THE ABUSE OF SECURITY VOTES

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There is need for a review of how security spending should be channelled

On her visit to Nigeria in 2011, the German Chancellor, Mrs Angela Merkel, identified security and corruption as the two critical challenges facing our country. In the opinion of most Nigerians, then and even now, she was right. Indeed, it was a measure of her esteem for Nigeria that she came to Abuja shortly after Boko Haram subjected the very symbol of security, the police headquarters, to bombing. Although the military authorities have since decimated the capacity of the Boko Haram insurgents, it is obvious security is still a big challenge in the country.

Yet above all other attributes, security (territorial integrity) is what defines a state. This significance is reflected in the Nigerian constitution in a very crucial manner. It is perhaps the only appropriation vote over which the executive is granted discretionary spending. This is the letter of the constitution. The spirit (the ennoblement) is the expectation that high office holders will exercise this discretion with utmost fidelity to the public interest. In the increasingly festering culture of corruption in Nigeria this spirit is observed more in the breach. And it is getting worse.

The scale of this abuse is best left to the imagination when we extrapolate from the brazen corruption to which non-discretionary spending is usually subjected in our country. For instance, revelations from how security funds were allegedly disbursed by the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), as slush funds to prominent members of the former ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are indication of the abuse to which such discretionary spending is subjected in Nigeria. That is why we believe there is need for a thorough review of how security spending should be channeled, with a proper structure put in place at all levels so that there would be value for money and less abuse.

We acknowledge that not all security expenditure (properly understood as such) can stand public scrutiny without jeopardising its overarching purpose of maintenance of law and order. But nothing can justify the current situation where the executive at all levels allocate to themselves jumbo sums of money that is spent without any accountability on issues that have nothing to do with the security or welfare of the people. Invariably, security votes have become a clever way by which political office holders, in implicit collusion with, or exploitation by, security agencies, defraud the public.

In the particular case of the governors, they are hard put to justify the scale of their discretionary receivables when it is realised that all constitutionally recognised security operatives and infrastructure are funded by the federal government. Incidentally, the misuse of security votes became a subject of debate when in the course of the fight between him and then Oyo State Governor Rashidi Ladoja about a decade ago, the late Lamidi Adedibu said he expected a certain percentage of the security votes being collected by the former to be given to him almost as of right. For sure, Adedibu must have had an idea of what Ladoja was doing with the security votes for him to have so crudely demanded his share.

What is particularly worrying is that this abuse is not only at all levels of government, it has been extended to virtually all public agencies, including academic institutions.
More than ever before, Nigeria is in dire need of accountable and public-spirited leadership. The governors, many of whom are now seeking public sympathy on their inability to pay the wages of their workers, should urgently remedy their profligate ways.