Away With The Corrupt Security Vote

A stark reminder of the depth of corruption in Nigeria and how we have failed to deal with it have been provided by global watchdog, Transparency International. Its finding that, combined, the federal and state governments allocated N241 billion annually under the notorious security vote heading confirms our governments’ reputation for unaccountable expenditure and the persistence of graft in the country’s public affairs. Until this gratuitous and systemic theft of public funds is eradicated, corruption will continue to be the defining attribute of governance in Nigeria.

That the security vote sustains a massive system of corruption is evident in the many cases and reports of how security agents intercept agents of governors and other officials as they ferry cash to Bureaux de Change in violation of anti-money laundering laws. TI’s report, Camouflaged Cash: How Security Votes Fuel Corruption in Nigeria, presented by the NGO, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, detailed how the votes surpassed annual combined budgetary funding for the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Air Force and Nigerian Navy.

TI described it as “one of the most durable forms of corruption operating in Nigeria today,” adding that failure to subject the funding to legislative oversight or independent audit had allowed successive presidents and state governors to treat it as slush fund and direct it to political activities or more often, “embezzle it outright.”

Security vote crept into public governance surreptitiously under the military. Accountability was an alien concept to military dictatorship. It was introduced to enable the head of state and governors to respond swiftly to security threats by having quick access to cash to mobilise personnel and logistics and avoid delays caused by red tape. It has been badly abused. Rather than abolish a system that allows public funds to be allocated without accountability or oversight, the civilian governments that succeeded the military retained it, raised the funds astronomically and have since been using it as slush. Misuse includes using it to bribe legislators, fund elections and sustain patronage. One state governor once confessed to buying off foreign Fulani gunmen to persuade them to stop infiltrating Nigeria to commit mass murder. A tragic-comic but revealing case happened in Oyo State when a controversial political fixer, Lamidi Adedibu, after masterminding the flawed impeachment of Rasheed Ladoja as governor, justified his action partly on the grounds that he was denied one-third of the monthly security vote to secure his support.

The irony is that despite the humongous increase in the slush fund that reached N210 billion as estimated by the civil society in 2017, insecurity has run riot. Over 1,100 persons were killed in attacks in the first four months of 2016, says Human Rights Watch, while terrorism rages in the North-East, vandalism in the South-South, wanton banditry in the North-West, Fulani militants in the North and further south, compounded by armed robbery, kidnapping and gang violence everywhere.

A situation where a governor collects between N500 million and N1 billion of taxpayers’ money in a country with over 70 per cent of its population poor is unsustainable and must end. Our security concerns cannot be greater than those of richer, nuclear-armed countries. After years of bipartisan agitation, the United States government took to publishing the overall intelligence sector’s and Central Intelligence Agency’s budgets, though specific details remain classified. Even when its budgets were all classified, select Congressional and Commons committees had to approve and oversee the expenditures of the CIA and Britain’s three intelligence agencies – MI5, MI6 and the General Communications Headquarters. The UK approved additional funding of £1.5 billion annually for counter-terrorism intelligence to be shared among its intelligence and defence community in addition to their regular budgets, which are now published, though without details.

Balarabe Musa, a former governor of the old Kaduna State, recalls that he got N100,000 monthly as security vote and had to account for it. According to him, standby funds for security emergencies were meagre, approved by parliament and accounted for, though classified, during the First Republic.

We should adhere to international best practices: the world’s leading democracies thrive on openness and accountability. It is improper in a democracy for a president, governors, parliamentary leaders to be given money not appropriated by the legislature to use as they please without accounting for every kobo.

Every government expenditure should be appropriated by the parliaments and made public. Enhancing security can be achieved by classifying its minutae, subject to scrutiny and approval by committees whose members should have security clearance. Under the US Intelligence Act 1949, the Director of the CIA is the only federal civil servant who can spend “un-vouchered” public money.

The initiative by Lagos through the independent, public-private Lagos State Security Trust Fund is a viable and effective template already copied by some states that can supplement budget provisions for security and equip the president and governors as a further means to meet threats.

The civil society, labour, students and professionals should mount pressure to end this brazen corruption. Voters should place its abolition on the front burner in the next election cycle and demand that candidates and political parties take a definite stand on the issue.

Federal and state legislators should wake up to their responsibilities by rejecting any unapproved expenditure while exercising effective oversight on the executive.

(The Punch Editorial)

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