Promoting Good Governance.

How FG, states, LGs  spend N241 billion yearly in opaque security votes – report

EVERY year Nigerian governments at all levels spend  an average of N241.2 billion on security votes that are never accounted for, or subjected to public scrutiny, and “lacks legal or constitutional basis”,  the 2018 Transparency International  report has revealed.

The report, titled “Camouflage Cash: How security fuel corruption in Nigeria,” and published on Monday, puts key public officials across Nigeria’s three tiers of government at the centre of corruption, that involves the secret spending of security votes without accountability.

The global watchdog said the funds, known as “security votes”, are a relic of military rule, and has become “synonymous with official corruption and abuse of power”.

The funds, often provided in cash to the president, the state governors and the local government chairmen, are not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit, and therefore are disbursed at the discretion of the executives.

Although, these officials often spend some of the funds on security,  they also channel them into political activities or embezzle them outright, Transparency International  reported.

And despite the anti-corruption stance of President Muhammad Buhari, his administration continues to make budgetary allocation to secretive ‘Security Votes’ that are off the radar of public scrutiny.

In fact, the use of security votes has expanded in both scope and scale under Buhari government, Transparency International stated. 

In 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 in 2016 to over 190 in 2018. The total value of these votes increased from N9.3 billion at the time to N18.4 billion now over those two years.

Transparency International’s director for defence and security, Katherine Dixon, said in a statement that, “the security vote is one of the most durable forms of corruption operating in Nigeria today.”

Though this disclosure is not unknown to most Nigerians, the size of public funding  that goes into security votes explains why the recurrent expenditure is always bigger than capital expenditure in the Nigerian budget.

In its analysis of the budgets of 29 states (no data exist for seven states). Transparency International found that N208 billion are earmarked annually as security votes, while federal government security votes average N18 billion every year.

On the assumption that the chairpersons of 774 local government areas each receive an average of N20 million in security vote funding, the total would amount to N15 billion.

Therefore, the sum total of Nigeria’s various security votes controlled by politicians estimated at N241.2 billion is far above the Nigerian Army, Navy and Air Force’s annual budgets combined.

The security vote spending also exceeds 70 percent of the annual budget of the Nigeria Police Force.

A Nigerian policeman

The 2018 budgetary allocation to defence is N145 billion, while allocation to the Ministry of Interior is N63.26 billion, the total falls short of N241.2 billion shared by the executives in security votes annually.

According to Transparency International, the amount shared by elected officials in security votes also dwarfs the international security assistance  receives by the Nigerian government from the United States and the United Kingdom.

“In just one year, these in-cash, extra-budgetary expenditures add up to over nine times the amount of US security assistance to Nigeria since 2012 ($68.6 million) and over twelve times the $53.5 million (£40 million) in counterterrorism support the UK promised Nigeria from 2016 to 2020.”

Nigeria arguably would not need such assistance if it curtailed the use of security votes and reprogrammed them into the country’s formal defence and security budget, the report stated.

“If it is so important for national security that a proportion of federal and states’ security budgets remains secret, then it should be equally important that it is spent effectively. The only way to ensure this is to put in place effective oversight structures.”

Ahead of the 2019 Presidential elections in Nigeria, Transparency International and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC) are calling on candidates to commit to scrapping the unaccountable and secretive “security vote” spending. 

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