Chief Robert Clarke, a senior advocate is a lawyer who does not hide his feelings whenever there is a legal issue generating controversies. He is at it again on the arguments surrounding the widely discussed security votes. He said pointedly that there is no law, however small, that sanctions the payment of security votes to the state governors as well as the president. He, therefore, called on Nigerians to rise against what he called impunity in the system. Excerpts:
YOUR recent campaign was for the abrogation of the security votes enjoyed by the state governors and the president because according to you, it lacks legal backing. What is the reasoning behind your argument?
I still maintained my stand that the question of security vote has no basis in law. When you look at the history of security vote in Nigeria, you will not find anywhere in the 1999 constitution that allows security vote to be enjoyed by anybody. However, you need to look at the history of this nation to see how security vote crept into the governance of the country.
When the military were in power, they needed security votes because they came by way of coups. At any time they can be removed by another coup. So, they needed, at every given time, to know what is happening around them. So, they sought from the military authorities the right to have a special allocation to enable them use this as a source of security for information against coup plotters.
Allocation for security
When the 1999 constitution came into operation it did not make any provision for security vote. I am bound by the constitution if you can find it anywhere there. There may be provision for the upkeep of the Presidency or the Governor’s house. But you will never find that a special amount of money has been allocated for security.
What can be appropriated is what is needed for the upkeep of the presidency or the state government house. This will involve upkeep of the executive, his family, the domestic staff, feeding for public, etc. Therefore, the security votes for the past 17 years have been used by these governors without appropriation, which by law is illegal. Because the law is clear that no money can be spent without appropriation and if there is no law backing security votes, that means they have been spending the money illegally and unlawfully.
The other fine area of law which is lacking is that there is no accountability to anybody. If you ask the Accountant General to tell you under which law the security vote is being spent, he will tell you there is none. I have checked from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and he has told me emphatically there is no provision covering the security votes. The question is that nobody in Nigeria today knows how much the presidency is spending on security votes, likewise the governors. Let me tell you an interesting story, when Governor Rochas Okorocha became governor in Imo state, he made a statement that threw light on the issue of security vote. This is because of his love for education, he realised that some schools lacked furniture and he ordered that some amount from his security vote be used to furnish these schools. That shows that there was no appropriation for this money. It is being spent by Governors based on their whims and caprices without the authority of the Assembly whether in the states or at the federal level and without the knowledge of the people. So, it is illegal, null and void.
Then what is the source of the appropriation for the security votes if your argument is something to write home about?
That is what you and I want to know and as Nigerians, the source of appropriation if any, how much is appropriated if any and how it is being spent. It is a secret that you and I don’t know. As Nigerians, we have a right know as provided for under the freedom of information Act.
Can’t we say that the governors and the presidency rely on the Decrees allowing such money to be spent after it has been amended to become an Act of the parliament?
Under the military, budget was being done by the budget office and there was no parliamentary approval apart from the Supreme Military Council. Then it had the backing of the law. That is the Decree based on the budget being passed by the Supreme Military Council, being the highest legislative body at that time. Since 1999, the military council has been scrapped, nothing like that since the inception of the civilian administration. So, what the military was doing at that time which was legal is no more legal today.
What is to be done in order to make such spending legal and in line with the law?
It is just as if you ask people who are benefiting from something to come and tell you how they have been spending it. I don’t think they will do so, except the constitution is amended to give solution to the creation of the security funds for the governors and for such funds to be appropriated.
Creation of the security funds
Apart from that, there is nothing people can do about it.
Could it be right to say it is the security vote that the state governors as well as the presidency is using to finance the security in the society, like DSS, police and the military?
The arms of the law which includes the military, the DSS, police are already provided for in the appropriated funds. Appropriation is made for the Army intelligence, for the police intelligence, the DSS etc, therefore they (the governors) did not need the money in anyway.
If you are saying what is being collected as security vote is illegal and unconstitutional. What then happens to billions of Naira that have been collected by the governors and the presidents in the country over the years?
It is for you and I to cry loud and mobilise the people to cry loud and talk to our representatives to ensure that a law is passed regulating the security votes, mobilise the people to mobilising their representatives in the parliament to pass a law scrapping the security votes for the executive arm of government.
Can you now support making the law guiding the appropriation of security votes for the governors and the president?
In every civilised society the president, governors or prime minister have what they call entertainment allowances because they have to entertain foreign visitors or attend to social issues. So instead of what is called security votes, why can’t they make it an entertainment allowances? So that it will be provided for in the budget and be appropriated for and such account can be audited. Why are we having a security vote that cannot be audited?
Without being prejudiced, can we conclude that this was what led to the present probe of the security vote of the immediate past adminis-tration?
It is absolute corruption. This government is fighting corruption, so I want it to look into that area as well to make the battle against corruption total. It is the time to examine the issue and take a radical position on security votes.