Budget 2012 (3) - The Security Spending Spree




We continue our detailed review of the 2012 Budget proposals today looking closely at the amounts earmarked for the office of the NSA, the SSS, and the NIA. Our objective is to appreciate the huge amounts allocated and ask the standard quantity surveying question - is Nigeria getting value for its money? A security consultant familiar with Nigeria Gordon Duff wrote recently in www.veteranstoday.com that our security services budget for Rolls Royce and end up buying Volkswagen Beetle when procuring services and equipment. Is it plausible?


Are the amounts spent purchasing security for the Nigerian citizen, or are they making a few "security chiefs" and their appendages so stupendously rich, thereby exacerbating the income disparities, inequalities and injustice amongst us which in turn have contributed to the insecurity in our land? How are security budgets made up? How are they spent? Is there any oversight and accountability like other public funds? We will raise these and other issues, providing some insights about practices and spending processes for improvement.


First, some history of our civil security services. The first internal security organization in our country started as a department of the Nigeria Police Force, and the regional police units. The most important function of these officers was collecting information, however innocuous - that is what is called 'intelligence'. They were plain-clothes policemen living and working in their communities, in constant touch with traditional rulers, hotel owners, motor park and market managers, and even commercial sex workers as informants. These 'informants' are placed on modest payrolls - which the bulk of security vote is supposed to be utilized for. There was a similar outfit within the Nigerian Army which evolved into the Intelligence Corps. Nigeria was a safe and secure place to live in then. The system worked for most of the citizens, until quite recently.


This system and practice continued intact until the assassination of General Murtala Mohammed (may his soul rest in peace) on February 13, 1976. Abdullahi Mohammed, then a colonel and governor of Benue-Plateau State was recalled by General Obasanjo and tasked with the job of establishing a national security organization. That led to the birth of the NSO which became not only the coordinating body and clearing house of civil and military security and intelligence matters, but the main operational body of internal security and intelligence. The Research Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs focused on external counter-intelligence but with a dual reporting relationship to the NSO and the Foreign Minister.


The national security and intelligence system was restructured in the late 1980s under the Babangida administration creating three separate operating services reporting to Aliyu Mohammed, then a brigadier, as Coordinator of National Security (CONS), the precursor to the current NSA position. The old NSO was renamed the SSS, the old Research Department became the NIA, the Defence Intelligence Agency was then created, while the Police and Military maintained the remnants of their old intelligence services and remained internal to them. This remains the operating structure today to a large degree, with the change of title from CONS to NSA under Babangida. The NSA's profile rises or falls depending on the occupant of the office, personal closeness to the president, type of administration and how insecure the administration feels about its legitimacy!


Three points need to be grasped from the foregoing (1) over 90 percent of security effectiveness is proactivity arising from getting quality information, in advance (2) intelligence work is a thoughtful, patient process not the gun-toting and arresting culture we now see, and certainly NOT the extra-judicial killing of people that are intelligence assets and (3) the system worked well when quiet, analytical, 'below-the-radar' professionals did their work as operatives, while coordination is undertaken by experienced political appointees with deep intellect and good judgment, who enjoy the trust and confidence of the nation's leadership. Looking at these, and the current focus of the sector leadership on spending partly explains the gaps we see, and the high levels of insecurity in our nation.


Now back to the budget and spending priorities. The budget of each agency consists of three components - personnel costs, overhead and capital. The overhead is sub-divided into two - regular overhead which I assume is for stationery, snacks, tea, coffee, diesel for generators, and other maintenance and the "operations vote". None of these components is broken down, so while we know that the Villa wishes to spend nearly a billion on food and snacks this year, the NSA's expenditure on coffee is a state secret - a manifest absurdity! The 'operations vote' is another name for that notorious "security vote" for which no records or receipts are kept, i.e. a slush fund for the officials to spend as they please! For each of the services, this amounts to several millions daily. The capital components itemize what our intelligence services spend their investment money on - buildings, equipment and infrastructure to get their job done. We will now look at these in some detail and then encourage the reader to draw some conclusions.


The office of the NSA is supposed to advise on, and coordinate national security matters. Its direct involvement in operations is quite limited. It is therefore inexplicable that it has N2.69 billion as a lump-sum regular overhead with less than 100 staff in one location. This means the NSA intends to spend about N27 million per employee or N7.35 million every day including weekends on running his Abuja office. The NSA's security vote(operations vote) is extra - it is N950 million this year, about N2.6 million every single day of monies that are never recorded, accounted for or audited! The capital budget is some N29 billion to be spent on satellite communications including training (N8.9 billion), data signal centre/equipment (N14.4 billion), Iridium/Thuraya communication platform (N3.2 billion), 12 Jeeps with motorized direction finder (N373 million), Cyber-Security (without any enabling legislation yet) (N150 million) and Presidential Communication Network (N2 billion).


