Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
The Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS) and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), in a new report released, on Monday, has disclosed that a whopping N241.8 billion ($670 million) is being spent annually by the Federal Government in the name of ‘Security Votes’ without proper audit or oversight.
The Campaigners argued that the practice fuels corruption and conflict and have recommended that the Nigerian government pass federal legislation outlawing security votes at all levels, to be accompanied by legislation specifying budgeting procedures and criteria for security expenditure.
The report titled, Camouflaged Cash: How ‘Security Votes’ Fuel Corruption in Nigeria’, decried that while the 2018 defence budget is estimated to be some $1.2 billion (1.03 billion euros) more than $670 million extra were being handed out annually without proper oversight.
The report said the annual sum for security vote was also more than 70 percent of the annual budget of the Nigeria Police Force and more than nine times the United States of America security assistance since 2012.
The sum is also more than 12 times the UK counter terrorism support for 2016 to 2020.
The report said 29 Nigeria States receive an average total of $580 million through security votes each year, indicating $5 million increase in security votes spending between 2016 and 2018.
Transparency International Defence and Security (TI-DS) and Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) explained that the Security Votes ‘Camouflaged Cash’ used by successive governments since 1999 are opaque funds that are disbursed at the discretion of public officials usually cash, without being subjected to oversight or independent audit.
They said, “in theory they are meant to cover unforeseen security needs but in reality many have become slush funds for corrupt officials.”
Katherine Dixon, Director of Transparency International Defence and Security said, “The security vote is one of the most durable forms of corruption operating in Nigeria today.
“Yet instead of addressing its many urgent threats, the ever-increasing use of security votes is providing corrupt officials with an easy-to-use and entirely hidden slush fund.”
“Corruption in the crucial sector of defence and security plays right into the hands of those who seek to sow the seeds of instability and terror.
“It leaves armed forces under-resourced in the fight against Boko Haram and feeds groups who may destabilize the elections,” she added.
Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Executive Director CISLAC said, “We are calling on all candidates for the coming election to agree to phase out this secretive and dated form of spending.”
He added that, “Growing insecurity at a time when security vote spending has increased shows that it serves no positive purpose in keeping Nigerian citizens safe. Any candidates serious about fighting corruption in Nigeria will recognise the need to urgently address the problem of security votes.”
The TI-DS) and CISLAC also recommended have also asked for the establishment of effective oversight structures to ensure existing spending is appropriated.
They called for support to state governments to set up Security Trust Funds as a constructive first step to phasing out security votes.
The report noted that as well as undermining the fight against corruption, the misuse of the funds is fueling instability in the country.
It said by prioritising security vote spending, less funding is available for Nigerian Forces to pay salaries, or procure needed supplies, leaving them under equipped to fight Boko Haram.
The report also noted that at the Federal level, the total number and amounts of security votes in the federal budget fluctuates year-to year.
It said, “Security votes are distinct from the type of extra budgetary defence spending that is approved directly by the President, but resembles it insofar as they are spent with scant legislative oversight or outside scrutiny.”
It said, “Although President Buhari in 2016 scaled back his use of security votes compared to his predecessor Goodluck Jonathan, the use of security votes was again ramped back up in 2017 and 2018.”
The reported noted that the 2018 budget shows a significant increase (43 percent) in the total amount budgeted for security votes.