dominated discussions.

The issue was also brought to the front burner recently, when new Imo State Governor, Hope Uzodimma, said he would forfeit his security vote to enable him to pay workers’ salaries.

Former Abia State Governor Theodore. A. Orji, who is also a serving Senator, is being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over alleged N150 billion fraud.

Orji was also alleged to have earned N48 billion as security votes in eight years at the rate of N500 million monthly.

Stakeholders that spoke at the ICPC Quarterly Dialogue expressed divergent views on the legality and constitutionality of security votes.

Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, Chairman of ICPC, said Nigeria needed to have parameters for appropriating and accounting for security votes without jeopardizing national security.

The chairman said there should be mechanisms that would ensure that secrecy did not void accountability in the issue of security votes in the country.

 

Accountability must be crucial

Owasanoye said this was necessary because accountability was crucial to diminishing corruption which is important to national security and development.

He further explained that security votes were an easy and attractive route for stealing public funds and a veritable avenue for abuse of public trust and escalation of poverty.

“In other words, the permission of appropriation for security votes has ironically pushed up rather than diminish insecurity.

“This is because the money that should ordinarily be available for social and economic development is appropriated as security votes and used discretionarily.”

He said there was a lacuna in the budgeting process and a lack of guiding principles on security votes.

“Furthermore, there is the erroneous impression that security votes are not to be accounted for,” he said.

Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, said security votes should be audited for better transparency.

“We should also take note that the security vote is not a defense vote. It is not meant for the armed forces.

“Strictly speaking, it is not meant to tackle insecurity. This security vote should also be subjected to audit. If it is not done, then it is quite wrong,” he said.

He added:  “We have funding for the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces, what is the fund meant for?

“We also have the police fund, and they are budgeted for and other security services such as Department for State Service, Civil Defence and the rest, so if they have budgets to run their affairs, why security votes again?

“There are several criticisms on the security votes, that they are subject to embezzlement, corruption, misappropriation, and that the governors take advantage of the immunity in the constitution that they are not checked until they leave the office.

“But if this is made constitutional, with proper guidelines, I think these issues would be laid to rest.”

Buratai said the National Assembly could transform the security vote into an Act of Parliament.

Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, defended security votes, adding that its abolition would breed chaos in the polity, instead of curbing corruption as is being widely believed.

Fayemi spoke on the topic: “Security Votes: Are they Necessary? Are they Legitimate?”

He said doing away with them would, instead of addressing corruption, hinder development and security in the country.

“Governments all over the world have security votes, but they may not call it the same name as ours for obvious reasons, government business may not necessarily be all in the public glare.”

The governor stated that in his state, every transaction involving security votes are very well documented and receipted, but nevertheless, argued that unless something is done to ameliorate the malaise, abuse of security votes in the country would continue.

A national newspaper in its editorial decried the high level of corruption associated with security votes.

“The scale of this abuse is best left to the imagination when we extrapolate from the brazen corruption to which non-discretionary spending is usually subjected in our country.

 

Security funds

“For instance, revelations from how security funds were allegedly disbursed by the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), as slush funds to prominent members of the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are indication of the abuse to which such discretionary spending is subjected to in Nigeria.

“That is why we believe there is a need for a thorough review of how security spending should be channeled, with a proper structure put in place at all levels so that there would be value for money and less abuse.”

An analyst, Jide Oluwajuyitan, in his article, entitled “Security “Votes as “Disguised “Theft”, noted that “using security votes as a decoy, Abacha stole the country blind during his war against National Democratic Coalition  (NADECO), his regime’s nemesis.”

Prof. Aloysius Okolie, former Head, Department of Political Science, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), says irrespective of the controversy surrounding security votes, he will not subscribe to its stoppage.

Okolie said though some governors misused it, its removal would increase security challenges in the country.

“Security votes help governors to handle some security situations in their states before they get out of hand.

“As the chief security officer in their various states, on daily basis, they receive security reports from law enforcement agencies and some of these reports, if not acted upon immediately, may escalate to dangerous dimensions.

“It’s from their security votes, they use in tackling these security challenges thereby nipping such security threats in the bud,” he said.

On the issue that security votes are unconstitutional and not captured in annual budgets, he noted that even in developed countries, not everything is enshrined in the constitution.

“Is it not everything that will be in the constitution, that’s why some approved traditions and conventions are part of the country’s constitution?” he said.

The don said what Nigerians should preoccupy themselves with should be on how to elect qualified and patriotic leaders, who would govern the people with the fear of God as well as make judicious use of security votes given to them.

Dr. Arron Agbo, Senior Lecturer, Department of Psychology, UNN, said he was not against security votes, but that they should be accounted for.

“I am of the view that this money should be accounted for.

” If a governor was given N100, 000 as security vote for February, at the end of the month, he should give account how the money was used.

“This idea of giving security votes to governors every month and by next month whether the previous one was spent or not,  another one will be released is not proper,” he said.

The psychologist alleged that this uncounted a huge amount of money called security votes was one of the reasons everybody wants to be governor of a state by all means.

“Some governors, instead of using this money to improve security in their states, used it to enrich themselves as well as to suppress the opposition parties,” he said.

Mrs Chidimma Eleazu, an activist and lawyer, said security votes should be stopped, because it is unconstitutional and not appropriated for.

“If the president and governors should continue to receive security votes, it should be reflected in the constitution or annual budgets.

“This will enable Nigerians to hold their leaders accountable.

“It’s unfortunate that in some states, banditry, and kidnapping happen on a daily basis, but their governors collect security votes every month without much  to show for that,”  she said

Dr. Paul Okorie, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), said the security vote introduced by the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida military administration created an avenue for state chief executives to pillage the revenues and resources of their states.

Okorie, a former Commissioner for Works, Housing and Transport in Ebonyi, called on the Federal Government to scrap the policy.

He said: “The issue of security vote is just a conduit, an avenue imaginarily created by a particular government for the purpose of siphoning the revenues, the resources of the federation and the states.

“It is no longer desirable and it has never been desirable because there is a budget for defense every year, which runs into billions of naira and that should be enough to take care of the military, police and our paramilitary agencies.

“If states should contribute to security funding, it should be open and there must be some contingency funds and everybody must have information about such funds that can be used in emergency situations for the purchase of security vehicles.

“But, there is no justification for carting away hundreds of millions of naira and, in most cases billions, depending on the resources of the state every month.

“Billions of naira are siphoned every year by state governors and even at the federal level in the name of security votes.

“For me, it is no longer fashionable and the public deserves to know how much has been removed from state treasuries by governors as security votes.

“The governors should be called to give an account of these monies and how they were spent; after all, there is still insecurity everywhere, with kidnappings and killings every day in different parts of the country.

“Any appropriation that is not open is no budget.

“Worst still, the security vote has no constitutional backing hence it is an illegality.”

Prof. Eugene Nweke, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences and Management, Ebonyi State University, described as illegal and unconstitutional, the monthly security votes collected by governors, among others.

 

Constitutional procedure

“Yes, it is not proper for us to have unconstitutional expenditure that is not budgeted for.

“It is an opportunity to divert funds which are not healthy for our economy, especially in this era when the cost of governance is getting higher.

“So, if we must actually utilize the security votes to achieve the purpose it is meant for, it should be appropriated through a budgetary system.

“The provision has to pass through a constitutional procedure so that there will be accountability, otherwise it will continue to be a Pandora box for looting.”

Stakeholders are of the opinion that with the abuse associated with security votes, it is imperative the country condense the views expressed by Nigerians and introduce a security vote policy insulated from arbitrariness.

  • Obike Ukoh is of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)