What should interest us and citizens and our national assembly members is that similar provisions were made in the 2011 Budget for all these items, so what have we spent so far and when will the budgeting cycle end and the "ongoing projects" completed? Are we getting value for money? Except for Iridium which there is enough comparative data, there aren't enough details on the other items to say no for certain and since security procurements are usually exempted from open, competitive bidding, 'due process' and procurement audits, we can all draw our conclusions.


The SSS proposes to spend about N46 billion in 2012. About half of this will go to paying the 15,000 or so staff of the service - about N1.56 million per head. The regular overhead to run the SSS offices in Abuja and all the states of the federation is a N4.14 billion. Compared with the NSA's overhead, the SSS provision looks modest! The "operations vote", that is what the SSS can freely spend on informants and intelligence is a mere N700 million for operations in 36 states, the FCT and headquarters compared with the NSA's N950 million in one advisory/coordinating location. There is something amiss here!


The capital budget of the SSS is nearly N18 billion, a nearly tenfold increase from last year's. The SSS intends to spend N1 billion on vehicles, cellphone location tracking system (N1.3bn), counter surveillance jammer (N500m), VSAT project (N1.675bn), advanced explosive detectors (total of N3bn), arms and ammunition (N500m) and construction of various office and residential buildings all over the country for N6bn. Should SSS staff live in special "provided" accommodation? Should they not live within the communities they are located, enabling blending and more effective intelligence gathering? These are policy questions that require serious consideration.


The NIA intends to spend about N41bn this year - N23.6bn for personnel costs, about N3bn for overhead and about N14.8bn for capital projects. The regular overhead to run NIA's Abuja office and its agents abroad is some N2.6bn, about the same as the NSA's office. The operations vote is N450m, less than half of the NSA's! Again, there is something that does not add up here. The NIA plans to spend a whopping N530m to buy computers (N146m), active and counter-measures equipment (N142.5m), GSM monitoring equipment (N104.5m), Access control system for Abuja office (N101m) and covert photographic equipment for N36m). If each computer and software bundle costs an average of N150,000, it means the NIA intends to buy nearly 1,000! There must be something to explain here.


The NIA wants to purchase its own firefighting engine for about N14m and upgrade its fire alarm system for N46m!. The agency intends to purchase encrypted fixed satellite terminals (N128m), 115 Bgan terminals for N100m, and an assortment of satellite communications equipment, interception systems and accessories for over N1.5bn! Bomb detectors, metal detectors and cyber-security (again!) investments will cost over N1bn. Servers, storage, central power backup and virtual private networks will cost about N2bn. 'Training and technical presentation tools' for Abuja and our 135 missions abroad will cost another N2bn.


The NIA intends to buy P.90 Belgian rifles for N1m each instead of the average retail price of about $1,900. Russian-made AK-47 assault rifles retail for between $400 and $600 in the open market, with the East European version as cheap as $100 each. We hope the N63,750 NIA proposes to spend will purchase the more expensive, original Kalashnikovs! In all the NIA will spend N286 million buying such rifles, pistols and ammunition of various kinds. Ongoing construction projects to be undertaken in the year include residential buildings (N2.28bn), Schools (N2.7bn), three entrance gates at the headquarters (N100m), the expansion of its clinic (N100m), and the rehabilitation of gym and shooting range (N321m).


Back to the value-for-money question. Are the prices that we are paying for these items the right prices? Those amongst us that are quantity surveyors, cost engineers and procurement experts would opine that we are paying way above international market prices for many of these items. However, a more pertinent question is whether the duplication of investments in satellite communications, GSM/GPS tracking and interception systems in the NSA, SSS and NIA budgets (details above) are not wasteful and proof of coordination failures! Clearly, the investments need to be streamlined with all the services connected to a 'situation room' in the NSA's office and the Villa, not what appears to be here - each agency pursuing its investment agenda independent of the other, and buying similar stuff that are probably technically incompatible.


Unless we target our resources to real needs, increase transparency and accountability in security spending as suggested by General Muhammadu Buhari in December 2011, and eliminate duplications and copy-cat procurements in our budget, we will continue to lose the value of these investments. When the spending is supposed to be for our security, it might simply end up in the pockets of officials and contractors, while the citizens get insecurity as the result. Security must not be seen as an easy, money- making machine. This is what it appears to citizens these days. We can do better. Our leaders must do better. There is no better time to act than right now, that security is on everyone's mind.