Should security votes be open to public scrutiny?

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  • Mr Salman Jawondo (A former Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association, Ilorin branch)

I think it should be made a subject that is open to public scrutiny because this is public money and public money should be accounted for to the last kobo. So, the concept of security vote being kept secret should not be the case. It should be open because a sitting President, vice president, governor and deputy governor receive almost everything free. They are entitled to free food, medicals, and transportation, clothing, and most things you can think of in terms of comfort. So, you begin to ask the question what the security vote is meant for especially when you take into account the fact that you have hundreds of millions being earmarked for that on monthly basis. As long as it is public money, I think, it is part of transparency and accountability that it should be accounted for. I support that it should be made public.

It should be part of the budget so that it will show the details of what the money is meant for. Nigerians should campaign that it should be made public.

The governors should appreciate that security vote is public money. They should spend it in such a way as to encourage development. It is being alleged that some governors make away with or divert the money at the end of the month. I will advise that the funds set aside for such purposes should be used for the benefit of the masses instead. Transparency in government is very essential for societal development and for the well-being of the citizens and residents of every state. Lack of accountability and transparency in the management of public resources are major problems of public finance and development in the country. The people must demand accountability, transparency and judicious use of public resources. Such clamour will enhance good governance and the quality of life.

  • Austin Osakue (Legal practitioner/ Executive Director, Foundation for Good Governance and Social Change)

I have been a very strong advocate of the total removal of security votes or the security vote regime. I believe it should be subject to the principles of transparency and accountability. I believe that any money allocated, which is not subject to auditing is a harbinger of (corruption and) insecurity.

What it simply means is that, the chief executive can spend such funds at his whims in which case it is not subject to any kind of verification. So, first and foremost, we have the problem with the amount so appropriated and the purpose for which that money is deployed.

If it becomes money deployed for violence, especially during elections, vote buying or instigating one group of persons against the other, how do we know? To that extent, it becomes a basis for furthering insecurity. Also, because it is not subject to appropriation and it is shrouded in secrecy, even very poor states, states that are not able to pay salaries, still go ahead to withdraw such humongous amounts to the detriment of salaries and pension benefits, which have not been paid, and very pressing development issues which have not been attended to.

For the chief executives of the states, security votes are given priority; it is the most important of considerations, as far as expenditure is concerned.

Another issue is security votes which, over time, are not known to respond to changes in allocation or changes in income generation at the level of the states. The increase or decrease in income generation does not affect the huge amounts that chief executives withdraw. Finally, if we say we are practising democratic governance, in this age, why should we allow people to withdraw and spend money which they do not have to account for?

If it is part of the income received by the state, why do you account for Y and do not account for X? This has been my position. If we must continue with this security vote regime because of the kind of justification that people are trying to put forward, then let it be subject to public scrutiny.

  • Mr Alagoa Morris (Bayelsa State Coordinator, Environmental Right Action)

As far as the security situation is concerned; I belong to the school of thought that those receiving and spending that fund have not fared well in ensuring the security of lives and property.

Some might even be encouraging conflict and violence at the expense of the people.

Until we are able to clean the system, security votes should be converted to special development funds which should be open to public scrutiny.

Like in Bayelsa State, the unique deltaic terrain requires funds to address serious ecological and environmental issues confronting our communities and people daily and yearly.

If the security funds shrouded in opacity is directed at people-oriented projects, the people and communities would be happier and feel a sense of belonging.

My take is that security funds should be stopped or be subjected to stakeholders’ scrutiny.

  • Alhaji Tanko Yakasai (Elder statesman/ former Presidential liaison officer to President Shehu Shagari)

I am of the opinion that the idea of having a security vote itself is unconstitutional. It contradicts the provision of the constitution because the power to appropriate funds is vested in the National Assembly and you cannot appropriate funds without having the power to scrutinise them. After you are told why the funds are needed and you are told to apportion X amount of money, you should also have the right to, after the money has been disbursed and utilized, know whether the funds were used for what they were appropriated for. In my opinion, security vote should be subject to scrutiny by the National Assembly, how the scrutiny is done should be regulated by the parliament because it is the parliament that has been constitutionally empowered to appropriate funds and also look into audit reports as well as carry out investigations where public funds are suspected to have either being misappropriated or misused.

  • Awual Musa (Rafsanjani) (Executive Director, Civil Societies Legislative and Advocacy Centre)

I have always been an advocate of openness and transparency in government because openness promotes transparency and reduces the tendency for corruption.

We all agree that corruption is the bane of most African countries Nigeria inclusive. The issue of security votes has come to the fore because of the abuse it has been subjected to by those occupying executive positions in the government. Since what we are talking about here are public funds, I do not see why such expenditures should not be subjected to scrutiny at least by members of the legislature.

Ordinarily this money should be appropriated and when money is appropriated it must be accounted for. It is a different matter if you are talking about operational funds for our security services, even that one should be subjected to some form of scrutiny the outcome of which may or may not be made public if it can be proved that making it public will jeopardise public safety and security.

We must find a way of ensuring that those in position of authority do not continue to hide under the guise of security to siphon public funds to either feather their political nests or use them to support a life of luxury for themselves and members of their immediate family, friends and cronies.

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