A vote against security votes
The CSOs, at a press briefing held recently in Abuja, decried the wanton pillaging of state funds under the guise of security votes. They argued that these large sums of money are “hidden behind a veil of secrecy that serves to mask all sorts of sins.” Moreover, their spending is not subjected to legislative oversight or any form of independent audit. This is clearly against the spirit of the open society the world governance system embraces at the moment.
Restating the statistics provided earlier in the year by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the Senior Programme Manager of CISLAC, Okeke Anya, revealed that the federal and state governments spent N241.4 billion on security votes in 2017. In July this year, a report by Transparency International (TI), entitled “Camouflaged Cash: How Security Votes Fuel Corruption in Nigeria,” which was presented in Abuja revealed that the security vote was one of the most durable forms of corruption operating in Nigeria.
At that presentation, it was observed that the security votes were more than the combined annual budget of the armed forces. CISLAC Executive Director, Auwal Musa, stated then that ‘’the Nigerian security vote was more than 70 per cent of the annual budget of the Nigeria Police Force and almost three times the United States security assistance since 2012.” Musa pointed out that the vote was also more than 15 times the United Kingdom counter terrorism support for 2016-2020. This is unfortunate in a country in serious deficit of critical infrastructure in all spheres.
Despite the government security votes and the huge sums earmarked for procurement of military equipment in managing the ongoing war in the northeast, what is showcased in terms of provision of security is incommensurate with the totality of the votes. The military engagement with terrorist in the northeast is riddled with scandal, kidnapping has become a lucrative industry and the police force, despite incessant appeal for reforms in terms of remuneration and facilities, has remained more or less the same. Where then have all the security votes gone? Members of the Ondo State chapter of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) gave relevance to this question when one of its members was kidnapped and eventually murdered. What really do beneficiaries of the security votes do with the money?
Described as a relic of military rule, the security vote, which was mainly disbursed in hard cash and nominally released for dealing with unexpected security issues during the military era, has now become a ‘free fund’ for the executive in government, more especially the governors, to be disbursed, spent, used and abused without recourse to any accounting authority.
Curiously, there have been reports of governors using the funds for amassing landed property at home and abroad, financing unscrupulous fancies and for political patronage. To sum up, in the hands of a governor, the money could be used for anything whatsoever.
The conspiracy of silence by both the federal and state governments on the non-accountable nature of security votes and the freewheeling associated with the slush fund belies the insincerity of the executives in their fight against corruption.
This newspaper believes that if a government desires to fight corruption, its officers must first of all understand what the menace entails and also demonstrate their commitment to shun same. And the first place to start is their recognition of practices and traditions in government that expose political and public officers to unjustified and unnecessary appropriation of state funds. Thereafter, it should clear the mess around its corridors and purge out of its kitty all unjustified entitlements. It is only when such a government has done this that it would have the moral right and justification to criticize and also fight corruption.
Any public officer that hides under the law to engage in self-enrichment and abuse of state funds would be acting against the common good. In other words, no law would be termed good if it empowers such an officer to act against public morality. Procedures and administrative devices that are contrary to moral principles cannot be deployed to serve public good.
What is worse is that the security votes lack legality. It is a constitutional aberration. Being illegal and contrary to every noble sense of morality, it is one of the most obnoxious policies of democratic administrations and the clearest exemplar of large-scale corruption and state fraud. In other words, secrecy and the absence of transparency and accountability associated with security votes are obnoxious in a democratic system, which demands openness, accountability and transparency.
Given the fact that this money is not accounted for, and considering its unconstitutional nature, this security vote is a monstrous misnomer, and therefore should be scrapped. It is a brazen demonstration of corruption and an unethical and immoral motivation for desperation for power. That is why authorities in Nigeria including the federal and state legislatures should scrap the slush funds called security votes, today.
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