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Insecurity: SERAP writes Buhari, 36 governors, seeks disclosure of spending on ‘security votes’

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Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent Freedom of Information requests to President Muhammadu Buhari and the 36 state governors in Nigeria requesting them to use their “good offices and leadership positions to urgently provide information on specific details of spending of appropriated public funds as security votes between 2011 and 2019.”

Security Votes for states

In the separate requests sent to Mr Buhari and the governors, SERAP said: “Given the current security realities in the country, we need the information to determine if public funds meant to provide security and ensure respect and protection of the rights to life, physical integrity, and liberty of Nigerians have been spent for this purpose. Our request is limited to details of visible, specific security measures and projects executed and does not include spending on intelligence operations.”

In the FOI requests dated 12 April 2019 and signed by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “’Section 14(2)(b) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) provides that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of government.’ It is the security of the citizens that is intended and not the security of select individuals in public office. SERAP believes that transparency and accountability in the spending of security votes are critically important to fully implement this responsibility imposed on both the federal and state governments.”

SERAP said: “We are concerned that rather than serving the citizens, the appropriation of public funds as security votes over the years would seem to serve high-ranking government officials at all levels—federal and states. We are also concerned that the practice of security votes entrusts discretionary powers to spend huge public funds on certain elected public officials who may not have any idea of operational issues on security matters.”

The requests read in part: “SERAP urges you to open-up on the matter and provide information and documents as requested. This will be one step in the right direction. Unless the information is urgently provided, Nigerians would continue to see the appropriation of public funds as security votes and the institutionalization of this cash in ‘Ghana Must Go bags’ practice as a tool for self-enrichment.”

“We would be grateful if the requested information is provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then, the Registered Trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal action under the Freedom of Information Act to compel you to comply with our request.”

“The most general purpose of State power is to provide security for citizens and other residents and to enable them lead a life that is meaningful to them. However, the growing level of insecurity, violence, kidnappings and killings in Zamfara State and other parts of Nigeria suggest that successive governments—at both federal and state levels—have been unwilling or unable to satisfactorily implement this fundamental constitutional commitment.”

“SERAP believes that there is a strong link between corruption and insecurity, violence, kidnappings and killings in several parts of the country. Available evidence would seem to suggest that many of the tiers of government in Nigeria have used security votes as a conduit for grand corruption rather than spending the funds to improve and enhance national security and ensure full protection of Nigerians’ rights to life, physical integrity, and liberty. In fact, former governor of Kano State Musa Kwankwaso once described security votes as ‘another way of stealing public funds’.”

“The huge financial resources budgeted for ‘security votes’ by successive governments—at both federal and state levels–have not matched the security realities, especially given the level of insecurity, violence, kidnappings and killings in many parts of the country. The current security realities in the country would seem to suggest massive political use, mismanagement or stealing of security votes by many governments.”

“SERAP believes that the Federal government and state governments ought to push for transparency and accountability in the spending of security votes both at the federal and state levels, if any such funds are to be properly spent to promote and ensure sustainable peace and security for the people of Nigeria.”

“SERAP believes that by providing the information, your government would help put an end to any insinuation that security votes are spent on political activities, mismanaged or stolen. This would in turn contribute to better opportunities for citizens to assess the level of spending and commitment of successive governments to ensuring the security of lives and property of the people.”

“Democratic societies function best with a high level of trust. Corruption, opacity and lack of accountability undermine that trust, and thus undermine the very foundation of democracies.”

 “We note that the obligation to provide security and protect people’s rights to life, physical integrity, and liberty ought to be a shared responsibility of the federal and state governments, and not just for the federal government, as state governors also appropriate huge public funds each year as security votes. Many governors reportedly hide the security votes in their budgets as the funds are not expressly stated in their appropriation acts.”

“By Sections 2(3)(d)(V) & (4) of the FOI Act, there is a binding legal duty to ensure that details of spending on specific security measures and projects are widely disseminated and made readily available to members of the public through various means, including on a dedicated website. The information being requested does not come within the purview of the types of information exempted from disclosure by the provisions of the FOI Act.”

“As revealed by a 2018 report by Transparency International (TI), most of the funds appropriated as security votes are spent on political activities, mismanaged or simply stolen. It is estimated that security votes add up to over N241.2 billion every year. On top of appropriated security votes, governments also receive millions of dollars yearly as international security assistance.”

“According to TI, security vote spending exceeds 70 percent of the annual budget of the Nigeria Police Force, more than the Nigerian Army’s annual budget, and more than the Nigerian Navy and Nigerian Air Force’s annual budget combined.”

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