by Ayo Opeoluwa
In recent times, the question of security vote has polarized Nigerians into those who wants it scrapped and those who wants a rethink of it. Many have questioned the rationale behind the votes, criticized it and called for its scrapping, and some does not support the scrapping of the votes but called for more transparency and accountability.
But if I may ask, how did we get here or how did we arrive at this point? Why this criticisms and focus on security votes at a time such as this especially in the light of the fact that this vote precedes the fourth republic and could be traced as far back as the second republic. It just depicts the kind of people we are, for whatever defects we see in the security votes had been there even before now, it was never constitutional, the beneficiaries are not accountable to the public on how it is spent, It is not included in the budget, the money is spent at the discretion of the governor. The fulcrum of this point is to state clearly that security vote is not new to us, it has always been there, it is a relic of the American presidential system which we borrowed and applied copiously.
Security votes are funds which are disbursed or that the governors deduct from their allocation on a monthly basis, this funds are spent at the discretion of the governors and they are accountable to no one even their state assemblies on how the money is spent. This funds runs into billions of naira in a year. A governor gets up to three hundred million naira a month; some gets seven hundred million naira depending on the monthly allocation that accrues to them from Abuja. Hence if we are to begin to calculate the amount of security votes for governors from the inception of this republic, we would be talking about several billions of naira even if this is not commensurate with the present state of insecurity in the country.
Section 14(b) of the 1999 constitution states that “It is hereby accordingly declared that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government” The constitution never stated or implied any fund or allocation tagged security votes. Our attention might not have been drawn to this issue if not for the present economic and security situation of the country.
There seems not to be any period after the civil war that we felt more insecure than now. I hate to say that the governors are squandering this illegal funds but the reality is far from that, they are not only squandering the money, they are endangering the lives of the same people they swore to protect. How do we explain the fact that the states in the northeast were getting security votes before the inception of boko haram, they saw it when it was incubating and there was nothing they could do even at that embryonic stage, it didn’t just blow up to become what it is today, there was a socioeconomic complex that breeds such crisis.
May be I should give a small lecture on security here, these days, we don’t talk about conventional security in terms of crisis, we talk about critical security and what I call strategic security, the import of these two concepts is that we don’t wait for crisis to erupt before we begin to address security, in fact it is the situation that warrant the crisis that is the most important and that is what this two concepts are talking about, crisis arises from the prevailing socioeconomic situation in a state, this situation generates into crisis slowly sometimes it takes more than a decade.
The poverty and economic marginalization in the Niger delta are critical security situations, so also in other parts of the country. Hence the bottom line is good governance, if these huge amount of security votes are channeled to address the socioeconomic problems in the state, then there is no need to question the legality or call for its scrapping, poverty is a security threat to a state, so is unemployment, religious fanatism, illiteracy and other socioeconomic ills but our governors are not seeing it this way, I would prefer to create employment for the youths, alleviate the suffering of the poor, guarantee good health care than to spend money on equipping the police. It is these socioeconomic situations that breeds crisis and constitute insecurity, for every crisis have their roots in these socioeconomic situations.
Another situation that encourages the anomaly of security votes is our systemic arrangement, ours is a peculiar federal structure, one that breeds corruption and impunity, the present federal arrangement makes the governors irresponsible when it comes to security, despite the enormous amount of security votes given to them, they still argue correctly that security and security bodies and apparatus belongs to the federal government.
Perhaps this is a contradiction, a system that feeds on itself. A governor cannot control the commissioner of police in his state in spite of the security votes he receives at the end of every month, he has no say in the security of his state, decisions as regards this comes from Abuja, so we have governors that are constitutionally designed to be irresponsible when it comes to security. They owe no one explanation on how they spend their security votes because they are not responsible for securing their constituency. The constitution is on their side on this, hence every month they smile home with several millions of naira to spend as they deem fit on anything but the purpose with which it was released “security”.
Two things I have discussed here, our governors does not understand the concept of security in the real sense of the matter, the votes are for good governance, absence of which constitute insecurity, secondly the system we run encourage this impunity, even the constitution is complicit. The present economic and security situation demands that we look into this issue critically, our security architecture is in disarray, and we don’t have enough money that would not be accounted for to be thrown around. If we are not ready to take the long route which is always the inevitable except we are not interested in the present social contract, then we should consider making the funds more transparent and hold the governors accountable for it. The amount of money removed as security votes should be known and should be tied to projects, that is if we are not considering scrapping the votes.
But in the long run, we should consider renegotiating a constitution that would encourage state police, thus making the governors accountable for the security of their states in the true sense of the matter.