Opinion: N111million River Run, Wike, Security Vote and Unaccountable Governance

It was a pathetic and shocking revelation when the police panel constituted to investigate the electoral and other offences perpetrated during the re-run election in River State disclosed that the sum of N111 million was recovered from 23 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials. What is more ridiculous is that the money ‘does not belong’ to Governor Nyesom Wike who was alleged of spending N360 million to bribe INEC staff during the December 10 re-run legislative election and of course it neither belonged to the All Progressives’ Congress (APC) of the state or the National.

Then, one is forced to ask questions such as: where does the money come from? Who owns this money? What do the police stand to gain by making up the discovery of such a staggering amount of money and pinning it on a sitting government? Could the money be fake notes displayed by a desperate Police Force to score cheap point from the APC-led government? Definitely, the money came from a source in Nigeria, but then, where? Does a governor even has access to such a huge sum of money, to the extent that he would have audacity not to account for it?

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For those who have followed politics and corruption closely in the country, they will surely have some possible answers to these questions. With the denial and counter-accusations between the INEC and the Nigerian Police, one is tempted to look at the sources of money that can be denied in this manner. The first of its kind is Security Vote, which is a Fund that is not only unappropriated, but it is also unaudited and unaccounted for, in the government.

Governors don’t account for Security Vote

The former Governor of Cross River, Donald Duke, in July 2010, gave a vivid example which was a comprehensive expose on how rigging of elections are financed in the country and he was one of the insiders in the political process. He asserted that money offered to Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) in most cases came from this security Vote. He gave a lowdown on how money moved from Governors or Executive Officeholders to RECs in Nigeria.

For those who witnessed the impeachment saga of Senator Rasheed Ladoja, the then Governor of Oyo State as superintended by the Late Chief Lamidi Ariyibi Akanji Adedibu (I prefer to call him Ariyibi of Ibadan) who Dr. Ahmadu Ali, the then PDP chairman, referred to as the “garrison commander,” and former President Olusegun Obasanjo described as the “father of the PDP”, allegedly complained that Ladoja was too greedy.
In his words, ‘’Ladoja is too greedy. He was collecting N65 million as security vote every month. You know that governors don’t account for security vote. He was to give me N15 million of that every month. He reneged. Later it was reduced to N10 million. Yet he did not give me.”

You will also recall that when Governor Rochas Okorocha became governor of Imo state, he made a statement that shed light on the issue of security vote. This is because of his love for education, he realised that some schools lacked furniture and he ordered that some amount from his security vote be used to furnish these schools. That shows that there was no appropriation for this money. It is being spent by Governors based on their whims and caprices, without the authority of the Assembly whether in the states involved, or at the federal level and even much less, it is spent without the knowledge of the people.

If Ebitu Ukiwe, a retired air commodore and former Chief of General Staff (number two man) in the Government of General Ibrahim Babangida could assert in 2010 that “the amounts mentioned as security votes these days … [are] outrageous and subject to abuses since nobody accounts for them”, what will be his view after hearing of Dasuki-Gate and the N111 million not owned by anyone.

According to Human Right Watch (HRW, 2007, 33), the security vote is one of the most opaque items in any local government budget, and it is also typically one of the largest single allocations. According to a Commission of Inquiry convened in 2006, Khana local government’s chairman has received an average of N60 million annually for his security vote. Tai local government’s chair had a security vote of N40 million in 2006. Opobo/Nkoro local government’s security vote was N36 million in 2006. In each of these cases, the security votes exceeded the total capital budgets for either health or education. HRW found that in some LGAs, much of the total money set aside for security votes was stolen outright or channelled into improper forms of patronage.

Legality of Security Vote

Human rights lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, described security vote as an illegality and irresponsibility on the part of the country’s leaders. He condemned the governors for appropriating security votes to themselves even when they know that it is unconstitutional. He also argued that the governors who indulge in security votes robbed the society of essential resources.

“Security vote is illegal and the height of irresponsibility on the part of our political elite. There is no part of our laws that allows them to collect security votes. It is armed robbery. I am ashamed to see that, governors squander the country’s resources in the name of security votes yet the people keep quiet. This shows that they can take anything.”

Another lawyer, Festus Keyamo, said security vote was illegal and unconstitutional. “There is nothing like security vote in our appropriation laws and there is no part of our laws that allows governors to appropriate security votes to themselves. It is simply unconstitutional, armed robbery among the political elite,” he said” (Thisday, April 6, 2010).

Nevertheless, some others have argued that the fact that large amounts of money are routinely being frivolously budgeted and expended in the name of security vote does not make it an illegal practice. The act of approving any sum allocated to such a heading, covert or overt, legalises the concept.

The Nigerian Constitution also vests in the legislature, the powers to oversee the audit of all accounts of government. The fact that the legislature has failed to do this in the past, either because of ignorance or compromise, does not make the concept of ‘‘security votes’’, illegal.

The fundamental problem, however, is the fact that security votes in Nigeria have little to do with security. It is to a great extent used as an avenue by rulers to legitimise stealing from the public purse.
The grey History of Security Vote
The history of security votes in Nigeria is grey. It cannot be found anywhere in the 1999 constitution. Security vote crept into the governance of the country during the military era, they sought from the military authorities the right to have a special allocation to enable them to use this as a source of security for information against coup plotters.

The practice of misappropriating and stealing huge sums of public money under the guise of enhancing national security should come under increased scrutiny if the Buhari-led administration is interested in combating corruption to a standstill. With the extent of revelation from the Dasukigate and the fight against Boko Haram, there should be no room for any money that would not be accounted for, either covertly or overtly.

Nigerians and the Government must investigate the history and practice of the use of so-called security votes because the ambiguity and secrecy associated with the concept of national security has helped institutionalise unaccountable governance at all levels of government.

Tracing the use and abuse of security votes from the military regime of General Babangida to the present democratic era, one can even assert that the misappropriation of security votes has expanded in recent years. Invariably, security votes has become a clever way by which political office holders, in implicit collusion with, or exploitation by, security agencies, defraud the public.

Investigations by NAIJ.com have revealed a huge amount of money provided monthly to the Nigerian president and state governors, ostensibly for security purposes, that is unappropriated, unaudited and unaccounted for.
Although at present, the amount of security money voted monthly for the Nigerian president is undisclosed, a reliable source in Edo state Government House confided to NAIJ.com that the state governor, Adams Oshiomhole, smiles to the bank every month with at least N500 million as his security vote.

The source’s disclosure of the security ‘pocket money’ of the former labour leader also tallies with an ‘on-the-record admission’ by a former lawmaker based in Osogbo, the state capital, of Osun state, concerning the governor of the state.

Anti-Corruption War and Security Vote

When people talk of economic recession and some persons counter that claim, one is tempted to agree with the latter because the problem is rooted in the nature of the Nigerian state, not in the inadequacy of fiscal rules.
Any government that is serious about anti-corruption must look inwards, into what and how Security Vote is being disbursed. It is even more reasonable, to suggest that at this moment, when the country is not getting the usual Petro-Dollar, no money should go unaccounted for.

It is absolute corruption. This government is fighting corruption, so one will have to ask which corruption they are fighting. Who is fighting the corruption associated with security vote of Political office holders? The President Buhari-led administration needs to look into this grey area and as well make the fight against corruption, a total one. It is high time this administration examined the issue of security votes, and took a radical position/stand on it.

Ola Balogun is a Policy Analyst, Social Commentator and Columnist with The Rezponder.

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