Security vote and national security: Which way Nigeria?

Nigeria prioritiesNigeria-map-colourOne of the most important indices for judging the performance of any government is the way it handles its security matters. Serious nations give top considerations to national security without denting it with bureaucracy and politics.

Recently, insecurity is seemingly an incurable disease in Nigeria. Yet, the country has a president, 36 governors and774 local government chairpersons who are chief security officers of their various governments. With the security votes and mandates at the disposal of these chief security officers, the citizenry should be entitled to some level of peace and security. Ironically, the essence of the vote and what it is meant to achieve has been marred by the people that instituted it or still benefitting from it.

Security vote is one of the controversial funds the wobbling Nigerian democracy inherited from the military. It is an amount of money allocated to certain federal, states and local government officials, in which the deployment of the money are solely on the discretion of the officials. The modus operandi of the vote is such that it cannot be audited or restrained by the constitution due to its sensitive function in attending to underfunded government security agencies and unforeseen security occurrences. However, since the vote secured a niche in the political lexicon of Nigeria, it has always fallen short of the democratic tenets of transparency and accountability. Virtually all the beneficiaries of the vote are serial abusers of it. They expend it on trivial and amoral things like luxury living, amassment of property, fighting oppositions and the like.

The current security situation of Nigeria is a nightmare. This year only, according to Amnesty International, about 1,803 people have been killed in insurgency and herdsmen-related crimes between January and June in 17 states. The underfunded security forces and their commanders are battling in vain to salvage this seemingly genocide. Either they do not know what the problem is, or they know, but are playing politics with it. It is dehumanising that the security apparatus of the country has dilapidated into a platform that fosters political campaigns and ethnic intolerance.

Perhaps, it is only during elections that national security is taken seriously, with armed security personnel at standby. But when lives and property are destroyed by marauding herdsmen and terrorists, the victims are told to pray or live in peace with their oppressors. After the Plateau State killings, where over two hundred people were killed, all President Buhari, the commander-in-chief of the arm forces, could do was to resign to prayer. “Nobody can say that we have not done well in terms of security. We have done our best. But the way things are now, we can only pray,” he told aggrieved, mourning Nigerians. Ironically, the more hapless Nigerians pray, the more the security votes meant to protect them rest in the pockets of the beneficiaries.

With the disturbing trends in grassroots and national security, it is high time Nigerians asked three important questions. First, is the current security structure strong enough to protect lives and property? Second, what are the roles of state governors and local government chairpersons in national security? Third, how much is the security vote costing taxpayers? Until these questions are answered, Nigerians would still be enslaved.

Since its inception, the security vote has not been able to solve Nigerian security challenges. Because of this, a lot of people are clamouring that it should be scrapped. On the hand, others want it to be sustained. Both sides are probably right. Interestingly, however, the vote is not the problem, but the beneficiaries and how they use it. By now, the three ties of governments should know that money alone could not solve security problems. Objective intelligent gathering, unsentimental justice dispensation and unbiased restructuring of the security structure would suffice in curbing some, if not all, the security challenges of the country.

The incessant killings by herdsmen and reoccurring bombings by Boko Haram have opened the eyes of Nigerians to the trivialities the security structure of the country has been all these years. Why disburse billions of naira to state governors and local government chairpersons for security purposes, but would not allow them to officially use federal security agencies and personnel to fight crime. They have no direct access to the police, the military and even some paramilitary organisations in cases of urgent security needs. Recently, the Zamfara State governor, Abdualaziz Yari, after over 38 people were killed in his state lamented that state governors are not chief security officers of the states they govern. When the constitution puts governors and local government chairpersons under the mercy of federal security agencies, how would they protect their people? What, then, are their respective security votes used for in such helpless situations?

The amount the security vote costs taxpayers every year is mindboggling. According to Transparency International, in its article titled “Camouflaged Cash: How ‘Security Votes’ Fuel Corruption in Nigeria”, the infamous, unaccounted-for votes cost Nigerians over 241 billion naira annually, which is seemingly above the budgets of the Nigerian Police and the Nigerian Army combined together. Yet, the beneficiaries leave Nigerians in the mercy of criminals. Some of these crimes are even perpetrated or sponsored by some of the beneficiaries of the vote or their allies.

Nigeria has come a long way in its civilisation to be ridiculed by recurrent national insecurity. The way forward is simple. State police is crucial at this moment. Stringent laws and institutions should be set up to enable constitutional backup, transparency and accountability of the votes. The National Assemble has to enact strict laws that would enable effective and just prosecution of organised criminals and terrorists. Furthermore, the executive should be serious and unbiased in deploying security personnel to where they are urgently needed.

Security, just like charity, begins at home. But when those at home are doing their best to protect themselves and government is playing politics, then, which hope does the common man have? Politicians may care less because they have enough money and security personnel to protect themselves and their families. But what goes around comes around. Asa, in her popular song, “Jailer”, sang, “I have fears, you have fears too. I will die, but you self will die too. Life is beautiful. Don’t you think so too, Mr Jailer?” One hopes the beneficiaries of security votes are listening.

Kingsley Alumona works with the Nigerian Tribune.

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