Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso
The recent disclosure by Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State that security vote is smokescreen by governors to divert public funds, again, brings to the fore a need to halt the anomaly, writes Davidson Iriekpen
For the second time, Kano State Governor, Dr. Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, has stirred the hornet’s nest when recently, he announced the abolition of security vote in the state. Kwankwaso who had once dismissed the idea of security votes said the practice now follows normal budgetary process for the Kano State Government. The governor, however, accused his colleagues of hiding under the guise of security votes to steal public funds. Although, the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Olukayode Fayemi had also come out to say security vote is a system gone with old practice in his state, Kwankwaso has however been persistent in his position.
A statement by his Director of Media and Strategy, Mallam Baba Dantiye, said “here in Kano, we do not set aside a kobo for security vote,” adding that “if the police needs funding, they should come and tell us what they need the money for.”
Kwankwaso who claims to only collect his salaries and allowances decried a situation where huge funds are spent in the name of security vote and at the neglect of developmental needs of the people. He explained that his decision to channel security votes through the budgetary process was designed to enhance transparency in public spending, adding that no longer would corruption be perpetrated under the guise of security votes in Kano State.
The governor, according to the statement, said despite the abolition of the old practice, the state government had strengthened its support for all arms of security agencies in the state, through logistics and infrastructural support.
“We have bought vehicles for them, over 50 at that. Just recently, we bought over 50 too for the vigilance groups; we bought for the Army; we bought for the Air Force; this is transparency. Now, I can assure you that in our treasury today is more than N20.5 billion saved within eight months with which we are launching an accelerated development of the state,” the governor was quoted as saying.
Since the return to democracy some 14 years ago, billions of unaccounted funds find their way out of the treasury in the name of security vote annually. But many analysts have argued that the idea of security vote has always sounded antithetical to basic democratic tenets of transparency and accountability in the handling of public funds. Analysts often wondered how a governor, in a democratic environment, would justify the practice of setting aside a huge sum of money, ostensibly for disbursement on security matters in a state, but for which accountability is neither demanded nor given.
For the simple reason that governors are not required to account for how the security votes are disbursed, many governors have turned such money into personal slush funds, used for anything but security.
In Imo State for instance, Governor Rochas Okorocha, last year removed the secrecy surrounding security of vote by giving Nigerians an idea on how governors steal in the name of security votes.
Okorocha at a thanksgiving service organised in his honour when he newly took over government announced that he would slash the state government’s annual security vote from N6.5billion which his predecessor, Ikedi Ohakim was collecting annually to N2.5billion. He promised that he would plough the balance into his planned free education programme.
Early 2009 in Edo State, lawmakers rowed with the executive arm of government over security votes when the Speaker of the State Assembly, Hon Zakawanu Garuba, accused Governor Adams Oshiomhole of collecting N911million as security vote between November 12, 2008 and December 31, 2008.
According to the speaker, “Between November 12 to December 31, 2008, the Comrade Governor of Edo State removed N911 million and put it in his pocket. He removed that money as security vote. In governance, you do not challenge how security vote is spent. He removed N911 million and the documents are with us. And meanwhile, when he removed the money, the killings, kidnappings, cultism are on the increase every day. What did he use the money for?” he asked.
Also, last week, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate in Ondo State, Chief Olusola Oke, alleged that Governor Olusegun Mimiko of the state collects N4billion annually for security vote in the about four years that he has been in office. He wondered what a state like Ondo needs that kind of money for when it is not under threat in any form.
It is pertinent to state that security votes are not included in the appropriation, whether at the federal or state level. By standard practice, the funds are unaudited and unaccounted for. The exact amount budgeted as security votes each year by state governments are unknown and how they are spent is nobody’s business. The malaise has thus become one of the easiest ways governors misappropriate funds in their respective states.
Every year, billions of naira is misappropriated with impunity from the federal to state governments without batting an eye lid. The funds purportedly meant to provide security for the president and governors in their domains end being looted and transferred into personal bank accounts. In spite of these huge sums of money, killings, kidnappings, cultism and other security threats are on the rise across the federation.
