…calls for legislation to ban unconstitutional practice
By Gabriel Ewepu – Abuja
An international anti-corruption watchdog, Transparency International, TI, has raised the alarm over N241.2 billion annually spent on security votes not accounted for by the government in Nigeria.
This was contained in a report published by TI with the theme, ‘Camouflaged Cash, How Security Votes’ Fuel Corruption in Nigeria’.
According to the report, security votes are opaque corruption-prone security funding mechanisms widely used by Nigerian officials as extra-budgetary expenditures.
The report reads in part, “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.
“Among average Nigerians, the words ‘security vote’ is synonymous with official corruption and abuse of power. Yet the beneficiaries, politicians and security officials-argue that are needed to subsidise the operations of Nigeria’s overstretched and underfunded federal security agencies.
“State officials claim this practice is necessary but nevertheless allows the federal government to shift the cost of national security activities onto the states with no accountability for how those funds are spent. As a result, it has become a ‘cancerous tumor’ in the state budget, according to one senior state official.
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“Our 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 Nigeria’s 774 local government areas each receive on average $56, 000 (N20 million) in security vote funding each year, that of the local government would amount to another $42.6 million.”
The report also noted that 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 cash-in, extra-budgetary, expenditures add up to over nine times the amount of the US security assistance to Nigeria since 2012 ($68.6 million) and over 12 times the $53.5 million (£40 million) in counter-terrorism support the UK promised Nigeria from 2016-2020.
“Looking at it from another angle, spending exceeds 70 per cent of the annual budget of the Nigeria Police Force, more than the Nigerian Army annual budget, and more than the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Air Force’s annual budget combined”, the reported added.
Meanwhile, TI in the report also cautioned President Muhammadu Buhari, on curtailing widespread use of security votes if he wants to fight corruption effectively, “On December 2017, the government announced the withdrawal of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account, nearly half of Nigeria’s dwindling rainy day fund for ad hoc security expenditures.
“Likewise Buhari has increased the number of security votes tucked into the federal budget from about 30 to over 190 in 2018. The total value of these votes increased from $46.2 billion (N9.3 billion at the time) to $51 million (N18.4 billion now) over those two years.
“If President Buhari is serious reining in official corruption in Nigeria, he has the opportunity to curtail his own government’s widespread use of security votes.”
Giving recommendations on how to tackle alleged corrupt practices by government officials by embezzling public funds through security votes the report recommended that, “Pass federal legislation outlawing security votes at the federal and local levels. A ban on the use of security votes; monitor confidential security spending.
“If it is so important for national security that a proportion of federal and state’s security budgets remains secret, then it is should be equally important that is spent effectively; educate officials, leaders and the general public about the risks and drawbacks of using security votes; support state government efforts to set up Security Trust Funds (STFs) as constructive first step toward phasing out security votes.”