Cross River security vote crisis

The threat issued last week by a retired Assistant Inspector General of Police (AIGP) and former commissioner of police in Rivers state, Mr. Joseph Mbu, to lead a protest against the government of Cross River state once again brings to the fore the controversy surrounding the propriety or otherwise of the appropriation of security votes by governors across the 36 states of the federation. AIG Mbu is accusing Governor Ben Ayade of mis-governance, impunity, massive misappropriation of monthly security votes and indiscriminate use of the police. Mbu, who retired from the Nigeria Police in 2016, in an interview with journalists in Calabar, called on Cross Riverians to support mass protest against the state government.
He also faulted what he saw as a deliberate stiffening of the police and other security agencies of the share of the monthly security votes to support their works, saying such action could have contributed to heightened crime wave in the state. “During the government of Liyel Imoke and Donald Duke, every DPO had a monthly entitlement of N100, 000 which they used in taking care of the needs of the stations. They buy fuel, do patrols and other things. What are you doing? Since this government took over, it has never given any DPO a stipend. Area Commanders were being given N250,000 under Liyel Imoke’s administration.  The governor should tell us what he has been giving to these DPOs. He should tell us what he does with his monthly security votes,” he stated.
Mbu further raised the alarm over the number of riot policemen attached to top politicians and dignitaries in Nigeria. He said such development was to the detriment of the overall security of the ordinary Nigerian. He called for reduction in the number. “These are police personnel who are supposed to be patrolling the streets of Calabar and the highways. They are supposed to be in the streets of all our major cities, all entry points, all the suburbs. They are there being misused because some heads of police departments are compromised,” he said.

 Transparency International (TI) says security is responsible for the rising corruption in the country. In its recent corruption perception index, the global corruption watchdog says  security votes are opaque corruption-prone security funding mechanisms widely used by Nigerian officials. A relic of military rule, these funds are provided to certain federal, state and local government officials to disburse at their discretion. In theory, they are reserved for covering unforeseen security needs. Transacted mostly in cash, security vote spending is not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit because of its ostensibly sensitive nature. Although officials often spend some of these funds on security, they also channel them into political activities or embezzle them outright. In Nigeria, popular and official narratives about security vote diverge sharply.

TI estimates that these secretive, unaccounted-for, cash expenditures add up to over $670 million (N241.2 billion) annually. Its analysis of 29 state budgets (no data exists for seven states) reveals they spend an average of $580 million (N208.8 billion) in total each year on security votes. Federal government security votes average over $50 million (N18 billion) annually. Assuming the chairpersons of Nigeria’s 774 local government areas each receive on average $55,000 (N20 million) in security vote funding each year, local government security votes would amount to another $42.6 million.

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 12 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 per cent 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.

We reiterate our earlier stand in an earlier editorial published on September 17, 2019, titled security vote or slush fund. In that editorial we advocated a legislative framework to sanitise the modality of security vote as well as give it the requisite legal backing. This has become even more imperative on the backdrop that despite the humongous amount of security vote allocated to each of the 36 state governors, aimed at funding security services within the states, insecurity occasioned by the Boko Haram insurgency, kidnapping, banditry, and other heinous crimes are on the rise on a daily basis across the country.

Indeed, security vote has been one of the thorny issues in the fight against corruption in the country as it has since inception been allegedly used as a slush fund by governors. This is made possible by the fact that security vote is transacted mostly in cash and is not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit because of its ostensibly sensitive nature. Thus, we commend Governor Hope Uzodimma of Imo state, who forfeited his security vote to enable him to pay workers’ salaries. We urge his counterparts in the remaining 35 states to emulate this exemplary gesture.

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