At the federal level, funds are annually allocated to the Ministry of Defence and the Nigeria Police for the upkeep and welfare of the armed forces and the police, yet billions are still voted for the President as security votes which nobody knows about.
Curiously too, nobody knows how security vote got into the country’s political lexicon. Section 14(b) of the 1999 Constitution states that: “It is hereby accordingly declared that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.” No where did the section or any other part of the statue book state that there shall be a pool of fund called “security vote.”
Some schools of thought believe that security vote had its origin in United States of America (USA) particularly under President Richard Nixon. Nixon, it was believed, before becoming US President at the age of 56 years, had made waves as a Wall Street lawyer, a member of the US House of Representatives, a US Senator and a Vice President for eight years (1953-61) under President Dwight Eisenhower.
After the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1963, the US Congress started to include in the country’s annual appropriations, large sums of money for presidential protection (Nigeria’s example of security votes for president and governors). When Nixon became President, he converted part of the allocation to develop his country home, including the provision of an exotic, state-of-the-art swimming pool.
Following allegations of corruption leveled against him, Nixon argued that the President could not be said to be protected if his country home was not fortified.
Sensing that Nixon had beaten them to their own game, the US Congress quickly went to work and the end result was the promulgation of the Impoundment Act of 1974, which makes it mandatory for proceeds of the crime to be impounded if found guilty. This, in America, has since ended such squander mania.
Unfortunately in Nigeria, nothing has been done to check the anomaly making state governors and presidents to steal public funds.
Last year, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed a charge against the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Charles Osuala, the state‘s Accountant General, Mr. Francis Okokuro, the state‘s Director of Treasury, Abot Clinton as well as the Director of Finance, Anthony Howells, for allegedly stealing N2 billion belonging to the state and over an alleged N500million bribe.
Osuala managed to escape arrest by the whiskers when operatives of the EFCC arrested the others. In an interview with the Africa Independent Television (AIT) from his hideout, he alleged that the N500million said to be misappropriated was part of the security vote spent on security in the Niger Delta. How the fund was spent, he did not say. Till date, nothing has been heard about the case.
A classic case is what transpired some years back, during the face-off between the late strongman of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Lamidi Ariyibi Adedibu, and then governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Rashidi Ladoja, who was accused by the former of keeping his security vote all to himself. “Ladoja is too greedy,” Adedibu was reported to have said.
“He was collecting N65 million as security vote every month. You know that governors don’t account for security vote. He was to give me N15 million of that every month. He reneged. Later, it was reduced to N10 million, yet he did not give me.”
If, perhaps, Ladoja had played ball, there would have been no reason for the two politicians to wash their dirty linen in public. But observers are concerned if that was what an elected governor should be doing with public funds, when there are so many developmental issues competing for attention.
Many analysts have also argued that if the security vote were used for the purpose they are meant, Nigerians would not have bothered. This, perhaps, prompted former Deputy Speaker of the Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon. Afam Obi, to accuse governors of the South-east states of misappropriating their security votes. He attributed the ugly development to high crime rate in the region.
Speaking at a stakeholder summit on inclusive budgeting in Nigeria, Obi advocated for the purchase of two or more helicopters with modern communication equipment and detectors, placed in strategic locations in the region where it could be called up in a matter of minutes to intervene in any security situation.
“I do not play politics with security. The security situation in the Southeast is pathetic. The militants who were displaced from the core Niger Delta regions have left their creeks, came upland to terrorise us. We must rise to the occasion. And since no state can do it alone, resources must be pooled together to confront this ugly development,” Obi stressed.
Certainly, like observers have noted, there is the need to review the issue of security votes practice. While truly, matters pertaining security enjoy a degree of secrecy, hiding under such understanding to steal public funds cannot continue to thrive.
That some governors had come out to demystify the practice also shows that there is nothing much to it other than sheer grandstanding.
This is where the legislative bodies, both at the federal and state levels must rise to the occasion and ponder the ugly development with a view to regularising it. Otherwise, it would remain one corruption avenue that might become legit in the nearest future.