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Promoting Good Governance.

Anambra, Delta, Kogi… How governors misappropriate billions through security votes

WILLIE Obiano, Governor of Anambra State, earmarked N42.6 billion for his security votes in three years – money he will never be held to account and he can spend it however he wants without any consequence.

The proposed three-year expenditure was contained in the state’s 2015 budget he presented to the house of assembly – the second budget he was overseeing after being sworn in as a governor on March 17, 2014.

Obiano’s predecessor, Peter Obi, had spent N5.2 billion as security votes in 2013. But in 2014, N6.9 billion was spent as security votes despite the fact that only N6.4 billion was in the budget.

By overspending the budget in 2014, Obiano decided to up the ante in his security votes. In his 2015 budget proposal, N12.3 billion was appropriated for his own security votes in the state’s total budget of N164.4 billion. While the overall budget increased by 3.17 percent over the previous year, the governor’s security votes rose by nearly 100 percent.

Still not satisfied with the astronomical increment in security votes in 2015, he proposed N13.5 billion and N16.7 billion in 2016 and 2017 respectively – bringing the total sum he wanted to spend on his security votes in three years to N42.6 billion.

The N42.6 billion did not include the N628 million for the state’s vigilante services nor N31 million for the purchase of security gadgets in the three-year proposed expenditure.  Apart from the governor’s security votes, the deputy governor, house of assembly and various ministries and agencies also had monetary allocations for security services.

Since the 2015 budget, the details of the state’s subsequent budgets have not been publicly accessible, making it difficult to find out whether the governor eventually spent the proposed security votes in the three-year period.

The ICIR contacted James Eze, Chief Press Secretary to Obiano, to either get access to the details of the state’s 2017 budget or confirm the actual expenditure on security votes in 2017.

“Thanks for your interest in the security votes of Anambra State.  I’ll get to you on this, please. Thank you,” Eze replied in a text message after failing to answer his phone calls. He has not gotten back to The ICIR as at the time of this report since Thursday that he agreed to respond to the inquiry.

Anambra  State is an example of how governors are increasingly using security votes to shortchange their people because they are neither accountable nor transparent in the spending of security funding. They cannot be prosecuted for money spent under security votes. For this reason, governors are earmarking a huge chunk of the states’ budgets to security votes.

Recently, Transparency International (TI) released a report that Nigeria spends N241.2 billion annually on opaque security votes. According to the report, money spent on security votes annually is more than the annual budget of the Nigerian Army and also more than the annual budget of the Nigerian Air Force and Navy combined.

The security votes are majorly spent by the governors.  According to TI’s report, 29 states spent N208.8 billion annually on security votes.

The report titled “Camouflaged Cash: How ‘Security Votes’ Fuel Corruption in Nigeria” was a collaboration between TI and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC).

Parts of the recommendation of the report include “passing a federal legislation outlawing security votes at all levels, to be accompanied by legislation specifying budgeting procedures and criteria for security expenditure.”

DISCRETION OF GOVERNORS

Idris Wada, former Governor of Kogi State, had in December 2015 presented the state’s 2016 budget to the house of assembly. In that budget, he proposed N7 billion for the governor’s security votes.

When Yahaya Bello replaced Wada in January 2016, he later revised the 2016 budget earlier presented to the house by his predecessor. By revising the budget, he upgraded the governor’s security votes to N7.2 billion but he eventually spent N4.3 billion.

In 2017, Bello increased his security votes to N8 billion in the state’s budget but later spent N5.2 billion. But in the 2018 budget, Bello’s security votes grew to N9.2 billion.

In Kogi State, like other states, it is not only the governor that has security votes. In addition’s to Bello’s N9.2 billion security votes in 2018, N50 million was earmarked the for state’s high court of justice, 40 million for the customary court of appeal and 20 million for the sharia court of appeal as security votes. Other state’s agencies also had allocation for security votes.

Similar to what happened in Kogi State in 2016, Okezie Ipeazu, Governor of Abia State, initially allocated N7 billion for his security votes in 2016 but later revised the budget to increase his security votes to N7.5 billion. He eventually spent N4.7 billion. However, in 2017, his budget for security votes was N6.5 billion.

Sometimes, governors spent more than they budgeted for the security votes, like Obiano of Anambra State in 2014. Tanko Al-Makura, Governor of Nasarawa State also spent N4.1 billion on security votes in 2017 whereas N4 billion was budgeted. In 2018, he increased the budget for his security votes to N5.4 billion.

Ifeanyi Okowa, Governor of Delta State, increased his security votes from N5.7 billion in 2017 to N7.2 billion in 2018.

While other governors have been increasing their security votes, Mohammed Abubakar, Governor of Bauchi State, had actually halved his security votes in 2017. In 2016, he allocated N4 billion for his security votes but actually spent N1.1 billion. In 2017, he reduced his security votes budget to N2 billion.

CONTENTIOUS SECURITY VOTES

The security votes originated from the military. It was then regarded as “pocket money” by the military administrators in which they spent the money in whichever ways they wanted.

This corrupt military culture did not disappear when the country returned to civilian rule in 1999. Rather, the governors have found it as means to appropriate and mismanage public funds by unjustifiably increasing allocation to their security votes.

As there is no limit to what the governors can insert into the states’ budgets as security votes, some of them spend as much as 5 percent of states’ budgets on security votes. Emboldened by the unaccountability of the funds, most of the governors increase allocations to their security votes every year.

Those who have challenged the rationale of security votes have asked what the governors use the security votes to do when the police and armed forces are the responsibility of the federal government.

Anti-corruption activists have described security votes as state-sanctioned corruption and the most brazen misappropriation by the political leaders.

Nkereuwem Akpan, a constitutional lawyer, filed a suit before the Federal High Court in Abuja in 2010, challenging the constitutionality of security votes by governors. Akpan further asked the court for an order restraining the 36 state governors from making a further deduction based on security votes.

In a ruling in December 2013, Adamu Bello, the presiding judge, struck out the suit on the ground that the court had no jurisdiction on the matter.

Last year, another lawyer, Adedokun Makinde, filed a suit before the Federal High Court, Lagos, seeking an order to stop the payment of security votes to the president, vice-president, governors, and other political office holders. A ruling has not been delivered on the suit.

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