Late last year, the Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen. Tukur Buratai, argued thatsome Nigerian governors hide under the cloak of immunity to embezzle security votes.
He quoted profusely from Chief Robet Clark, a legal luminary noting: “We should also take note that the security vote is not a defence vote. It is not meant for the armed forces, according to Robert Clark. For a long time, this security votes has been operated unconstitutionally.
“Strictly speaking, it is not meant to tackle insecurity. This security vote should also be subjected to audit. If it is not done, then it is quite wrong,” he said.
“We have funding for the ministry of defence and the armed forces, what is the fund meant for. We also have the police fund, and they are budgeted for and other security services like ‘department for state services,’ civil defence and the rest, so if they have budgets for to run affairs, why security votes again?
”There are several criticisms on the security votes, that they are subject to embezzlement, corruption, and misappropriation, and that the governors take advantage of the immunity in the constitution that they are not checked until they leave office. But if this is made constitutional, with proper guidelines, I think these issues would be laid to rest.”
But the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, who is also Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, dismissed Buratai’s assertions, saying the use of security votes is not ‘illegal’.
“The popular sentiment that the appropriation of security vote in Nigeria is unconstitutional, which was created by the military, that it is illegal, is actually wrong,” he said. “It is unfounded. The narrative is actually wrong. For a fact that a large amount of money is expended for security vote does not make it illegal.”
Kayode Fayemi NGF
“But it (usage) should adhere to the international best practices by ensuring that every government funds budgeted or expended are appropriated by the legislature.
“The initiative for example by Lagos State when it set up the security trust fund that is managed by the joint government-private sector management, it is a viable one and I believe it can be effective,” Mr Fayemi, who is also the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, said.
Stakeholders want review
However, some stakeholders in Abakaliki Tuesday called on the federal government (FG) to review the security votes collected by various state governors.
They described the policy as conduit used to siphon public treasury and insisted that the policy should be reviewed so that the huge amount thereform be diverted to the provision of social amenities.
A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Dr Paul Okorie, said that the security vote introduced by the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida military administration created avenue for the state chief executives to pillage the revenues and resources of their states.
Okorie, a former Commissioner for Works, Housing and Transport in Ebonyi, who frowned at the policy called on FG to immediately scrap the policy, saying it was never desirable for Nigeria.
“The issue of security vote is just a conduit, an avenue imaginarily created by a particular government for purpose of siphoning the revenues, the resources of the federation and the states.
“It is no longer desirable and it has never been desirable because there is budget for defence every year which runs into billions of naira and that should be enough to take care of the military, police and our paramillitary agencies.
“If states should contribute to security funding, it should be open and there must be some contingency funds and everybody must have information about such funds that can be used in emergency situation for the purchase of security vehicles.
“But, there is no justification for carting away hundreds of millions of naira and in most cases billions depending on the resources of the state every month.
“Billions of naira are siphoned every year by state governors and even at the federal level in the name of security votes.
“For me, it is no longer fashionable and the public deserves to know how much that have been removed from state treasuries by governors as security votes.
“The governors should be called to give account of these monies and how they have been spent; afterall, there is still insecurity everywhere with kidnappings and killings every day in different parts of the country.
“Any appropriation that is not open is no budget. Worst still, the security vote has no constitutional backing, hence it is an illegality that must end, while those who removed them should account for the money.”
Okorie called for a change of tactics in the fight against insecurity, stressing that the war against insurgency, kidnappings and other forms of criminality were far from being won.
“We are still very far from winning the battle against insecurity; we are not getting better while criminals keep evolving new skills and strategies to perpetrate their crime.
“We have been using the same system, same strategy and expect to get different resuls. It’s time FG sat down with security chiefs to design new strategies, better intelligence gathering to tackle insecurty,” he stated.
Prof. Eugene Nweke, Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences and Management, Ebonyi State University, urged government to look beyond issue of security vote in addressing insurgency and other forms of criminal activities in Nigeria.
He advocated restructuring of the nation’s security architecture and creation of state police to equip governors with enough manpower to tackle security challenges in their states.
Nweke described as illegal and unconstitutional monthly security votes collected by various state governors.
“Yes, it is not proper for us to have unconstitutional expenditure that is not budgeted for.
“It is an opportunity to divert fund which is not healthy for our economy, especially in this era when cost of governance is getting high.
“So, if we must actually utilise the security votes to achieve the purpose it is meant for, it should be appropriated through a budgetary system. The provision has to pass through a constitutional procedure so that there will be accountability.
“Otherwise, we have just opened a pandora box for looting the treasury which is already going and it has to be addresses,” Nweke said. (NAN)
Governor Fayemi said the call for the end of security votes by Nigerians “is as a result of mistrust and bad leadership of the people administering the funds”.
He said the funds are not meant for the state executives “to spend anyhow and misappropriate. The use of security vote has also become more systematic and less ad-hoc. In essence, you can go there and see what is done with the funds. I give credit to the military.
“In my state, there is nothing we give to the military that we do not get an invoice of monthly ration. We have the record and the military also do,” he said.
Mr Fayemi said security funds should not be totally termed as illegal but “should adhere to the international best practices by ensuring that every government expenditure is budgeted and appropriated.”