“The security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government…” – Section 14 (2) (b), 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
How well governments at all levels in Nigeria have lived up to the above obligation as contained in the 1999 constitution is open for debate. Nevertheless, the different levels of government draw special monthly allocations called security vote for the purpose.
In the last 20 years, the different levels of government have drawn this fund without fail, even when there is paucity of funds for other sectors of the economy. However, analysts have questioned the legality and exact use of these funds which they said have not reflected on the security situation of the country.
The debate on the legality and use of these funds resonated again at the recent Quarterly Policy Dialogue on Accountability for Security Votes, which held at the headquarters of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), in Abuja, at a programme organised by the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN), a research and training arm of the ICPC. The Chief of Army Staff (COAS), Lieutenant General Tukur Buratai, the ICPC chairman, Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye towed the line of many Nigerians that security votes as it is presently breeds corruption, while the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi, who is also governor of Ekiti State argued the fund is necessary for democracy to survive.
Security votes, introduced by the military regime of General Ibrahim Babangida have been an intricate part of the allocation collected by government at all levels since the return to democracy in 1999. These funds are for the sole purpose of funding security services within the respective states. It runs into several billions of naira and varies from state to state depending on their level of security requirements. The disbursement is at the discretion of the state governor, the use to which the fund is put is not accounted for, and it is not subject to any legislative oversight.
A 2018 report by Transparency International, (TI), titled ‘Camouflaged Cash: How Security Votes Fuel Corruption in Nigeria’ estimates that security vote in Nigeria added up to over $670 million (N241.2 billion) annually, more than the annual budget of the Nigerian Army. The sum total of the funds come to over nine times the about US$68.6 million the United States (U.S.) security assistance to Nigeria since 2012, and over twelve times the $53.5 million (£40 million) in counterterrorism support the United Kingdom (U.K.) promised Nigeria from 2016 to 2020. TI said the amount quoted as security vote spending exceeds 70 percent of the annual budget of the Nigeria Police Force, more than the Nigerian Army’s annual budget, and more than the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Air Force’s annual budget combined.
Money for the taking?
The TI statistics confirms what majority of Nigerians believe. According to Katherine Dixon, TI Director of Defence and Security, “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 destabilise the elections.”
Buratai buttressed this assertion. He said, “Many governors have taken advantage of their immunity cover from prosecution which prevents them from being checked until they leave the office, to embezzle and misappropriate the funds. 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 like the Department for State Services (DSS), Civil Defence and the rest; so if they have budgets to run their affairs, why security votes again”, Buratai said.
There is no doubt that some state governors occasionally donate equipment to the security agencies to boost security within the states, but such donations are inconsequential compared to the quantum of funds withdrawn as security votes. Till date, many police stations in Nigeria don’t have functional vehicles, even as facilities in the stations remained poor. Analysts argued that if the security votes were really channelled to security, that conditions in the security agencies will not be in their “sorry state.”
Chief Ralph Uwazuruike, former president Aka Ikenga, lamented that the conditions in police are terrible and will not allow effective and efficient policing.
He said, “If you go to the Police College at Ikeja, you will understand why a decent man will join the police and by the time he goes through the Police College, he will come out a different being. The Police College simply turns people to accept horrible conditions as normal. As a police officer, if you are posted from Lagos to Maiduguri, for instance, all you need is an order to go, nobody talks about where you will stay. Those living in the barracks will not want you to come there because the accommodation is not adequate. Your only option is to stay at the Police Station. You wake up by 5:00 AM, take your bath in the open and get ready. That is the peculiar nature of the average policeman in Nigeria.”
Need for audit
Fayemi, who delivered a paper titled ‘Security Votes: Are they necessary? Are they legitimate, however argued that abolition of security Votes as being advocated by many Nigerians would breed chaos rather that curb corruption, stating that there is no development without security.
Fayemi said, “Governments all over the world have security votes but they may not call it the same name as ours because for obvious reasons, government business may not necessarily be all in the public glare. For a fact that a large amount of money is expended for security vote does not make it illegal.”
He said the use of the fund should “adhere to the international best practices by ensuring that every government fund budgeted or expended is appropriated by the legislature. The initiative for example by Lagos State when it set up the security trust fund that is managed by the joint government-private sector management, is a viable one and I believe it can be effective,” Fayemi said.
The ICPC supports the idea of a proper audit of security votes. Owasanoye said there should be mechanisms that would ensure that secrecy did not void accountability in the issue of security votes. He added that accountability was key to diminishing corruption which is important to national security and development. According to him, 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.
He said, “In other words, the permission of appropriation for security votes has ironically pushed up rather than diminished insecurity. “This is because the money that should ordinarily be available for social and economic development is appropriated as security votes and used discretionarily.”
The Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL) also believes an audit of the funds is better than cancellation. Executive Chairman of the Centre, Debo Adeniran, told Daily Sun that “Experience has shown that some unanticipated threats to security do occur from time to time. The calls for it to be appropriated for and audited at the end of every year are more auspicious and acceptable than cancellation of the fund”, Adeniran said.
Increasing allocations, and worsening security
The Federal Government has been at war with the Boko Haram terrorists in the North East parts of Nigeria since 2009. While the war lasted, there were reported complaints of Nigerian troops fleeing the war zone because they are ill-equipped to fight the terrorists.
In December 2017, the Federal Government announced the withdrawal of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account, nearly half of the country’s rainy-day savings for ad hoc security expenditures. The Buhari-led administration increased the security votes tucked into the federal budget from about $30 million in 2016 to over $190 million in 2018. The total value of these votes increased from $46.2 million (N9.3 billion at the time) to $51 million (N18.4 billion now) over those two years.
While the increased allocation may have helped in the war against terror, at least, the Federal Government said it has “technically defeated” Boko Haram even though other levels of insecurity spring up on daily basis.
As the Boko Haram subsided, killer herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers emerged unleashing same, if not worse mayhem. Uwazuruike added: “Nigeria is currently under the yoke of insecurity. As it is today, there is no part of Nigeria that is free from the menace. However, they prefer to call them bandits… there is no part of Nigeria you can say is safe.”
Nigerians believe these killer herdsmen, bandits and kidnappers are actually Boko Haram terrorists operating on another level. President Muhammadu Buhari admitted this much when he received Mr. Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), recently at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Daily Sun recalled that a statement by Femi Adesina, Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, quoted Buhari to have said, “Boko Haram has been degraded, but its members are still a nuisance around Lake Chad and surrounding islands. That is why we are cooperating with Chad, Cameroon, Niger Republic, and other countries. We are also using the Air Force quite effectively. They are bandits, and we will continue to treat them as such.”
What happened to the funds?
While security votes have not made the country safe, efforts to know how the funds allocated over the years were spent have been unsuccessful.
Daily Sun recalled that in April of this year, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), made a request from President Buhari and the 36 state governors under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, to provide specific details of spending of funds appropriated as security votes between 2011 and 2019.
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, said the request became necessary because, “The huge financial resources budgeted for ‘security votes’ by successive governments at both federal and state levels have not matched the security realities, especially given the level of insecurity, violence, kidnappings and killings in many parts of the country. The current security realities in the country would seem to suggest massive political use, mismanagement or stealing of security votes by many governments.”
The request had not answered as at the time of filing this report.
TI recommended legislation outlawing security votes and well spelt out budgeting procedures and criteria for security expenditures that meet international best practices. “If it is so important for national security that a proportion of federal and states’ security budgets remain secret, then it should be equally important that it is spent effectively. The only way to ensure this is to put in place effective oversight structures”, Transparency International said.