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Worsening insecurity: Seven-year N8tr defence spending, fresh N762b loan worry Senate, CSOs

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Ngige, Gambari meet Buhari over insecurity in Southeast, okay dialogue
• Fayemi: Insecurity, secession agitations serious threat to 2023 elections

The Senate, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and security stakeholders have expressed worries as defence budgets in the last seven years rose above N8 trillion, despite the declining impact of such budgetary votes.

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Of concern is the fact that in the 2020 Global Terrorism Index released late last year, Nigeria still remained in the third spot, the fifth time in a row since 2015.

Also, last Thursday, the country emerged as the eighth least peaceful country in Africa as it ranked 146th on the Global Peace Index out of 163 countries covered in the report.

This is just as the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, last week disclosed that Nigeria plans to borrow N722.53 billion ($1.76 billion) from domestic capital markets to fund the fight against insecurity.

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She added that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) gave the approval to draw down on some existing World Bank loans totalling about N39.58 billion as part of the financing source for the supplementary budget. “We will be working with the World Bank to restructure some of the existing facilities to realise this additional N39.58 billion,” she said.

While the Senate supports the proper application of the funds, it insisted, however, that increased budgets for the security and defence sectors to address the current security challenges are crucial in winning the war against insurgency, banditry, kidnappings and other crimes.

The upper legislative chamber believes that more funds are required to tackle issues of inadequate weaponry and obsolete equipment, as well as welfare for military and security personnel, in addition to boosting the intelligence capacity of security agencies.

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But other stakeholders expressed dismay on the declining impact of increasing budgetary votes for the security and defence sectors to address the general security situation. They lamented that Nigerians had become fugitives in their country owing to escalating insecurity.

From 2015 to date, security budgets have been on the increase just as total national budgets increased. In 2015, when the national budget was N4.405 trillion, the total budget for the security sector was N988,892,506,442.

In 2016, when the budget rose to N6.06 trillion, the security sector got N1.07 trillion, just as it got a total of N1.15 trillion in 2017 when the budget rose to N7.44 trillion.

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In 2018, the budget was N9.12 trillion while the security sector got a total vote of N1.35 trillion. And in 2019 and 2020, the budget was N8.92 trillion and N10.59 trillion, while security got N1.4 trillion and N1.8 trillion respectively.

In the N13.59 trillion 2021 budget, defence and security got N1.96 trillion with another N722.53 billion about to be added through the supplementary budget. Nigeria’s military budget is greater than the combined armed forces spending of the rest of West Africa.

The funding covers the main security agencies, including the army, air force and the navy, the intelligence agencies as well as the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of homeland security, including the Nigerian Police Force.

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Checks indicated that an average of N1. 3 trillion was yearly appropriated and fully disbursed to the agencies involved to take care of their capital and recurrent needs, including training and acquisition of soft and hardware for the purpose of upgrading their operations meant to keep the country safe.

Checks at the Budget Office of the Federation and at the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) showed a consistent record of full release and cash-backed allocations to the agencies domiciled in the Ministry of Defence, Interior and the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA) throughout the period under review.

In 2018 for instance, the sum of N1.276 trillion was fully disbursed to the agencies in the following order: Defence – N576 billion; Interior – N577 billion and the ONSA – N123 billion. In the following year, a cumulative sum of N1.328 trillion was received.

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Overall, data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) shows that increase in military spending in Africa last year was the first in the region since 2014, with most countries across the globe increasing their expenditure despite a fall in gross domestic output due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Increases in defence budgets in many African countries are largely attributed to prolonged conflicts where governments are fighting insurgents.

According to the report, Nigeria is the second-largest spender on the continent after South Africa after a 29 per cent increase compared to its 2019 spending.

Chairman of the Senate Committee on Army, Senator Ali Ndume, who has been an advocate of budget increase for the sector, told The Guardian that the budgets so far approved and released to tackle insecurity in Nigeria were by far too poor when compared to the degree of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping and even armed robbery across the country.

Ndume declared that there is nothing wrong if Nigeria suspends funding for some less critical sectors and divert such funds to security until cases of insecurity subside.

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He, however, noted that with N800 billion proposed as the supplementary budget for defence, the military has no excuse not to decisively prosecute the war against insurgency and rid the country of all forms of criminality.

In spite of the financing of the agencies, experts expressed worry that the agencies and the operatives are seemingly becoming vulnerable to the extent that some of them close their offices once it is 5:00 p.m. for fear of being attacked.

The CSOs are of the view that unless the Federal Government takes steps to monitor and ensure that budgets approved and released for security and defence are utilised as approved, Nigerians would never feel the impact of such budgets. The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Mr. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, told The Guardian that it is unfortunate that the spate of insecurity in the polity has continued to worsen in spite of huge budgetary allocations to the sector over the years.

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He argued that sound financial management of monies allocated to the defence sector remains key to the security of life and property in Nigeria.

“Our work reveals that despite huge spending or expenditures on military operations over the years, security remains deteriorating as a result of bad governance, corruption and non-transparent procurement activities, poor leadership and lack of defence strategies among others.

WORRIED by the security situation in the Southeast, the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari and the Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige, at the weekend, parleyed with President Muhammadu Buhari in the State House, Abuja, in an effort to broker truce following the untoward development.

Briefing newsmen after the meeting, Ngige said: “We made some proposal to him based on the yearnings of the people and what the government also wants. We are following up with dialogue, which at the end of the day is what will happen. The Minister of Defence, Minister of Interior and the Service Chiefs were in Enugu earlier.

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“We briefed him and he accepted that dialogue is the way to go in all these. Like I keep saying, there is a very thin line between perception and reality. So, certain things should be done, at least to assuage the feelings of the people in the area and make them not to feel unwanted.”

ALSO expressing his worries, the Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, has expressed doubts over the conduct of future elections in view of the deteriorating security situation in the country. He called on politicians and other citizens to set aside talks and permutations about the 2023 general elections and work for the peace, unity and integration of Nigeria.

Fayemi said elections could only be conducted in an atmosphere of peace and unity, saying that events in the country at the moment, especially insecurity and agitations for secession by some groups require joint effort to save the nation from deep crisis and danger.

The governor, who spoke at the weekend during a special June 12 colloquium in Ado-Ekiti, advised those already scheming for the governorship election in Ekiti and the general election to first and foremost channel the efforts at ensuring leaders do the right thing at this critical period by promoting issues that unite citizens.

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“The continuing proliferation of conflict centres and the exacerbating divisive rhetoric are all parts of a grand plan to ground Nigeria to a halt. If we don’t have a country because we have succumbed to the forces of darkness, then we can kiss elections goodbye and that is why we must all come together, both those who are in government and those who are outside government to challenge our leaders to do the right thing; confront the issues that divide us, promote the issues that unite us, ensure fairness, equity and justice in our polity.

“Even as we fight to end criminality, let us unite against all forms of bigotry in order to build a nation where peace and justice shall reign,” he said.

The governor explained that the rising tide of agitations for secession in some parts of the country can be curtailed when leaders are challenged to promote issues that unite the nation through fairness, equity, and justice rather than issues of division.

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