In many of my commentaries and books, I had criticized the Security vote provisions for the executive arm of government at all levels in our Country. I had done so for a number of reasons. The first is that I felt that the amounts that are drawn monthly by the chief executives for 'security' purposes was too much and dis proportionate to the other needs of the governments. In some States, the security vote appropriation was higher than allocation to Health care for the entire State. And we know that in addition to this vote, specific budgetary provisions for most of the security agencies like the Military, Police, Civil Defence, etc are usually made. Worse is that these so called security votes were also given priority place in cash disbursement. Thus even when we do not have cash to pay workers salaries in many States of the Federation, we conjured cash to draw down security votes.
The second reason I have been uncomfortable with the Security vote issue is that it lacked every modicum of transparency. One man, called a governor or President was officially allowed to expend public money without accounting to no body. I thought this was bad in a democracy and infringed on the rights of the citizens to know and hold their leaders accountable for the disbursement of public funds. The third concern which derives from two above is that if there is no accountability required, then abuse would naturally follow. If Governors and Presidents were allowed to spend the Security votes without accounting, then they would be tempted to use it for both public and private purposes. In fact I suspected that they would use it more for private and personal purposes. My suspicion was strengthened when I found that in many states, that despite the huge security votes, crime rate remained high. Armed robbery,kidnapping and later terrorism have become almost normal in Nigeria in spite of the huge security votes collected regularly by the State Chief executives.
I remember one state chief executive who in trying to say that he was 'clean ' and not greedy announced that he 'only took that which belonged to him and did not look elsewhere'. In which case he saw the security vote as an entitlement and thus appropriated it as personal, spending most of it for his personal use and perhaps using a small fraction for sundry token security gestures like buying a few pick up vans for the police! But in all my writings and criticisms of the security votes, nothing prepared me for the recent media reported use of Security votes as revealed by the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki. National income freely disbursed to politicians to pursue sundry partisan political and private objectives, most of which had nothing to do with National Security or did they?
When I expressed my disgust and utter consternation at what I see as a brazen abuse of office, some of my friends told me that,there was nothing unusual in those revelations. That this was the way it was during the Military reign and so it has been since the different regimes in our civilian democracy. I argued that it could not be, then they asked me to convince President Buhari to extend the demystification of the Security votes to the regimes before Jonathan and that I would faint if I got a glimpse of how the previous military and civilian presidents and governors spent their security votes. I was downcast and crestfallen .
It has been an open secret that our Nation has underperformed over many years. Everybody knows that our National resources have been poorly managed and there is agreement that our Nation has been a bastion of corruption. But as has been recently revealed, the security vote factor is a significant contributor to all these. Therefore, in addition to the ongoing probes of the former NSA and other probes that will follow, as Nigeria frontally confronts the challenge of endemic National wealth mismanagement and insidious corruption, I strongly believe that we must reform the Security vote concept immediately. First, we must specify what the vote will be used for, just the same way as we budget for items under the a Ministry of Works or defence. Second, we must have the National or State Assembly review, interrogate and approve the vote and its constituents through open debates as is done for other appropriation items. Third, is that the Chief executives must now openly account for the expenditures. The veil over security votes has been broken by Col Dasuki and so there is nothing else to hide. Fourthly, we must wean our current Chief executives from seeing the security vote as an entitlement or additional income source for them. We do not want to hear later, other Soddy stories of how they have misused our National patrimony only after they have left office. The fight against corruption must be more proactive than retroactive. And most importantly, it must be devoid of any political witch hunt if it is in the real interest of the ordinary Nigerian Citizen who wants a Nation led by shepherds and stewards and not hirelings and predators .
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR