Security Votes, Ortom And Witch-Hunt

Casmir Igbokwe

Like a sore thumb, it has continued to pain us. Yet we have failed to find a cure for it. It is the root of many corrupt practices by the executive arm of government. But we have refused to uproot it. We call it security vote. As the 2019 general election approaches, politicians will deploy it to achieve maximum effect.

Security vote is usually not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit. This is why it is surprising that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is probing the Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom, over its alleged misuse. Media reports last week quoted the anti-graft agency as alleging that the governor defrauded his state to the tune of N22 billion. The EFCC is also investigating 21 members of the Benue State House of Assembly for allegedly diverting N375 million meant for the procurement of vehicles that would be used for oversight functions.

According to the agency, between June 30, 2015, and March 2018, the Benue State governor ordered the withdrawal of N21.3 billion from four government accounts. About N19 billion out of the money was meant for the payment of six security agencies deployed in the state to quell the clashes between herdsmen and farmers. However, the state government allegedly paid less than N3 billion of this money to security agencies. The rest, the EFCC alleged, could not be accounted for.

READ ALSO: Time to outlaw security vote

Recall that Ortom recently defected from the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Though the EFCC’s searchlight on him is welcome, it has the features of a witch-hunt. The governor alluded to that in his response to the EFCC. He urged the agency to begin the probe with President Muhammadu Buhari.

Ortom wondered, “How can you single me out of 36 (governors) for investigation? It (security vote) is not something that any government will begin to disclose. Why should Benue’s case be different if not persecution? If the EFCC wanted a genuine investigation of security vote spending, they should have started from the Presidency and across the 36 states.”

READ ALSO: SERAP to Buhari: Prosecute govs over alleged stealing of security votes

The governor has a point here. The EFCC should not make itself the attack dog of the incumbent government. If it has decided to investigate the misuse of security votes, that is cheery. But the investigation should be holistic.

In case it has not done so, the anti-graft agency should go through the recent report of Transparency International on security votes. Entitled “Camouflaged Cash: How Security Votes Fuel Corruption In Nigeria,” the report revealed that the federal and state governments spend N241 billion on security votes annually. The states spend most of the money. This amount, the international agency noted, was more than the annual budget of the Nigerian Army, Air Force, and the Navy combined.

The federal government even reportedly increased its spending by 43 per cent in 2018 budget from 2017. This, according to TI, included payments to a university, a museum commission and a dental technology school.

So, why has the EFCC not gone after the federal government that increased its security vote spending? Why has it not investigated other states? Is the investigation of Ortom not a clear case of witch-hunt?

READ ALSO: Ortom to EFCC: Begin Security Vote probe from Presidency

Transparency International had regretted that “security votes are budgetary black boxes that are ripe for abuse by politicians seeking re-election or officials looking to run for political office.” Now that the 2019 elections are fast approaching, what has the EFCC done to checkmate politicians using security votes for campaigns or to buy votes?

Those using their authority to antagonise opponents today should realise that power is transient. Tomorrow, a new Pharaoh may emerge and the hunter will become the hunted.

Our concern generally should be how to prevent any politician from using our commonwealth for campaign activities under the guise of security vote. If this money is deployed wisely and for what it is meant for, I don’t see why policemen should protest against non-payment of certain allowances in Maiduguri as they did the other day. I don’t also see why President Buhari should ask us to pray to stop the killings in Plateau and other places as he was recently quoted to have said.

It is indeed worrisome that a Commander-in-Chief who should have dealt decisively with threats to our corporate existence, resigned to fate and asked his fellow countrymen to pray. The President acknowledged that Fulani herdsmen were used to carrying sticks during grazing. But these days, they carry AK 47.

So, is it prayer we need to arrest them or superior firepower? What happened to our armament – the armoured personnel carriers, the machine guns – and the brave soldiers reputed for their marksmanship? Do they get enough of these security votes? Are they well equipped and motivated? And is the military intelligence well groomed to fish out potential trouble spots and move to nip any untoward planned action in the bud?

