Security votes must be spent transparently

In a bid to stem the pervasive tendency of public officers who treat security votes as personal entitlements, the 36 governors were expected to meet with some government financial agencies over the management of the funds. The outcome of that meeting was not made public. But the Nigeria Finance Intelligence Unit (NFIU), at whose instance the meeting was called, has given this Friday, 15th April as the deadline for all cash withdrawals from all public accounts in the country.  

The failure of public officers to give an account of their monthly security votes has generated so much controversy over the years. But it is a practice entrenched in virtually all the states of the federation. Some government agencies are also deeply involved in it. Every month some governors collect hundreds of millions of naira from their states’ coffers in the name of security vote, without accounting for it. 

Yet the framers of the Nigerian Constitution were not stupid in giving security significant attention. Above all other attributes, security (territorial integrity) is what defines a state. That is why perhaps it is the only appropriation vote over which the executive is granted discretionary spending. The spirit (the ennoblement) is the expectation that high office holders will exercise this discretion with utmost fidelity to the public interest. But 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, Sambo Dasuki, 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. 

 Indeed, this formed part of the reasons the Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction of a former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, in 2018. Nyame collected billions of Naira as security vote without accounting for them. “Any public officer in charge of such funds must either account for them or return them to the public coffers,” declared Justice Emmanuel Agim. “Failure to do so amounts to stealing.” That is why we believe there is need for a thorough review of how security spending should be channelled, 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 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. 

What is particularly worrying is that this abuse is not only at all levels of government, but it has also 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.

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