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Security votes without Security!

The almost daily reports of high-profile kidnappings, reprehensible killing of police officers, highway robberies, “Herdsmen/Bandits”(?) killings, and Boko Haram attacks confirms that insecurity and lawlessness…

The almost daily reports of high-profile kidnappings, reprehensible killing of police officers, highway robberies, “Herdsmen/Bandits”(?) killings, and Boko Haram attacks confirms that insecurity and lawlessness is burgeoning. As the situation deteriorates, citizens are wearily becoming somewhat emotionally immune to the unending atrocities. Meanwhile Government appears clueless as to how to solve the problem.

Top government officials who previously habitually scorn public transport preferring to travel in siren-blaring convoys, have abandoned the Abuja/Kaduna Expressway and now patronize the railway for fear of their lives! Perhaps the most demoralizing reaction to growing insecurity was pictures of a sitting Governor “negotiating” with killer “bandits”. This was nothing short of a slap in the face of all law-abiding, peaceful, humanity loving Nigerians. The proud “bandits” openly brandished illegal weapons, and confessed to routinely committing atrocities whenever they felt offended. It’s surprising that the Governor’s didn’t pause to consider whether such an action would send a clear message that lawlessness and a complete disregard for human life pays, and is an acceptable means for poor and disadvantaged citizens to secure dividends of democracy from government?  Whatever financial inducements the bandits receive will come from the States “security-vote”. Nigerian State Governors are currently pushing for an increase in these security-votes which are given out monthly by the Federal Government. Although they have no Constitutional basis, security-votes aren’t explicitly prohibited.

A relic of Nigeria’s disastrous military rule, they are discretionary accounts given to Governors to disburse at their pleasure. Transparency international estimates that these secretive, unaccounted for cash expenditures exceed N240 Billion annually! There is a well-founded fear that increased security-votes will be used to “settle” bandits, kidnappers and other deviants while salaries and pensions of law-abiding citizens remain unpaid. Even at the best of times accountability for government funds is virtually non-existent and citizens are denied the right to know what happens to funds released for security. “Security-votes” are budgeted separately from planned security expenditure such as salaries, allowances, equipment, training and operational expenses, and have long since been described as the most durable form of corruption.

The escalating nationwide insecurity, begs the question; what exactly is being “secured” with this money?  Transacted mostly in cash, security-vote spending isn’t subjected to audit or legislative oversight. It’s an open secret that most of this money is channeled into political activities or simply embezzled. A large portion of security funds is used to “secure” luxury properties overseas. Another large portion goes into funding political careers and securing “nest eggs”. Little is then left for the actual business of security! The problem didn’t start today.

After General Muhammadu Buhari became Military Head of State in 1983, his government arrested dozens of former officials for embezzling security funds. In the succeeding 35 years the sums involved have become mindboggling.  Presently only three States record security votes of less than N500 million monthly, while six have votes in excess of N1 billion per month. Rather than phase out these sleaze prone funds, in recent years their use has expanded both scale and scope.

In spite of the much touted anti-graft war the number of Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) receiving “security vote” increased from 30 in the 2016 budget to 190 in 2018! Supporters of “security-votes” claim they are necessary because entrenched endemic corruption within Nigerian Security Agencies eats so deeply into the statutory allocations that they are habitually short of funds. This would appear to be an admission that “security-votes” are designed to treat the symptom rather than the decease! The Nigeria Police Force (NPF) which is the primary agency responsible for maintaining law and order routinely receives less than 25% of its budgetary allocation. Police stations lack the basic tools and weapons to fight crime, so it should come as no surprise that insecurity is burgeoning nationwide.

The abysmal pay and service conditions within the NPF fosters poor morale, resentment and unprofessional behavior.  There is no established budgeting procedure; no independent audit; no legislative oversight nor any form of public scrutiny; and no public tenders or competitive bidding for equipment. As Nigerians in diaspora resort to protesting over growing insecurity in their home country, the Senate has responded in their usual derisible self-interested manner. Rather than seek more protection for ordinary Nigerians at home, they seek more protection for themselves and other political leaders overseas!

In the current dire security circumstance it’s imperative that they as lawmakers focus on passing legislation to outlaw security-votes, redirect the funds, and ensure that all security spending is closely monitored and subject to both public audit legislative oversight. It’s high time the situation changed, if not the nation will continue to waste money on security-votes without security!

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