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Nigeria: How the President and Governors steal from ‘Security Votes’

“The idea of handing millions of naira to unaccountable politicians, in the name of addressing security problems, is a recipe for pervasive corruption”.

Peter ObiIf the PUNCH is to be believed, Jonathan Goodluck is currently investigating how a huge amount of money earmarked as “security vote” disappeared under questionable circumstances in the last three-months.

The President, Umaru Yar’adua was flown to the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, Jeddah on November 23, 2009 for medical treatment for pericarditis. He came back on February 24, 2010 under the cover of darkness and is still in hiding.

But during the period of his absence, it is alleged that a few individuals in the Presidency spent billions of Naira in security votes during the three months spent by the President in Saudi.

In order words, “Several billions of Naira of the Security vote was spent while the President was away” and probably unconscious!

The questions begging for an answer are: who authorised the release of the funds, what was the reason for the release and what was it used for since the only person who could have authorised the release of security votes at the Presidency is the President?

The use of security votes offers a virtual carte blanche to the country’s President as well as state governors to squander billions of naira in state allocations without scrutiny, accountability and without providing ‘security’ for anyone save the executive’s pockets and/or their bank accounts.

Just last week, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC filed a charge against Bayelsa State‘s Commissioner for Finance, Dr. Charles Osuala, the state‘s Accountant General, Mr. Francis Okokuro, the state‘s Director of Treasury, Abot Clinton and the Director of Finance, Anthony Howells for allegedly stealing N2 billion belonging to the state and over an alleged N500million bribe.

The Commissioner for Finance managed to escape arrest by the whiskers when operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arrested the others.

In an interview with the AIT from his hideout, The Bayelsa State‘s Commissioner for Finance, said the N500million naira said to be misappropriated is part of the Security vote spent on security in the Niger Delta.

The Security vote has thus become an omnibus heading under which state money is siphoned with no questions asked.

Among Igbo traders, there is this funny story of a ‘boy’ that went on a business errand for his ‘master’. On his return, the ‘boy’ was told to account for all his expenses. He detailed all the money spent and justified same except for a few thousand still outstanding.

Questioned by the ‘master’ what the unexplained money was spent on, the boy explained that the portion should go under MISCELLANEOUS.

His illiterate master was aghast; “what is MASILINUS”, he thundered?

The ‘Security Vote’ has become the Mr MASILINUS through which our chief executives corruptly enrich themselves 

On November 12, 2007, the Punch reported a plea by former Governor Rasidi Ladoja of Oyo State to the effect that the Federal Government should stop allocating security votes to governors.

Ladoja, whose gubernatorial term was marked by an unseemly running battle with Lamidi Adedibu, the garrulous self-styled “godfather” of Oyo politics, said his prescription would “reduce corruption.”

Ladoja should know; his feud with Adedibu was actually fuelled by the “godfather’s” claim on part of the governor’s security funds.

The scandalous deployment of security votes permeates all levels of government; from the Federal Government down to state governors. Now I learned that local government chairmen and councillors now draw “security votes” too.

In Edo State, lawmakers rowed with the executive arm of government over security votes when the Speaker of the State Assembly, Hon Zakawanu Garuba, accused Governor Adams Oshiomhole of collecting N911million as security vote between November 12, 2008 and December 31, 2008- In one month!

According to the speaker, “Between November 12th to 31st December, 2008, the Comrade Governor of Edo State removed N911 million and put it in his pocket. He removed that money as security vote. In governance, you do not challenge how security vote is spent. He removed N911 million and the documents are with us.

“And meanwhile, when he removed the money, the killings, kidnappings, cultism are on the increase every day. What did he use the money for?”

In ABIA State, A political pressure group, Abia Elders Forum had alleged that Governor Orji plans to raise his monthly security vote from N450 million to N700million through the state House of Assembly.

“At N700 million per month, it means the Governor would be pocketing, princely N8.4 billion per annum as security vote for which he is not accountable to anyone.

“It was scandalous enough that he has been taking out N400 million per month since he came into office as security vote. Raising the vote to N700 million at a time the state’s economy has completely collapsed under the weight of (alleged) dubious debts incurred since June 2007 and sustained and systematic looting of the treasury indicates a tragic intention to destroy the state’s economic base,” the group lamented.

In Anambra State, “As lives are being lost daily, law and order have now totally broken down while Peter Obi seems to be having the time of his life stockpiling our security vote into Next International Account every month.

“The blood of the innocently slaughtered in the state due to Obi’s greed in stealing this security vote at the end of every month, will never let him get away with his financial crimes against Anambra State”, a critic lamented.

Last year, an online outfit broke the news that Obi was stealing N350 million in security vote every month, Obi’s media aide Mr. Valentine Obienyem arrogantly dismissed the report in a terse statement where he said Obi’s security vote was N250 million and not N350 million.

As it turned out, Mr. Obienyem was half right. N250 million was eventually caught red-handed with Peter Obi’s aide where the Nigeria Police captured the money at the gates of Next International Apapa.

It was reported that Governor Peter Obi engages in the monthly act of carting away Anambra’s security votes every month – the Online outfit complained that the Governor’s cars are always ‘serviced’ monthly either in Lagos, Abuja or Port Harcourt, only at month-ends, depending on where Ndibe Obi – a relation of the governor, is available to receive the security vote from Awka.

On one occasion the driver that led the operation, Peter’s own driver, Thompson took $120,000 in cash on one money laundry trip.  Peter could not sack him; rather he dropped Thompson to the pool as sacking Thompson would have led to him squealing on his boss.

To cover his tracks, Peter Obi was said to have infiltrated the state House of Assembly, by offering the members of Anambra State House of Assembly N50 million under the guise of ‘Democracy Day’ gift to buy their silence.

On what does Governor Peter Obi spend his security vote? Definitely not on Anambra Security as Anambra State indigenes have now called on the Federal authorities to rescue the citizens from the grip of violent criminals who have now taken control of the state following Governor Obi’s decision to spend nothing out of the state’s security vote towards the security of lives and properties of Anambrarians.

Those security funds are being spent on Obi’s various ongoing personal projects including the world class shopping mall located at plot 2, Kado Abuja, entirely being built for cash by the son of the owner of Dannic Hotels; a N7.8 billion shopping complex.

The idea of “security votes” is said to be rooted in a facet of America’s diplomatic practice. Each year, the U.S. Congress approves a budget for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) that is devoted to espionage and other covert operations. Owing to the surreptitious nature of its assignments, the intelligence agency does not publicly account for its budgetary earmarks. It only briefs a select committee of Congressmen whose members are sworn to secrecy.

From that understandable idea mutated the Nigerian distortion of entrusting “security votes” to the discretion of particular office holders.

In our case, the security funds are handed, not to an agency, but to governors and the President to be spent entirely at their pleasure. What’s worse, we also dressed up this scandalous arrangement in the borrowed robes of the CIA’s covert procedure. We stipulated that no questions may be asked of any governor or President about how the security votes were spent, and on what. To be inquisitive about security votes is to be labelled as constituting a veritable threat to security!

Mr Okey Ndibe once noted; “bad as it is to put so much cash into the unaccountable hands of the President and governors, the security vote culture has since festered.

How does anybody justify this ludicrous notion? Like many other facile ideas that take root in Nigeria, the only justification is that it makes the nation’s so-called “stakeholders” happy”.

The money that is yearly allocated to ‘security votes’ is yearly being salted away in foreign bank accounts in Mauritius, Saudi Arabia, London and Isle of Man.

Why, then, did the nation’s editorial writers and columnists not take up Ladoja’s suggestion and orchestrate the call to outlaw the use of security votes? His call seemed to have had little or no traction?  

The current ‘security votes’ controversy in the Presidency is intriguing because the man who is recognised by law to authorise the release of security votes was bedridden at the time. That means the sum was released without the normal accounting process being followed.

If Nigeria is to make a serious job of combating money laundering and graft, then the nation had better deal with two fertilizers of corruption.

One is the weird notion that the President and governors must not be prosecuted during their tenure even when they commit grave crimes. The other is the farcical idea called “security vote.”

“These twin scandals foster the germination and flowering of corruption- the idea of handing millions of naira to unaccountable politicians, in the name of addressing security problems, is a recipe for pervasive corruption”.

Rather than legitimising cross-carpeting and allowing criminals to contest elections, the next constitutional amendment should strip these public officials of this blanket authorisation to misuse state funds in the name of security.

Such blanket license is a bad idea anywhere—even in climes where public officials evince a capacity for moral restraint. Politicians versed on gorging at the expense of the populace are only too delighted to be spared any obligation to explain the expenditure of security votes. The pocketing of public funds has never been easier, or more primitive.

It’s about time labour groups, students and voters rose up to insist that this scam be squelched.

Like Mr Ndibe again said: Security funds ought to be sent to the police or agencies constitutionally charged with securing public safety and national security. If a President and governors are to spend security votes, let’s insist that they account for where each kobo went—and why.

“There must be a limit to greed, for the society we abuse today will take revenge on our children tomorrow.”

Now is the time to catch this ‘MASILINUS’ that siphons our unexplained allocations!

afamefuna@elombah.com