Linking National Security and Public Accountability

Chief of Defence Staff, Alex Badeh

By Seember Nyager

When it comes to public finance utilisation, there is compelling reason to believe that disclosure would benefit rather than impede National security efforts.

In the last decade and in response to the security challenges that overwhelm us, Nigerians continue to witness a significant increase in the budgetary allocations and budget releases aimed at tackling insecurity. In addition to institutions in the core public security sector, allocations for security are also provided to other public sector institutions. Recognising that security and welfare is the primary function of government and further recognising public security as a very expensive venture, it is only reasonable to expect that a lot of our public resources would be devoted to tackling the rising insurgency. The challenge however arises as to whether there is any basis to expect a level of public accountability, especially relating to how resources dedicated to security should be expended.

This challenge is exacerbated by the popular reasoning that all matters relating to National Security are secret and cannot be publicly disclosed because they would be injurious to national defence or national security. There is however good reason to believe that no matter how much resources are devoted to the security sector, an absence of public accountability would undermine efforts towards increased National Security.

It is often taken for granted that National Security goes in hand with secrecy. And the rationale for this is reflected in national laws, such as the Freedom of Information Act, 2011 which seeks to protect the disclosure of information that may be injurious to the defence of Nigeria. However, what is often overlooked is the overriding public interest that enables some information relating to National Defense and Security to be disclosed. When it comes to public finance utilisation, there is compelling reason to believe that disclosure would benefit rather than impede National security efforts. The reasons for this belief are various and it would help to examine very few of them. …the sincerity, integrity and motives of Nigerian public institutions are questioned when there is a refusal to disclose defense and security related contracts in Nigeria but these same contracts are disclosed and are accessible online in foreign countries where the contractors are primarily based.

First, a system that insists that national security would be undermined when public expenditure information is disclosed makes a sweeping assumption that the security sector or security expenditure within other sectors cannot be manipulated or tainted with corruption problems. But history across the world and in Nigeria presents a contrary view. For example, the False Claims Act in the United States was primarily a legislative response to contract fraud during the American Civil War where sub-standard and faulty weaponry were being sold to government. Similar allegations have been raised of outdated weaponry being purchased for warfare in Nigeria and several concerns have been raised over the welfare of foot soldiers in spite of the increasing allocations to National defence and security.

Second, the sincerity, integrity and motives of Nigerian public institutions are questioned when there is a refusal to disclose defense and security related contracts in Nigeria but these same contracts are disclosed and are accessible online in foreign countries where the contractors are primarily based. One of such examples is the Levick contract that was entered into by the News Agency of Nigeria and for which a request for information was denied on grounds that the contract was domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser. This contract was, however, obtained online because the Foreign Agencies Registration Act in the United States required the contractors Levick, to disclose. On scrutiny of the contract, Nigerians began to wonder what the National defence risk was in such a contract that upon access, was seen to be a very expensive and ambiguous public relations contract.

The absence of disclosure, backed by law and practice effectively makes the security sector the most prone to contract inflation and ineffective service delivery. The high risk and probability of contract inflation in itself fuels the insurgency because no amount of resources would ever be sufficient to contain a system with unchecked leaks.

Closely tied to the previous point is the loss of confidence between the government and the governed that arise when the details of contracts held to be secret in Nigeria and held to be injurious to National defence are accessed from databases in other countries. For example, the office of the National Security Adviser refused to disclose information about the WISE intelligent surveillance contract when an FOI request was made by an organisation, Paradigm Initiative of Nigeria (PIN). However, the Israeli contractor, ELBIT leaked the information by carrying out its regular practice of publishing the contract on its website and this showed about a 20 million dollar difference between what was allocated in the budget of the National Security Adviser and the final cost of the contract. Although it is acknowledged that budgets are only estimates, there was no way to verify what became of the difference between the estimates and the final contract sum.

If our leaders and we Nigerians are determined to protect our collective destiny, then we must develop and implement a system of public expenditure accountability that is applicable to security related expenditure.

The exclusion of security related contracts from open and competitive bidding by the Public Procurement Act 2007 further reduces any chances of verifying whether only the actual contract amount was released. This is also considering the fact that the Accountant General does not release funds per project but only releases bulk sums for capital expenditure. Therefore, the absence of disclosure, backed by law and practice effectively makes the security sector the most prone to contract inflation and ineffective service delivery. The high risk and probability of contract inflation in itself fuels the insurgency because no amount of resources would ever be sufficient to contain a system with unchecked leaks.

In the years to come, investments in the security sector would only grow because security is expensive to procure. But if our leaders and we Nigerians are determined to protect our collective destiny, then we must develop and implement a system of public expenditure accountability that is applicable to security related expenditure. That is a significant part of the change that Nigeria currently bleeds for.

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