Transparency International says the President, 36 governors and 774 local government chairmen across the country, spend $670m (N241bn) yearly on security votes which are not subject to audit or legislative oversight.
The Africa Director for TI’s Defence and Security Programme, Christina Hildrew, said this at a two-day event organised by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre in Abuja on Wednesday.
The event was titled, ‘Impact of Anti-Money Laundering and Illicit Financial Flows: Legislative, Policy and Institutional Gaps to Investigate, Prosecute and Convict for Anti-Money Laundering and Illicit Financial Flow charges.’
Speaking with journalists on the sidelines of the event, Hildrew said many officials divert funds under the guise of security votes.
She added, “Security votes are opaque and corruption-prone and the security funding mechanisms widely used across Nigeria’s three tiers of government; a significant percentage of the country’s overall security spending, the secretive unaccounted for add up to an estimated $670m annually.
“Transacted mostly in cash, security votes spending is not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit because of its ostensibly secretive nature. Yet, this veil of secrecy protects many officials who misspend security votes, channel them into political activities or embezzle them outright.”
Hildrew also stated that there was a need for defence budgets and spending to be more transparent.
The TI official said while it was important to put national security in its rightful place of importance, there was also a need to ensure that those controlling the funds were being held accountable.
She added, “So, there is a wide issue in the defence sector which is defence ‘exceptionalism.’ That is the public allows the defence sector to be unaccountable for what they spend because of national security issues.
However, the defence sector should not be unaccountable to the citizens it is meant to protect and serve. So, we call for additional legislative oversight of the defence sector and we think it is important that not only parliamentary committees and audit committees and civil society have a say in how the security funds are decided but checks and balances are also put into the system so that there is accountability and transparency of what security expenditure is going to occur to ensure that it protects citizens.”
Also speaking, anti-corruption advocate with CISLAC, Vaclav Prusa, said Nigeria remained the biggest victim of illicit financial outflows in Africa.
Prusa said Nigeria loses about $25bn to money laundering every year.
He added, “Nigeria is affected by illicit financial outflows much more than the rest of the continent. In fact, the data shows that more money comes out of Nigeria than any other countries in Africa combined. We are talking about $20-25bn going out of Nigeria every year.”
When asked to evaluate the anti-corruption drive of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, Vaclav said the President had put some measures in place but it was too soon to evaluate the success or otherwise of his initiatives.
On why Nigeria was still ranked low by TI on corruption perception, Vaclav said the ranking was based on expert opinion and the perception of most Nigerians towards corruption.