Nigeria's Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, and the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) have tackled each other over the legality of the use of security votes by governors.
Mr Buratai questioned the legality of the funds, arguing that some Nigerian governors hide under the cloak of immunity to embezzle the cash.
But the Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, who heads the forum, differed saying the transparent and proper utilisation of the cash is what is required.
Mr Buratai said the security votes were being misapplied as they are not meant to tackle insecurity or improve policing work in the country as many governors assume.
He, however, did not specify its correct usage.
The army chief said this at the quarterly policy dialogue on accountability for security votes which held at the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) headquarters in Abuja.
The event was organised by the Anti-Corruption Academy of Nigeria (ACAN), a research and training arm of the ICPC.
It had in attendance the Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi; former governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Wamakko; the ACAN provost, Sola Akinrinade, and others.
Mr Buratai, citing a foremost senior lawyer, Robert Clark, said the use of security votes by executives is unconstitutional.
He added that many governors "have taken advantage of their immunity cover from prosecution which prevents them from being checked until they leave the office, to embezzle and misappropriate the funds".
Security vote in Nigeria was introduced during the military regime of former Head of State, Ibrahim Babangida.
Transacted mostly in cash, it is not subject to legislative oversight or independent audit because of its ostensibly sensitive nature.
The funds are a monthly allowance allocated to the 36 states, aimed at "funding security services within such states".
The monthly fund runs into billions of naira and varies based on the level of security required by the individual state.
According to a 2018 report by Transparency International, (TI), titled Camouflaged Cash, 29 states in Nigeria spent an average of $580 million (N208.8 billion) yearly on security votes.
Shrouded in secrecy
Mr Buratai said the use of the security votes should be audited for better transparency.
"We should also take note that the security vote is not a defence vote. It is not meant for the armed forces, according to Robert Clark. For a long time, this security votes has been operated unconstitutionally.
"Strictly speaking, it is not meant to tackle insecurity. This security vote should also be subjected to audit. If it is not done, then it is quite wrong," he said.
He added that, "we have funding for the ministry of defence and the armed forces, what is the fund meant for. We also have the police fund, and they are budgeted for and other security services like 'department for state services,' civil defence and the rest, so if they have budgets for to run affairs, why security votes again?
"There are several criticisms on the security votes, that they are subject to embezzlement, corruption, and misappropriation, and that the governors take advantage of the immunity in the constitution that they are not checked until they leave office. But if this is made constitutional, with proper guidelines, I think these issues would be laid to rest."
The army chief also said the National Assembly could tap from the American Social Security Act formally Economic Security bill was passed into law by the 74th United State Congress on June 19, 1935, during the tenure of President Theodore Roosevelt.
The Social Security Act aims at creating a system of transfer payments in which younger, working people support older, retired people as well as insurance against unemployment. The law was part of former President Roosevelt's New Deal domestic programme.
Mr Buratai said the assembly could transform the security vote into an act of parliament
"What lesson do we get from here? As I said earlier, Robert Clark, a senior lawyer, said our security vote, which we confirmed is not constitutional, why can't we make this bill as an act by the National Assembly. It is very important it should be streamlined."
He assured the ICPC that all the funds that have been appropriated for the Nigerian Army operations in either in the North-east or any part of the country "are always properly accounted for and judiciously utilised".
However, Ekiti State governor, Kayode Fayemi, tackled Mr Buratai on his assertions. He said the use of security votes is not 'illegal'.
"The popular sentiment that the appropriation of security vote in Nigeria is unconstitutional, which was created by the military, that it is illegal, is actually wrong," he said. "It is unfounded. The narrative is actually wrong. For a fact that a large amount of money is expended for security vote does not make it illegal."
Kayode Fayemi NGF
"But it (usage) should adhere to the international best practices by ensuring that every government funds budgeted or expended are appropriated by the legislature," he said.
"The initiative for example by Lagos State when it set up the security trust fund that is managed by the joint government-private sector management, it is a viable one and I believe it can be effective," Mr Fayemi, who is also the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, said.
In his keynote speech, Mr Fayemi, said the call for the end of security votes by Nigerians "is as a result of mistrust and bad leadership of the people administering the funds".
He said the funds are not meant for the state executives "to spend anyhow and misappropriate".
"The use of security vote is also becoming more systematic and less ad-hoc in essence that you can go there and see what is done with the funds. I give credit to the military.
"In my state, there is nothing we give to the military that we do not get an invoice of monthly ration. We have the record and the military also do," he said.
Mr Fayemi said security funds should not be totally termed as illegal but "should adhere to the international best practices by ensuring that every government expenditure is budgeted and appropriated."