Transparency International, a global anti-corruption body, yesterday alleged that the federal and state governments in Nigeria would be expending an estimated $670 million (N241.2 billion) in respect of “security votes” in the build up to the 2019 elections. Most of the estimated $670 million of security votes is disbursed by state governments, with federal spending making up only $51 million.
However, tracking expenditures designated as security votes in the 2018 budget which is yet to be signed into law reveals a lot about the shadowy nature of the fund and their likely destinations.
In a report released yesterday, Transparency International said the culture of allocating security votes to the president, state governors and even local government chairmen was a carryover from the military era and have become “synonymous with official corruption and abuse of power” in the country.
The report, titled: ‘Camouflage of Cash: How Security Votes Fuel Corruption in Nigeria’, acknowledges the existing efforts by many state governors who use a significant portion of their security votes to top-up funding to federal security agencies operating in their states.
The report, with case studies from federal and states levels, does not conceal the fact that widespread use of security votes by federal, state, and even local officials clearly undermines transparency and accountability and international practice.
Similarly, the report exposes the extent of misplaced priority in the allocation of security votes where some identified Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) received security votes in the proposed 2018 budget, despite having no securityrelated function.
The report raises serious concern that even though President Muhammadu Buhari rode to power on the wings of an anti-graft campaign, the culture of using security votes to divert public fund appears to have expanded under his watch. The report described security votes as slush funds usually allocated to top government functionaries in Nigeria and released in raw cash to these officials presumably to deal with unexpected security issues or emergencies.
The group said the spending “is not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit because of its ostensibly sensitive nature,” adding that the funds are channelled into political activities such as election campaigns or embezzled outright. “Our analysis of 29 state budgets (no data exists for seven states) reveals they spend an average of $580 million (N208.8 billion) in total each year on security votes.
“Federal Government security votes average over $50 million (N18 billion) annually assuming the chairpersons of Nigeria’s 774 local government areas each receive on average $55,000 (N20 million) in security vote funding each year, local government security votes would amount to another $42.6 million.
“The sum total of Nigeria’s various security votes dwarfs the international security assistance it receives, and is comparable to budgeted spending on national defence and security institutions.
“In just one year, these in-cash, extra-budgetary expenditures add up to over nine times the amount of United States security assistance to Nigeria since 2012 ($68.6 million) and over 12 times the $53.5 million (£40 million) in counterterrorism support the United Kingdom (UK) promised Nigeria from 2016 to 2020,” the report said. Further analysis in the report showed that security vote spending in Nigeria exceeds 70 per cent of the annual budget of the Nigeria Police Force, more than the Nigerian Army’s annual budget and more than the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Air Force’s annual budget combined.
“Rather than phasing out the use of corruptionprone security votes, the current administration has expanded their use in both scope and scale. “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 $46.2 million (N9.3 billion at the time) to $51 million (N18.4 billion now) over those two years. If President Buhari is serious about reining in official corruption in Nigeria, he has an opportunity to curtail his own government’s widespread use of security votes,” said Transparency International. According to the Director for Defence and Security, Amnesty International, Katherine Dixon, “security vote” has become one of the most durable forms of corruption operating in Nigeria today.
“Today, security votes are budgetary black boxes that are ripe for abuse by politicians seeking reelection or officials looking to run for political office,” Transparency International said.
Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Musa, who launched the report at a ceremony in Abuja, observed that whereas there has been a growing budgetary allocation to the nation’s security sector, the contending political struggles for security votes has exacerbated corruption in Nigeria.