Obaseki’s “N6 billion annual security votes”: Matters arising

The Edo state chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) under the leadership of the state Chairman, Chief Dan Orbih, for all of eight years that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole was in the saddle as governor, harangued him over security votes and their deployment in dealing with flash-points and other security issues in the state.

The purport of PDP’s relentless exertion in putting the Oshiomhole administration on its toes on security votes was to hold him accountable to the people. To be sure, security votes are usually spent at the discretion of state governors, who are chief security officers of their respective states, to promote security and peace among the people.

At the federal level, the office of the president has its security budget separate from the votes that are earmarked for countrywide security espionage and domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA). There are components of such votes at the critical operational levels of the Department of State Security (DSS), the Nigeria Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA), which are coordinates of the superintending office of the NSA.

The expenditures of these votes are conventionally not subject to legislative probe; and, therefore, the president, the office of the NSA and security agencies are not obligated to provide comptes rendus for retirement and audit purposes. The same applies to state governors who work in concert with the police and other security agencies at that level to keep the peace in the states.

As much as this is good for promotion of genuine peace in the nation, the real issue has been the unconscionable diversion of the votes by some governors for private ends, knowing that security votes are components of the annual budgets whose expenditures are not open to investigation. In Edo state, under the administration of Oshiomhole, the Orbih-led PDP adverted attention to the issue.

The PDP was, perhaps, unsettled at the speed at which Oshiomhole was reaching out to critical stakeholders across the state and getting their support. Oshiomhole funded the critical engagements of stakeholders and the security infrastructure in the state from the security votes.  Operational vehicles were, for instance, reportedly bought for the Nigeria Police amid allegations by the opposition that the gesture was to compromise the police and the other security agencies that benefitted from the gestures during elections.

Such criticisms are justifiable in the democratic space in which the governing party and the main opposition party always lock horns in a battle of wits and grits. It did not matter then that Oshiomhole and Orbih were brothers from the same Etsako area of the state; what was at issue was the administration of the state’s political economy.  However, in a fit of frenzy and in a desperate bid to demonise the administration, propaganda became a tool which was freely used.

PDP’s claim was that Oshiomhole was cornering a whopping N500 million per month as security votes. Imagining the humongous amount to which the votes cumulatively tantamount was and is still enough to give the opposition goose pimples. A huge war-chest is easily created thereby, usually for personal empowerment and to prosecute re-election.  So it was with all former governors in Nigeria.

But recent media reports in which a group called the All Progressives Congress (APC) Grassroots Youth for Change tasked Governor Godwin Obaseki to ensure peace and security in Edo state with the N6 billion annual security votes in the 2019 budget and the claim that the amount represented an increment of N1 billion over the N5 billion earmarked as security votes for the governor in the 2018 budget were quite instructive.

The crux of the report was that the regime of security votes that Obaseki inherited from Oshiomhole’s administration was about N330 million per month (about N4 billion per annum). The group in a statement issued by its National Coordinator, Orlu Henry Manuchimso, said that Edo state was the only APC-controlled state in the South-south region and appealed to Obaseki’s sensibilities not to act in ways that would cause the APC’s defeat in the 2020 governorship election.

The group contended that the security votes should not be deployed in causing feuds in the state House of Assembly where the governor had ostensibly promoted a divisive inauguration of the state legislature where nine out of the 24 APC members that comprise the legislature convened at night to elect the Speaker, Frank Okiye, and the leadership of the House.

The point that I advert attention to really is the curious yearly increment of the security votes by Governor Obaseki, allegedly in cahoots with the former Speaker, Kabiru Adjoto, to quietly insert the single-line item of N5 billion in the 2018 and N6 billion in the 2019 budget.  These are significant claims that cannot just be overlooked. If the governor has made these increments, they must be for some reasons and purposes. What are these reasons and purposes? The people deserve to know since what is discernible is a festering crisis in the party allegedly sponsored by the governor to preserve his position.

Whereas, before the deliberate creation of the crisis in the state House of Assembly, did the state security architecture benefit from the humongous security budgets solely managed by the governor? Since he has declared to the world that he would not share the state’s funds to the politicians in the APC that helped him to power, the question is where had he spent the security votes before the executive-induced crisis in the legislature?

It is clear that Governor Obaseki’s plan to drive a series of negative narratives that discount positive public perception of the other camp, allegedly enjoying the support of Comrade Oshiomhole, has failed to fly in the face of historical facts that continue to echo the mantra and the praxis of political accommodation as well as fidelity to leadership-followership’s rules of engagement. Political leaders and members who had worked to ensure the election of Obaseki in 2016 are deserving of recognition and empowerment for their effort and investments, not needless vilification and demonisation.

Sans hedonism or greed, Governor Obaseki’s access to N5 billion in 2018 and N6 billion in 2019 was enough to mute his complaints about politicians who want to share the state resources when there have neither been structured funding measures to contain insecurity nor reinforcement of equipment to assist security agencies in dealing with crimes and criminalities in the state.

Beside this, the question has been: if Obaseki is not giving money to politicians, who then is he giving the money- the security votes? Does it mean he does not care about the security situation as well as the wellbeing of political leadership cum membership in the APC? Is it not, perhaps, safe to surmise that Obaseki is concerned only about himself? If the answer is yes, then that disposition will continue to spawn contempt for him, more especially within his political family-the APC.

Fighting those who assisted him to power is symptomatic of bad politics and a divided house. Obaseki’s brand of politics defies logic and validation.  Why has he chosen not to give to APC leaders and their followers who are believed to be in the other camp the things that belong to them? Deliberate alienation from government, as typified by the narcissistic inauguration of the state assembly, followed by the cabinet reshuffle, exemplifies his ill-advised resolve to fight the other camp to a standstill instead of working without cessation to reconcile with the other camp by way of compromises.

Obaseki has the wherewithal to accomplish this.  If he claims he does not, he should be ambiguously told that this is the kind of exertions for which security votes are deployed and not for existential indulgence of diverting the funds to allegedly bolster private investments. Again, Obaseki’s threat through his media aide, Crusoe Osagie, to probe an administration in which he (Obaseki) played a strategic role stemmed from self-delusion. True!

Ojeifo writes via [email protected]

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