You may not know him, but he is not a small quantity. Alhaji Rabi’u Idris is the Special Adviser on Legislative Matters to Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari of Katsina State. On Monday, he started a conversation on a subject that is as old as this democracy.
Like an Old Testament prophet, Idris came out spitting fire, saying what majority of Nigerians already knew, and would want to scream from pinnacles and towers, mountaintops and minarets against, but which they lack the platform to perform. ‘Scrap security votes!’ Idris, also a former member of the Katsina State House of Assembly, snarled. Rather than continue to waste such staggering amount of money, monthly, to further feed the greed of some over-bloated executives, to the detriment of taxpayers, Idris wanted it channelled into productive ventures and other activities that would make life abundant for the people.
He didn’t say this. But most Nigerians know that security votes are one of the biggest frauds in this democracy. One, few Nigerians know the exact amount the governors allocate for security votes in their budgets, but it is widely believed that it could be as colossal as N400 million per month. Two, and to make the fraud leak-proof, the opaque fund, to borrow Idris’ words, is usually tagged “miscellaneous” in approved budgets. There are no “specific projects attached to the provision.” And because it is not tagged to any project, and because it is not usually audited or accounted for, their Excellencies could spend it on anything but security. They could use it to expand their harems, acquire choice properties, or simply deplore it to simply run their perceived or real enemies out of town.
This way, “security votes” have become synonymous to kalokalo gaming machine. It gulps billions of naira, every month, without yielding anything to Nigerian taxpayers from whose sweat the budget is drawn. Let’s hit the nail right on the head: another name for security vote is slush fund. The freebie is part of the reasons Presidents, Governors and Local Government Chairmen in this democracy have been living like mythical kings over a thousand thrones (Niyi Osundare). It is the reason some of them care less even if the guts of most of the citizens have dissolved within them, jarred by the jabbing pangs of hunger.
It is also one of the reasons many would bathe in blood, and sacrifice anything and anybody sacrifice-able to become President or governor or local government chairman. And having seen the affluence and influence that N400million per month can buy, very soon, councillors too may begin to press for their own slice of the cake.
Yet, nobody, apart from the architects of the fraud, knows how “security votes” sneaked into Nigeria’s political life. But its protagonists are often quick to quote Section 14(b) of the 1999 Constitution which states: “It is hereby accordingly declared that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” What they often cleverly leave out is that there is nowhere in this section where the words “security votes” are mentioned. You don’t need to be a mathematician to know the staggering tally that security votes must have cost the nation since the onset of this democracy in 1999. Surely, it runs into trillions. Imagine, then, how many refineries that would have been built from the approximated sum. Imagine, too, the billions of naira and dollars that would have been saved from the importation of fuel and the mega fraud that have been going with it since some forces swore that our refineries would never work. Also, consider the lives that have perished since 1999 as a result of the disastrous consequences of hoarding and related vices.
Poverty, illiteracy and democracy are strange bedfellows.
They are not compactible. The health and life span of any democracy could be scuttled by pervasive poverty and uncontrolled illiteracy. The two, collaborating together, could stir trouble and dim the light of democracy. These are avoidable landmines that the judicious use of the so-called security votes could have scuttled. But the beneficiaries don’t care a hoot.
+Most of the crises currently roiling our nation are preventable, and could have been prevented, were our leaders ready to make little sacrifices here and there. In refusing to do so, they forget the economic, political and social dislocations their selfishness could cause. For some fleeting seconds, visualise the chaos that would occur if teachers, civil servants and local council workers, most of whom are owed months in salary arrears, pour to the streets to demand their wages. Visualise, too, the mayhem that could result if, during such protest, some people are fatally wounded. Yet, such unpleasant situation could be avoided if governors could slice part of their security votes and use same to clear part of the backlog. But would they? Never! Rather, some of them would be mouthing building “stomach infrastructure” while building their pockets.
These days, it is common to see graduates, brilliant young men and ladies, paraded as armed robbers and con artists at police headquarters and other law enforcement units. Consider the loss to the nation if such people are convicted and sent to prison or executed. Even if they men are freed, that experience would leave a life-long impression on them. Yet, these precious lives could have been saved those traumas had the governors had converted their so-called security votes to establish cottage industries, form agricultural cooperatives or establish one scheme or another to take the luckless youth off the unemployed population. You can imagine the number of jobless graduates that would be absorbed from the unemployed pool this way.
The same applies to the resurgence of violent area boys on the streets of Nigeria’s major cities. God will help you if you drive a clean car and you are alone in traffic gridlock in Lagos. Like ghosts, area boys/traffic bandits would emerge from nowhere, using the butts of home-made shotguns to bang your door or window, demanding money and mobile phones. If you delay in acceding to their request, or play some pranks, you may have been singing the Hallelujah Chorus with angels in heaven before realising your folly. Many of such tragedies could have been avoided if such desperadoes were put in vocational centres funded from the so-called security votes.
Have you travelled to the South East lately? If you have, then, you would have seen houses hanging on cliffs carved by gully erosion, ready to crash any moment. Matter of fact, many citizens have been rendered homeless due to this natural disaster. Yet, I have not read anywhere that governors in those areas have sacrificed part of their security votes to aid the people or prevent the disaster. Instead, people still nimble, in rat-like fashion, on the ecological funds allocated to combat such disaster. Such evil can only breed one thing: insecurity. And disaster for the cheats. Push that aside. Consider internal security. I would have understood perfectly if, for instance, we had state police and governors are statutorily mandated to fund same with their security votes. But there is nothing like that. And the Nigeria Police Force is federally funded and controlled. If there is crisis in any state, it is the federally-funded police force that would be drafted to quell the fire.
Take Borno State as an example,. The Boko Haram insurgency is a national emergency. Consequently, it is the federal government that should, and is, indeed, facing the fire. This is aside other special interventions by Abuja targeted at helping the state government tackle some internal problems arising from the situation. That being so, what, then, does the State Governor spend his security vote on?
We can go on and on. Despite the billions gulped monthly, nationwide, by security votes, insecurity still rules the land. If it is not Boko Haram, it is the Niger Delta Avengers. This is not to mention the irritation of the Fulani cattle herders to whom cows are more precious than human lives. And the rash of kidnappings-for-ransom that have made living in Nigeria one huge hell. Despite the billions of naira gulped monthly by the security votes kalokalo, life has never been so short and brutish in Nigeria. There is so much insecurity everywhere. Fear pervades the land. Wherever you are, whoever you are, you must nurse one fear or another. Fear of Boko Haram and its elder brother, Islamic State. Fear of Niger Delta Avengers.
Fear of kidnappers. Fear of armed robbers. Nigerians should demand, vehemently, that security votes should either be scrapped, or properly and constitutionally dedicated to boosting internal security. And it doesn’t have to be N400 million per month.
God bless Nigeria.