A new report by the Transparency International Defence and Security (TIDS) and the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC) has revealed that at least Nigeria spends $670 million on security votes every year.

Six hundred and seventy million dollars ($670m) is said to be more than the annual budget of the Nigerian Air Force and Nigerian Navy combined.

In the 2017 budget, the Nigerian army was allocated N139.8 billion.

According to the report, which was  titled 'Camouflaged Cash' and released on Monday, May 29, 2018, the figure is also more than 70% of the annual budget of the Nigerian Police Force, nine times more than the US security assistance since 2012 and 12 times more than the UK counterterrorism support for 2016 - 2020.

In a statement obtained by The Cable, the CISLAC Executive Director, Auwal Rafsanjani, said that the security votes considered for the report include that of the federal and state governments, adding that not all states provided information about theirs.

The advocacy groups described the security votes as "one of the most durable forms of corruption in Nigeria". They added that the funds are usually unaccounted for and "secretive".

The report also said alleged that an estimated $15 billion was stolen from Nigeria's defence sector by former military chiefs.

"By prioritising security vote spending, less funding is available for Nigerian forces to pay salaries or procure needed supplies, leaving them underequipped to fight Boko Haram," the statement said.

"They also offer major potential sources of funding to tilt political campaigns, stoking tensions at a critical time."

The Director of TIDS, Katherine Dixon, also said, "Instead of addressing its many urgent threats, the ever-increasing use of security votes is providing corrupt officials with an easy-to-use and entirely hidden slush fund.

"Corruption in the crucial sector of defence and security plays right into the hands of those who seek to sow the seeds of instability and terror.

"It leaves armed forces under-resourced in the fight against Boko Haram and feeds groups who may destabilize the elections."

According to Rafsanjani, ahead of the 2019 general election, candidates should agree to "phase out this secretive and dated form of spending''.

"Any candidates serious about fighting corruption in Nigeria will recognise the need to urgently address the problem of security votes", he said.

Outlawing security votes

Recommending a way forward, they said the National Assembly should pass a law which would outlaw security votes at all levels. They said the law should be accompanied by legislation specifying budgeting procedures and criteria for security expenditure.

TIDS and CISLAC added that the legislature should establish effective oversight structures that would help in setting up security trust funds for state governments and also ensure existing spending is appropriate.

These, according to the groups, would be a constructive first step to getting rid of security votes.