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Security votes and national interest

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Security votes

By Ekpa Stanley Ekpa

THE origin of government is traced to mankind’s desire and long battle for safety and security. From primitive times, man’s main objective has been the protection and preservation of his life and property, including food and shelter. With the emergence of governments and civil society, the social contract has created an immutable duty of care, protection, and safety of all citizens by governments.

Nigeria got her sovereignty in 1960, with the promise of forming a government for the purpose of providing security to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of all Nigerians. Sixty years later, the governable Nigerian state has become highly ungoverned, with heightening challenges of insecurity. From Chibok in Borno, Buni Yadi massacre, Dapchi in Yobe, to banditry and kidnapping across the country, and though the Kankara boys in Kastina have been released, nowhere is safe in Nigeria any longer. Yet, billions are budgeted for security annually.

In today’s competitive global space with escalating crisis, occasioned by demands for spheres of economic, political, religious, and social influence, there is increasing need for proper state security financing. In Nigeria, there have been increased funding for internal security through the last few decades.

Recent statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria show that the sum of N2.13 trillion and N2.69 trillion have been spent on defence and internal security respectively between 1970 and 2014, yet insecurity has been on the rise, particularly insurgency, terrorism, kidnapping, border attacks and cybercrimes. This has raised public concern on the legality, utility, essence, accountability, and impact of security votes on national security, development, and cohesion.

Security votes are budgetary items to be spent on matters or operations that demand confidentiality in deterring, neutralising, or containing threats or harmful conducts against a nation-state or a sub-national government. In annual budget appropriations, funds for the use of ministries, departments and agencies of government are described as votes. Security votes are sue generis items in the federal or state government budgets.

This class of appropriation is not specified or discoverable from the Appropriation Act, unlike regular budgetary items. Ordinarily, only public institutions with Continuous Core Security Functions, CCSF, are eligible for security votes, unfortunately, other MDAs without any mandate to deal with covert security operations have continued to receive appropriations for security votes without accounting for same.

In the 2019 Federal Budget, N21,848,004,970 was appropriated as security votes for 162 MDAs. Apart from this sum, the budget provided for specific and defined security matters such as purchase of security equipment, construction of security equipment, purchase of uniforms, purchase of vehicles, construction of buildings and perimeter fences, security charges and printing of security equipment.

With the unabating and worsening security situation across Nigeria, it has become exigent to ascertain who can receive security votes? How are security votes spent? To whose interest and how are the MDA or governments accountable on how these votes are spent?

ALSO READ: SERAP to Buhari, 36 governors: Disclose security votes spending for 2021

Governments and their agents at all levels in Nigeria are consistent in espousing the theory that security votes can be applied to a broad spectrum of discretionary matters, particularly in support of the constitutional wisdom that “the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.”

If this was to be the intent of those that introduced security votes in our polity, then how do we hold those who spend this fund accountable, and do we measure the impact of the provision of welfare and palliative interventions for the people – for poverty and social injustice are the core root causes of insecurity and social instability.

This theory only seems to enjoy the convenience of widening the negative culture of using security votes as condict pipes for personal enrichment and corruption. This creates criminal conduct of abuse of public trust, more so, as the Court of Appeal in Nyame v. FRN, has expressly held that “security votes, being government funds to be used for the security of the state, must be accounted for by the recipient.”

Should we totally abolish security votes? Certainly not. We should rather establish parameters for use of security votes and engendering accountability. It is a global practice for most countries not to publicly disclose the details of their confidential security expenditure, to protect their security architecture. For instance, before 2013, the heads of Britain’s security and intelligence services had never appeared before open parliament.

Given the peculiar corrupt disposition in our system, all MDAs without CCSF whenever they receive security votes must be audited to ensure that they do not apply security votes for corrupt enrichment, while the office of the Auditor General must establish a special protocol for external audit of security votes expenditure of MDAs with CCSF. Such MDAs must also design and strictly follow an internal operating procedure for disbursing and monitoring security votes. More importantly, the National Security Council should clarify those entitled to security votes by issuing an official definition of security votes.

The security situation in Nigeria today demands government at all levels to prioritise investments in securing Nigerians. Governors of all states have a duty to hear the Court of Appeal in the Nyame v. FRN case, where the court held that “in our country Nigeria, there is a pervasive proclivity of public officers to regard or treat security votes given to them for the security of the State as their personal entitlement or funds, the expenditure of which they are not accountable to the government that gave them the funds to be used for the public purpose or the citizens for whose security it was meant..the notion that certain Public Funds meant to be used for the security of the State are not accounted for and therefore cannot be stolen is not correct.”

Whether governors or MDAs, those entrusted with the constitutional and continuous core security responsibilities must put the interest of the nation ahead of any other interest in the utilization and application of security votes. Votes appropriated for security in federal and state budgets must be channeled to the attainment of security of lives and property, provision of basic welfare to prevent easy recruitment into criminal groups.

Ekpa, Principal Partner, Plan Partners, wrote from Abuja, via ekpastanleyekpa@gmail.com

Vanguard News Nigeria

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