Ironically, we did not use prayer to tackle the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB). The main weapon of the Biafran agitators was rallies and protest marches. Yet we used full military might to contain them. And we now want to use prayer to flush out those wielding AK47 rifles. Nigeria!

We may as well disburse this security vote to pastors and imams. If Bishop David Oyedepo or Pastor T.B. Joshua gets hold of this money, heaven may hear the cry of Nigerians.

Similarly, we can use these security votes to complete the Second Niger Bridge in record time. We can deploy them to fix the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and some other dilapidated infrastructure across the country. They will go a long way in settling the unpaid allowances of lecturers and doctors, which push them into strikes from time to time. They can do great things for our health centres and teaching hospitals. This will stem the tide of migrating abroad for medical tourism.

The point is, we have many wastepipes in this country. Just recently, there were reports that the Auditor-General for the Federation, Mr. Anthony Ayine, queried the Budget Office and over 300 ministries, departments and agencies of government over extra-budgetary spending of N149.5 billion in 2016. An examination by the auditor’s office also revealed that N12.08 billion was transferred in cash to outstation offices. This amount was not made available for audit purposes. State House, Ministry of Petroleum Resources, Federal Civil Service Commission are among the MDAs the AGF indicted. Ayine described the extra-budgetary expenditure on overheads as a symptom of poor budgeting and accounting.

READ ALSO: How N28bn natural resources devt fund was diverted – AuGF

It is also a symptom of corruption. All these are partly why Nigeria scores low marks in the corruption perception index. With regard to security votes, it is important to note that Buhari is not completely to blame. The problem has been there before he came. During the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, for instance, Nigeria’s 36 state governors even tabled a demand for a raise of the security votes. Their reason was that violence by the terrorist group, Boko Haram, had escalated and outstretched routine allocations. The governors also wanted a special intervention fund to augment their monthly security votes.

Security vote is one of the relics of military rule. We need to put a stop to it because it is unknown to the Nigerian Constitution.

Alternatively, the Presidency and the governors who collect the money must account for every kobo spent from it. What is sauce for an Ortom is also sauce for an Okorocha or an Aregbesola or even a Buhari for that matter.


Re: Defections and Nigeria’s jackboot democracy

Nigerians should not celebrate what is happening in the National Assembly regarding politicians defecting to other parties because they are doing those things for their own selfish interest. How many of them have offices in their zones not to talk of empowering the electorate that voted them into office? Nigerians should vote wisely to elect people that have vision for this country on how to move Nigeria forward, rather than never-do-well leaders.

– Gordon Chika Nnorom, +2348062887535

The defection of APC senators and House members was caused by Buhari’s inability to read the writing on the wall. When the bubble burst, God opened the eyes of defectors to see him as a ‘leper’ with dictatorial tendencies. How can they associate with a person who valued cow more than human beings, who can hold his fellow human being incommunicado despite court bail, who sent soldiers to kill non-violent IPOB agitators in what was termed “Operation Python Dance”. Right now, we suffer violence from the APC government, and can only take the presidency with our votes so that Buhari will decrease.

– Mr. Chinedu Ekwuno, 08063730644

Thanks for your write-up in Sun newspaper about the defections. First and foremost, some of our politicians are thieves. The defection is in their interest, no love for the masses. The defection is selfishness.

– Adeyemi Adesina, Oyo State, +2348033405443

Casmir, kudos to you. Though PDP and APC are corrupt, the highest impunity is found in APC government. Any good Nigerian should vote out APC come 2019.

– Nwankwo Emmanuel Amicable, +2348187579409

Sir, I enjoyed your write-up. Please, which party is now the majority in the Senate? Please, you can kindly text, sir.

– Otaru, Kaduna, +2348074348429

  • First published in Daily Sun of Monday, August 6, 2018

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