â€¢ Security vote includes proposed payments to university, museum, dental school
Joseph Ushigiale with agency report
Anti-corruption group Transparency International (TI) Monday revealed that the Muhammadu Buhari administration has in the run-up to elections expanded the use of opaque $670 million-a-year funds that fuel graft.
The funds, known as â€œsecurity votesâ€, are a relic of military rule, mainly disbursed in hard cash and nominally released for dealing with unexpected security issues, said the anti-corruption watchdog.
They come from both federal and state governments, although the vast majority is disbursed under the latter, reported Reuters.
According to Transparency Internationalâ€™s report released Monday, the funds have become â€œsynonymous with official corruption and abuse of powerâ€.
The watchdogâ€™s report come as President Muhammadu Buhari is gearing to run for a second term in February 2019.
A Nigerian presidency spokesman did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment about the report.
Buhari has built his administrationâ€™s policy on the twin pillars of tackling Nigeriaâ€™s endemic corruption and restoring stability to the highly insecure country. Hundreds have died this year in communal unrest in the hinterlands and the Boko Haram Islamist insurgency in the North-east.
A number of former government officials have faced criminal charges related to alleged corruption since Buhari came to power. The opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), in power for 16 years prior to Buhari taking office in 2015, has accused the president of focusing on its members.
â€œThe security vote is one of the most durable forms of corruption operating in Nigeria today,â€ said Katherine Dixon, Transparency Internationalâ€™s director for defence and security, in a statement.
â€œYet 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.â€
The group said the spending â€œis not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit because of its ostensibly sensitive natureâ€, adding that the funds are channelled into political activities such as election campaigns or embezzled outright.
It said federal-level total spending on items identified as security votes increased by 43 per cent in the 2018 budget from 2017 and included payments to a university, a museum commission and a dental technology school.
According to the report, the $670 million is more than the annual budget of the Nigerian Air Force and Nigerian Navy combined, more than 70 per cent of the annual budget of the Nigeria Police Force; more than nine times the U.S. security assistance since 2012; and more than 12 times the UK counterterrorism support for 2016-2020
Reuters said it checked some of the figures included in Transparency Internationalâ€™s report against a draft version of the 2018 budget, which has not yet been signed into law, and confirmed payments to those recipients were planned and identified as security votes.
Most of the estimated $670 million of security votes are disbursed by state governments, with federal spending making up only $51 million, Transparency International said. State government changes in disbursement varied, according to the reportâ€™s data.
Additionally, the largest security votes each year go to the security agencies, and such spending under Buhari is less than under his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, the report acknowledged.
â€œToday, security votes are budgetary black boxes that are ripe for abuse by politicians seeking re-election or officials looking to run for political office,â€ Transparency International said.