Security vote or slush fund?

The disagreement between the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, and Governor of Ekiti state, Dr Kayode Fayemi, over the legality or otherwise of security votes to governors of the 36 states of Nigeria, once again brings to the fore the oft controversy surrounding the abuse of these votes and the dire need to scrap them.

This is even more so bearing the fact since the introduction of security votes almost three decades ago by the General Ibrahim Babangida junta, rather that abate there has not only been heightening insecurity across the country but the phenomenon has also become more sophisticated, complex, lethal and seemingly intractable.

Speaking last week during the second quarterly anti-corruption policy dialogue on accountability for security vote, held at the headquarters of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Buratai, who described the security vote as unconstitutional, questioned the use of security vote by governors, demanding that it should be subject to audit.

But Fayemi, who is also the chairman of Nigeria Governors Forum, said the allegations that security vote was illegal and unconstitutional, were an “incorrect narrative.” The governor said the autocratic nature of military regimes and the supreme powers vested in the leaders of such governments provided a fertile ground for the development of security vote abuse.

The army chief said at the dialogue with the theme, ‘National security: The accountability imperative,’ organised by the ICPC Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria, that amidst serious criticisms against security votes including alleged corruption, governors took advantage of the immunity clause in the constitution because they could not be checked until they left office.

Buratai said, “Let me say that this security vote is also subject to audit, if it is not done, it is quite wrong. According to Robert Clarke (SAN), security vote is not constitutional. Security vote should be subject to audit.

“We should also take note that the security vote is not a defence vote; it is not meant to tackle insecurity. We have funding for the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces. We have also the police fund. It is the same for other security agencies. But if security vote is made constitutional and proper guidelines spelt out on how it should be utilised, I think that this issue would be laid to rest.”

Fayemi, who was guest speaker, however, said security vote was necessary because governors spent a large chunk of it on maintenance of security agencies in their domains. The governor also demanded the devolution of powers to the federating units for them to have the control of security architecture in their domains.

He said, “In a crisis situation, resorting to bureaucratic process or procedure may worsen the situation. It requires prompt actions or measures to get it resolved. On such an occasion, the governor as the chief security officer may have to take an urgent action.  This is why the sustenance of security vote is inevitable.

 “Many state governors do in fact use their security vote to provide funding to federal security agencies —whether the Nigeria Police Force, the Nigerian Army, the Department of State Services, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps — operating in their states.

“When somebody is kidnapped, people don’t bother about how he is released. No police agree that they pay ransoms, no soldier admits that they pay ransoms. Yet, all the money must be accounted for.

“The foundations of the secrecy in the allocation and abuse of security vote increased over time as a result of the long reign and dominance of the military in Nigeria’s political life.”

At the event, the Chairman of the ICPC, Prof Bolaji Owasanoye, said the categories of Ministries, Departments and Agencies being given security vote suggested that something was wrong with the parameters for determining the MDAs entitled to the funds.

The Provost of ACAN, Prof Sola Akinrinade, said the dialogue provided avenues to discuss key issues relating to corruption, share points of view and try to find a common ground on the policy matter in focus.

Without a doubt, 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.

In addition, the monthly fund runs into billions of naira and varies based on the level of security required by the individual state. According to a 2018 report by Transparency International (TI), titled Camouflaged Cash, 29 states in Nigeria spent an average of $580 million (N208.8 billion) yearly on security votes.

We, therefore, call for a legislative framework to sanitise the modality of security vote as well as give it the requisite legal backing. This is necessary on the backdrop that although security vote is a monthly fund allocated to each of the 36 state governors, aimed at “funding security services within such 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.

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