The governor of Nasarawa State, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura has responded to a Freedom of Information request by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and asked “for more time within which to compile and provide details on the spending by the State on security votes, as this will require more than 7 days to process given that the information being requested covers a period of eight years.”
This development was disclosed today in a statement by SERAP deputy director Kolawole Oluwadare.
The governor’s response followed FOI requests SERAP sent last month to him and 35 other state governors as well as President Muhammadu Buhari, asking them to: “provide information on specific details of spending of appropriated public funds as security votes between 2011 and 2019, given the current security realities in the country.”
The letter with reference number NS/MOJ/ADM/108/VOL1/65, and sent on behalf of governor Al-Makura by the Nasarawa State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, read in part: “I refer to your letter dated 12th April 2019 requesting information on the spending of security votes by Nasarawa State between 2011 to date. I am directed to draw your attention to the fact that the information being requested covers a period of eight years and will require more than 7 days to process. We shall revert to you as soon as the information is ready.”
Responding, SERAP said: “Thank you for your letter and expressed commitment to disclose details of security votes spending by your State. We urge you to fast-track the process to ensure that the information is sent to us before the expiration of your term on 29th May 2019. This would be a perfect parting gift to the people of Nasarawa, and show the way for 35 other state governors and the federal government that have failed, so far, to respond to the FOI requests on security votes spending.”
SERAP’s response dated 17th May 2019, and sent to governor Al-Makura, read in part: “In light of your request, SERAP is happy to extend the period within which to provide the requested information. We would be grateful if the information is now provided to us within 7 days of the receipt and/or publication of this response, failing which SERAP shall take all appropriate legal action to compel Nasarawa state to comply with our request.”
It would be recalled that SERAP in April sent separate FOI requests to 36 state governors and Mr Buhari, stating that: “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.”
SERAP’s FOI requests to the 36 state governors and the federal government read in part: “’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. 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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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 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.”
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