It is no longer news that Nigeria is caught in a whirlwind of security challenges. From Boko Haram and Islamic State insurgents in the North East to kidnappers, bandits and marauders in the North west through rogue herdsmen in the North Central and Southern regions, it is clear that the nation is battling multiple security demons at the same time.
While this unfortunate situation has many spin-offs and implications, one that is increasingly rising to the fore is the pressure being exerted on the nation’s finances even as governments across the spectrum are compelled to funnel more and more resources into responding to and wading off as many of these threats as they can address.
At the federal level for example, as much as N4.62 trillion has reportedly been spent on National Security in the past five years. Indeed, for an administration that had ridden to power on the back of its very trenchant criticism of its predecessor on notably its failings in the security sector, the fact of the security sector gulping about the highest chunk of the country’s expenditures in sectoral terms even as the nation continues to be confronted with very grave security challenges across board comes across as most inexplicable.
More disclosures even point to the fact that across a broader seven-year period, overall national defence spending may have gulped as much as N8trillion.
Even more telling is the fact that with the poor state of the Nigerian national economy overall, the deficit component of the budget has continued to balloon, implying that the country is borrowing more and more to service a lot of its expenditure, including of course and indeed most notably, security spending.
Despite the sector guzzling as much resources as the nation can find and dispense with, the results as far as all can see remain dismal. In the 2020 Global Terrorism Index for example, Nigeria was still credited as holding on firmly to the third spot, even as this was literally the fifth consecutive year that the nation was being ranked in that ignoble position since the advent of the Buhari administration in 2015.
Equally transmigrating is the fact that Africa;s largest economy by GDP size has also been ranked as the eighth least peaceful country in the continent. It ranked 146th on the Global Peace Index out of a total of 163 countries that were surveyed.
In the midst of these, the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, has also recently disclosed that the country was intent on borrowing some N722.53 billion ($1.76 billion) from the domestic capital markets to be deployed in funding the fight against insecurity.
On this, while many believe that more funds are required to tackle issues of inadequate weaponry and obsolete equipment, as well as welfare for military and security personnel, in addition to boosting the intelligence capacity of security agencies, there are also added concerns being raised about the need to realistically assess the depth of the challenge and then take corresponding action to address it.
This is more so when the evidence on the ground clearly indicates that past increases in security spending have not translated to markedly outright and sustained improvements in the security situation.
In 2015 for example, of the national budget tally of N4.405 trillion, the security sector got N988,892,506,442.
In 2016, of the total budget of N6.06 trillion, the security sector was awarded N1.07 trillion. This moved up to N1.15 trillion in 2017 when the budget tally grew to N7.44 trillion.
In 2018, as the total budget was N9.12 trillion, the security sector was gifted N1.35 trillion. And for 2019 and 2020 when the total budget was put at N8.92 trillion and N10.59 trillion, the security sector gulped N1.4 trillion and N1.8 trillion respectively.
In the current N13.59 trillion 2021 budget, the security sector was awarded N1.96 trillion. But yet another N722.53 billion is currently being processed to be added in the form of supplementary budget provisions.
On the regional plain, Nigeria’s military budget is said to be far greater than the combined armed forces spending of the rest of the countries in the West African sub-region.
Even beyond the sub-region, other estimates suggest that Nigeria is the second-largest spender on the continent after South Africa.
Now, no one in his right senses would tell any country faced with severe and debilitating security challenges as Nigeria to penny pinch in the critical regard of spending what it must to bring the crippling situation under control.
But even at that it has to be reasoned that there must also be a corresponding and well-thought out plan towards ensuring that unbridled security sector spending does not itself come to contribute toward the perpetuation, if not the worsening of the crisis situation.
For example, concern has been raised as to what has been described as a general absence of reliable performance reports by the security agencies. While this is often parried on account of the sensitive nature of the security enterprise, the fact that several notable security functionaries have been tried and continue to be tried ostensibly for abusing their positions of fiscal trust in the past underscores the case for greater transparency, audit and control in security expenditure management.
But even beyond this is the clear fact that given the scale and scope of the challenge and the overall climate of poverty and alienation in the country, a lot more must be done in the area of non-security sector resolution of the challenge. If you take away money for critical needs like education, food, health and shelter you may very well be providing an even added incentive for citizens to be lured into criminality on account of the deprivations that they face arising from the welfare cuts in the budget.
Yet another point is the essential opacity involved in arms procurement processes at the moment with many complaining that part of why the situation is this dire is because there is very little control of the processes involved.
There is also the clamour for the overall restructuring of the federation and a deepening of the dialogue option. For example, some have reasoned that the rising tide of agitations for secession in some parts of the country can be better curtailed through a more dialogue-centred engagement with leaders and actors that emphases elements of fairness, equity, and justice.
One other challenge remains the proliferation of light arms in the country as well as the poor state of border control and enforcement.
There is also concern that should the issues not be controlled and brought under check in good time, even the forthcoming bellwether elections in 2023 may be endangered.