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Security votes still top secret in Nigeria as insecurity worsens

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Over the years, whatever that has been heard about the real amount being appropriated to state governors in Nigeria as security has remained a guess work.

Some Nigerians, even those in the corridors of power, have described security votes as humongous amount of money that is spent by governors unaccounted for.

Someone told BusinessDay Sunday that “Security vote is like a bottomless pit in terms of hugeness.”

According to Wikipedia, “security vote in Nigeria is a monthly allowance that is allocated to the 36 states within the Federal Republic of Nigeria for the sole purpose of funding security services within such states.”

It further stated that “The monthly fund runs into billions of naira and vary based on the level of security required by the individual state.”

It rightly noted that security votes have not been widely accepted by citizens, as most have claimed that such funds are being abused by the state governments, because how the funds are disbursed is not accountable to any agency.

On December 14, 2017, the plan by the Nigerian government to release $1billion from the excess crude oil account to fight Boko Haram was the most read news on global wire services.

A particular wire service warned that Nigeria should rather save for the rainy day, and instead divert to the insurgency fight, the security votes of the 36 states governors that are uncounted for.

It seemed Nigeria did not heed to that warning, instead more funds are being allocated to the security votes, despite that they are opaque corruption-prone funding widely used by Nigerian officials, especially governors.

The intrigue is that the amount allocated to security votes for both governors and the presidency has always been shredded in secrecy.

Governors hardly disclose the amount, and the anti-graft agency seems to overlook that direction when probing past governors.

According to Transparency International, Nigeria allocates an estimated N241.2 billion (about $670 million) to security votes annually.

The international governance and rights watchdog decried Nigeria’s annual allocation to security votes, saying that it is more than the Nigerian Army’s annual budget, 70 percent more than the Nigerian Police Force annual budget, and far higher than the United States of America and United Kingdom’s security assistance to Nigeria.

Since 2012, the US has spent $68.6 million in security assistance to Nigeria, while the UK has given over $53.5 million (£40 million) in counterterrorism support to Nigeria from 2016 to 2020.

Despite the increasing allocations to security votes, insecurity is getting worse and governors are crying for help, an ugly situation that is daily raising questions on the need for security votes when those who manage the funds cannot deploy it in providing security for, at least, themselves and their families.

The sad reality is that the funds would have aided developmental projects if they were rightly deployed than going into the private pockets of the governors, who draw from it at will, and without giving details of their expenditure, or accounting for the remaining, if any.

Many are aggrieved that nothing can stop the governors from drawing from the budget when it has never served its purpose, as the source is also culpable, hence several calls for the scrapping of the votes.

Mike Adama, a public affairs analyst, and aggrieved tax payer, decried that apart from the governors, the presidency also gets security votes.

Since 2016, the number of security votes tucked into the federal budget has been increasing from 30, to over 190 in 2018, and more today.

Adama argued that if the security votes are increasing with a corresponding safety and peace across the states, nobody will raise issues or call for the scrapping, as accountability is out of it because Nigerians are yet to start holding their leaders accountable for their actions and funds expended while in office.

In the same vein, Bulus Yahaya, a capital market operator, noted that the security votes, which are unaccounted for are tax payers’ money, and government should justify the expenditure, and if it cannot point to improvement in security, the votes should be scrapped.

“It is funny that the Federal Government is giving huge amount to governors as security votes. But who is securing who? Is security not from the federal, why give funds to governors, who cannot buy arms, or effectively control the police in their domain?” He asked.

Citing the cases of Governor Babagana Umara Zulum of Borno State and Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, Yahaya, disclosed that the governors should be mandated by the source of the security votes to return the funds allocated to them for security because of their failure to secure themselves despite the huge sum provided for such.

“It simply means that the two governors just pocketed their security votes because there were no effort from their own security setup (if any, not good enough) to dispel the attacks. Who is deceiving who, the money is pocketed and you can’t eat your cake and have it back”, he said.

But Dolapo Fadahunsi, a constitutional lawyer and security expert, noted that the governors are handicapped by the laws, which make both internal and external security in Nigeria, a prerogative of the federal government.

“Presently, the commissioner for police in a state is not answerable to the governor, rather to the inspector general of police, who takes instructions from the presidency that appointed him. The governors cannot buy arms and his security is determined and put in place by the federal agencies. So, the security votes cannot be used for the real needs of the governors, who end up pocketing them,” Fadahunsi said.

He thinks that security votes will be rightly deployed if the laws allow state police controlled by a sitting governor, who now sets up, funds and supervises the activities of the state police.

“Are we not practising federalism, Nigeria should emulate the United States of America where state police work in collaboration with the federal security agents such as FBI, CIA among others. Let’s allow state police and give governors opportunity to appropriately spend the security votes they receive”, the security expert said.

He also argued that if the two governors, who were attacked recently, had their own funded and controlled security apparatus, the attackers would have been overpowered and dealt with appropriately.

“A governor’s entourage is led by police officers deployed by the Police, agents deployed by the State Security Service, and when soldiers are involved, they would also be sent by the Army authorities. So, he has no control over who guards him. This is a big challenge for opposition governors because their security aides could also be their biggest threats”, Fadahunsi said.

But the governors are not after only collecting their security votes; some want a piece of the action, but the Federal Government fears that would amount to open challenge, especially from stubborn governors.

