•Say spending N241bn yearly outside budget can’t continue
•Lament increase in unaudited funds under Buhari’s govt
Transparency International (TI), the world’s leading anti-corruption organisation, has rejected the claim of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) that the abolition of security votes will breed chaos and disorder rather than addressing the vicious challenge of corruption.
TI’s position is supported by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL).
They said that spending a whopping sum of N241.2 billion annually should not continue.
The leading anti-graft organisations rejected the NGF defence in separate replies to THISDAY inquiries on the legal and moral justification for security votes, unaudited funds provided for the executive heads of the federal, state and local governments to disburse at their discretion.
In principle, security votes are reserved for covering unforeseen security needs. Its disbursement is not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit because of its ostensibly sensitive nature. Although elected officials spend some of these funds on safety and security, they release substantial part for political activities or misuse it completely.
Given its susceptibility and vulnerability to corruption, civil society organisations (CSOs), especially those involved in anti-corruption campaigns, have been calling for the abolition of security votes, demanding justification for spending funds that are not captured in the appropriation laws.
The debate about the legality and morality of security votes last Wednesday dominated the quarterly policy dialogue on accountability for security votes put together by the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN) held at the ICPC Auditorium located at the Central Business District, Abuja.
At the policy dialogue, the Chairman of NGF and Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi had argued that the abolition of security votes in the country would breed chaos in the polity instead of curbing corruption.
He argued that security votes had existed even before the coming of the military. He said doing away with them would hinder development and security in the country instead of addressing corruption.
The Head of TI Nigeria, Mr. Musa Rafsanjani claimed that security votes, funding mechanisms widely used by the elected political leaders, showed grave tendency for corruption because the funds “are not subject to legislative oversight and independent audit.”
Rafsanjani, also an Executive Director of CISLAC, said: “We did extensive research on security votes. It shows tendency for corruption. Therefore, we are actually not in support of the continuation of siphoning public funds through the so-called security votes.
“If you want to strengthen security sector in Nigeria, budget it and ensure its effective utilisation. When we looked into the utilisation of security votes, we discovered that most of the organisations or government agencies that claimed to have used security votes do not have anything to do in terms of complementing safety and security in Nigeria.
“So, security votes have been a major source through which politically exposed corrupt persons siphon public funds. It is so because the fund is not audited. The fund is not over-sighted. The fund cannot show serious impact in terms of contribution to the security.
“What we need is to work out how to improve budgetary allocation to our security sector. For the politician to collect funds in the name of security votes, we think it is not proper. We think this practice has to end because it promotes corruption. It is a practice that promotes wastes. It is a practice that promotes financial impunity,” Nigeria’s TI chief explained.
Also, the Executive Chairman of CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran noted that the so-called security votes “is like providing meal tickets to the governments at all levels, when they are not properly used for its primary objectives.”
He lamented that some states “collect huge sum of money annually without justification. For instance, Imo gets N4 billion annually; Enugu N7.2 billion annually; Akwa Ibom N1.8B N21.6 billion annually; Edo State N10.8 billion annually Delta State N2 billion annually and Lagos N17.149 billion annually.”
Of all these states, he said only Lagos state “seems to provide a modicum of justification by providing a measure of assistance to the kitting of the Nigerian Police in the areas of provision of cars, bulletproof vests, weaponry to complement whatever the federal government is doing in that area.”
He, however, called for outright abolition of the security votes since experience “has shown that some unanticipated threats to security do occur from time to time at the local level, like the spate of kidnapping by supposed ‘herdsmen…
“This is why the calls for it to be appropriated for and audited at the end of every year is more auspicious and acceptable; because the funds are being abused by the state governments. Also, how the funds are disbursed is not accountable to any agency,” Adeniran explained.
He, also, urged the state governments “to use their discretion on how to spend the funds after they have been appropriated for by their respective legislative arm, ditto for other levels of government in the country.
“It is undemocratic and very shameful for such humongous amounts to be expropriated on the excuse of ‘security’when majority Nigerian graduates have no jobs to do and most states still refuse to pay N30,000 as minimum wage.”
In a report it published in 2018, TI revealed that the secretive, unaccounted-for, cash expenditures add up to over $670 million, an equivalent of N241.2 billion2 per annum.
Rather than phasing out the use of corruption-prone security votes, it lamented that the adminstration President Muhammadu Buhari had expanded their use in both scope and scale.
In December 2017, for instance, the report said the federal government announced the withdrawal of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account—nearly half of the country’s dwindling rainy day fund—for ad hoc security expenditures.
Likewise, it revealed that Buhari “has increased the number of security votes tucked into the federal budget from about 30 in 2016 to over 190 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.
“If President Buhari is serious about reining in official corruption in Nigeria, he has an opportunity to curtail his own government’s widespread use of security votes,” the report said.
The report analysed the budgets of 29 states, revealing that an average of $580 million (N208.8 billion) was spent in total each year on security votes. The report claimed that there was no data for seven states of the federation.
According to the report, the federal government security votes average over $50 million (N18 billion) annually.
The chairperson of Nigeria’s 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) each received on average $55,000 (N20 million) in security vote funding each year. The local government security votes would amount to another $42.6 million.
The report said the sum total of Nigeria’s various security votes “dwarfs the international security assistance it receives, and is comparable to budgeted spending on national defence and security institutions.
“In just one year, these in-cash, extra-budgetary expenditures add up to over nine times the amount of US security assistance to Nigeria since 2012 ($68.6 million) and over twelve times the $53.5 million (£40 million) in counterterrorism support the UK promised Nigeria from 2016 to 2020.
“Looking at it from another angle, 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.”