Security votes: Governors must stop the pernicious secrecy surrounding it now — The Nation Editorial

Posted by News Express | 27 January 2022 | 570 times

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•A cross section of Nigerian governors during a meeting


The use to which public funds are put in Nigeria has generated controversy over the years. One notorious financial outlay that has not gone down well with Nigerians is the security vote, which is the fund set aside by governors and which no auditor could look into on behalf of the public, nor legislators perform the constitutional oversight role. Many of those old enough attribute the vote to military incursion into the civil political space and the arbitrariness that came with it. The public service handed over by the colonial masters in the First Republic had no room for it, but as soon as the military took over in 1966, they found the need to locate the office of the military governors above the rules. And, by the time civilians rode back into power in 1979, they found the privileges irresistible and continued with the practice.

Serious, specialised civil society bodies such as BudgIT and Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) have cried out over the years about the inappropriateness of such a vote in a democratic setting. It is incongruous to have money set aside for a public officer to spend as he deems fit without guidelines. It is also unacceptable that public funds could be expended without accountability. Democracy is about accountability; an admission that the people are supreme and their representatives must be empowered to look into all forms of public expenditure.

Figures released to the press last year indicate that some states budget more than N8 billion annually for security, and give the indefensible excuse that making the pattern of expenditure public would fuel insecurity in the land. The simple answer to this is that despite drawing such huge funds over the years, insecurity is worsening in the country. The North East is ravaged today by insurgency such that many people, including lawmakers and security chiefs cannot visit their homes. Many have been turned into orphans and children born just before the terrorists sacked their homes have now lived in Internally Displaced Persons camps for years. Others have even fled to neighbouring Chad and Niger Republic to live as refugees. Their state governments are known to send relief materials there. This has done incalculable damage to the national economy as the displaced persons are unable to contribute to the national economy as farmers, artisans or even teachers.

It is unfortunate that the culture has extended beyond the governors. Local government chairmen and parastatal heads have bought into the opaqueness and now vote for security that cannot be explained. The time-honoured practice in the public service is that provision is made for imprest, a vote made available weekly or monthly for the executive, for exigencies that may require immediate attention and cannot wait for finance protocols. Apart from the fact that such amounts are meager, returns are to be fully made before fresh requests could be made.

The country is bleeding from servicing very few with available scarce resources. The culture must be abrogated in the public interest. Our educational institutions are poorly funded, hospitals have been degraded to mere consulting clinics, with many dying needlessly as doctors and other health professionals have fled to countries with more healthy facilities, policies and systems. While the Buhari administration could be said to have paid more attention to transport infrastructure in the country than its predecessors, much more could have been achieved if governments at all levels had complemented the efforts.

Besides, it is all done by attracting foreign loans. At the inception of the administration, foreign debt was said to have stood at $10 billion, but has since ballooned to $42 billion, with provision still being made for more. Recurrent expenditure at the federal level stands at about 70 per cent of the annual budget, while it is even more at the state level where the only funding source in many is allocation from the Federation Account, thus leaving them at the vagaries of the price of crude oil.

Security votes should be scrapped immediately and the freed fund used to provide sorely needed facilities for hapless citizens. It is totally unjustifiable and the beneficiaries who have been unable to secure lives and property should quit if they need secretly administered funds to perform their legitimate duties. All funds from public coffers must be properly appropriated, expended in accordance with extant rules and duly audited at the end of each fiscal year.

Source: News Express

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