It would be recalled that Samuel Ortom, governor of Benue State, has been calling on the Federal Government to allow his people carry arms to defend themselves against killer herdsmen and gunmen. In his argument, the outspoken governor decried that it was wrong to disarm his people, while killer herdsmen and bandits keep ransacking villages, killing innocent people with their own guns.

He is still calling on the Federal Government to allow him set up his own security or allow Benue people carry arms in defense of themselves, and probably, spending the security votes appropriately in setting up security outfit, training and buying arms.

Many observers think that security votes will count when state police is allowed.

“If governors such as Nyesom Wike, Samuel Ortom, and Darius Dickson Ishaku have had their own armed police, nobody will mess with them. They will buy arms to match bandits and train citizens to fight insurgents better. Imagine if Nasser El-Rufai is allowed to run his own police, he will set example for other states on how to handle security challenge.

It is not by the money available in security vote, but the will power to deploy the needed equipment, personnel and morale to run hoodlums out of town”, he said.

According to the retired security chief, the Nigerian Army is still the best in Africa, all they need is a determined leader with the will power, and not joining forces with politicians, flushing out sabotage in the system, and insecurity will be a thing of the past.

However, there have been several attempts at challenging the rationality and legitimacy of security votes, which have remained unsuccessful.

On May 4, 2020, a federal court in Lagos struck out a suit seeking to make the 36 state governors account for the security votes collected in their respective domains.

According to Hassan Muslim Sule, a judge of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the suit, hence he referred the case to the respective state’s high courts, which he said were the appropriate courts.

The suit was filed by Legal Defence and Assistance Project, Legal Resources Consortium, and Chino Obiagwu, a senior advocate of Nigeria.

Steve Osuagwu, an acclaimed political economist, has always insisted that, “Security votes can build hundreds of schools, take would-be bandits out of the street, build hospitals, given out as loans to youths to be positively engaged and not necessarily buy arms because saving the future of today’s youths, assures peace tomorrow”.

According to him, “All past and present governors should be in the EFCC custody for not accounting for how they expended their security votes. If you recover all that money, it will, at least, build three new refineries, payoff some foreign loans and build quality hospital for treatment of the likes of cancer and stop our elites from traveling to India, Dubai, London and US for medical tourism.”

Many think that by now the Nigerian government should have realised that security votes are conduit pipes of siphoning tax payers’ money and should be scraped with legislation backing it, especially now that government revenue is dwindling.

Worsening insecurity

In recent years the spate of insecurity in Nigeria has assumed a frightening dimension.

The situation has grown within the last one decade from clashes between farmers and herdsmen, activities of Boko Haram Islamic sect who initially kicked against western education in the North-East region.

Recently, activities of terrorists, bandits, especially in some parts of the North, have added another dimension to attacks on innocent Nigerians. The combined impacts of kidnapping and banditry have led to loss of many lives, and property, leaving many Nigerians homeless, and poorer.

Things are so bad that heart-rending cases are reported everyday across the country; even top military and other security agencies’ officers daily fall victim of the kidnappers.

Currently, kidnapping for ransom has become a lucrative business venture, with hundreds of school children regularly being kidnapped in the North West and North-East, and huge amount of money as ransom is paid.

According to the United Nation Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) an estimated 640 civilians were killed in the North-East in 2019 in the tenth year of the Boko Haram conflict as a result of fighting between security forces and Boko Haram. While in several instances, civilians were the primary targets by the terror group.

The organisation further revealed that an estimated 27,000 people, including 37 aid workers, have been Killed since 2019.

Idowu Omolegan, a public affairs analyst and lawyer, said that security votes set aside to fight insecurity was not bad if it were used judiciously, but he pointed out that over the years, it had become a source of siphoning public funds by governors.

“When you look at the setup of security agencies you would want to say maybe there is little the governors can do because they do not choose who heads the police and other security agencies in their states.

“But there are other ways they can play to solve this problem. Don’t forget that as a governor, you are elected to secure your people as a primary responsibility. You have to devise ways to tackle these killings, but this is not happening despite the huge amount of money they receive as security vote; just pocket it,” Omolegan said.

He called for the scrapping of security vote since it appears it has not been effectively deployed to proper use. He said this has become necessary given the fact that insecurity still tops the list of the nation’s challenge, and due to the fact that it is unconstitutional and not appropriated for.

“I think there is no need for it again and if a lot of them do not use it for what it was meant for, even with this glaring security lapses, it is unconstitutional and not even budgeted for,” he added.

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 featured prominently.

Bolaji Owasanoye, a professor and chairman of Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), said Nigeria needed to have parameters for appropriating and accounting for security votes without jeopardising national security.

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

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

“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.

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

At the event, the immediate past Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai had questioned the legality of the use of the funds by the governors when the army needed funds to fight insurgency, banditry and kidnapping.

Many have also questioned the rationale and went further to call for its scrapping, a call that keeps falling on deaf ears because the governors and their collaborators need money to fund elections and to steal too.

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.”

Arron Agbo, senior lecturer, Department of Psychology, University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN), said he was not against security votes, but that they should be accounted for.

According to him, “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 of 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”.

But at the ACAN event, Kayode Fayemi, Ekiti State governor, had 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?’

“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,” Fayemi said.

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