Security votes should be transparently spent

The recent altercation between the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. General Tukur Buratai and Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State over the use of security votes has once again brought the contentious issue into public consciousness. Both men sharply disagreed while speaking at the second quarterly anti-corruption policy dialogue on accountability for security votes.

While Buratai, who echoed the misgivings of many Nigerians on the legality and propriety of security votes, advocated the need to subject such spending to audit, Fayemi, current Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), faulted the submission of the army general, describing it as an “incorrect narrative.”

In contrast to the assumption that security vote is spent on security by heads of executive arms of government, Buratai argued that the money is usually spent on things that cannot be classified under security. He therefore insisted that security vote must be made a constitutional allocation with proper guidelines on its utilisation duly spelt out. He said until this is done, controversies generated by the vote will continue to fester.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Chairman, Mr Ibrahim Magu, agreed with Buratai on the abuse to which security votes were being subjected. Magu added a dangerous dimension to the issue when he said some governors “now covertly promote insecurity as justification to inflate their security vote.”

While we understand the position of Fayemi that security votes cannot be eliminated, we urge a measure of accountability. For a government that is prosecuting some officials of the previous administration over the manner security votes were allegedly diverted for political ends, it is disappointing that President Muhammadu Buhari has no legislative agenda on this throw-back from the military era.

As rightly noted by Mr Robert Clarke, security vote is not provided for in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). Its allocation and use therefore underscore a gross violation of the extant laws which stipulate that no amount of money can be spent by the executive at the federal or state level unless it is appropriated by the legislature.

Accountability is one of the hallmarks of constitutional democracy. Therefore, a situation where public officials are allowed to draw money from the federation account under the guise of security vote without any mechanism for accountability is antithetical to the spirit and letter of democracy. Since it has become an avenue for the heads of the executive arms of government to siphon money, there is an urgent need to examine the idea.

It is instructive to note that security vote crept into Nigeria’s democratic system from the previous military intervention in our politics. As explained by Clarke, military junta created the fund to assist them in fighting and foiling coups d’etat by members of the armed forces.

However, unlike the situation now where the source of the fund is shrouded in secrecy, security vote during military era was prepared by the budget office and approved by the Supreme Military Council in accordance with a military decree. But when democracy returned in 1999, the fund was not incorporated into the constitution and this notwithstanding, politicians opted to entrench it into our political system without any authorisation.

We, therefore, challenge the federal government to properly prepare a legal framework for accountability and authorisation of both the allocation and utilisation of security votes. This will stop the abuse and corrupt platform it has provided for public officials at all levels as it will enable the relevant authorities to monitor its use and bring those who abuse it to justice.