Before Governors Milk LGA’s Funds Dry

By Alabidun Shuaib Abdulrahman

The agitation for local government’s independence has been louder in recent times by well-meaning Nigerians, considering how this third tier of government has become subservient to state governors across the country.

Undoubtedly, the Local Government is the closest arm of government to the masses. As it is the responsibility of the local governments to provide basic services and projects to the communities at the grassroots.

According to the residual legislative list, every local government area has the responsibility for the periodic maintenance of cemeteries, markets and motor parks, waste collection, social care, business support, registrar services, licensing, and pet control. Meanwhile, primary education, agriculture, and health, among other activities, are what State Governments and local governments can both execute.

While the LGAs would have been able to discharge their responsibilities and also offer good governance effortlessly, there is the challenge of limited sources of revenue, a situation which has made the task of providing or executing meaningful developmental projects apparently impossible at the grassroots. And unfortunately, with the circumscribed share from federal account, the local government allocations have become Christmas chicken, which the state governors do recklessly feast on at wish.

However, to curtail the avariciousness of the governors, Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, on May 7, had issued a guideline to reduce vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawals from local government funds throughout the country. These guidelines, amongst other things, seek to systematically restore councils financial autonomy, ensure funds go directly to the council accounts, help the agency monitor transactions of the accounts, and at most, ensure transparency in how the funds are handled.

However, the governors of the 36 states, under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors Forum, have rejected the financial autonomy granted the 774 LGAs in the country.

The 36 governors also approached President Muhammadu Buhari on the actions taken by the NFIU, which they accused of dabbling into a matter that was “beyond its mandate.”

The Chairman of the NGF, who is also the outgoing Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, was said to have signed a letter to the President on behalf of his colleagues.

In the letter, the governors expressed dismay and angst at the NFIU’s “brazen attempt to ridicule” their collective integrity and “show total disregard for the constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.”

It will be recalled that the NFIU, which was excised from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, set June 1, 2019, as the take-off date of the new order, making it compulsory for all LGA allocations to go straight to their respective bank accounts.

The NFIU, in its guideline, also pegged the total amount of cash that could be withdrawn from any LGA in a day at N500, 000.

But the NGF Chairman argued that nothing in the NFIU Act 2018 gave the body the powers that it tried to exercise in the guidelines that it released, saying the unit was acting in excess of its powers and in doing so, it showed complete disregard for the constitution.

The NGF said that local government councils were not financial institutions, but creations of the constitution. The governors added that they are not reporting entities and therefore, not under the NFIU in the manner contemplated by the latter’s so-called guidelines.

The governors, therefore, contended that the NFIU should comply with “those standards on combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism and its proliferation as stipulated and not dabble into matters that are both constitutional and beyond NFIU purview.”

The NGF’s excuse, if considered, can be in contrary to the provision of Section 7 of the Nigeria’s 1999 Constitution, which states that the system of LG by democratically elected Local Government Council is guarantee and accordingly, the government of every State shall ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such Councils.

Statutorily, however, the state governments do not need to be worried about this development except there are advantages derivable in taking charge of the local government finance.

The terrible condition and development at the various local governments has been worrisome over the years. Many Nigerians do not even know the function of local governments anymore. And this is to say the least deplorable.

In time past and even now, the various state government have been accused of insensitivity especially as massive corruption has allegedly rocked the local government administration in Nigeria.

One can only call on the governor’s forum to embrace measures meant for better governance and stop agitating to keep funds if there are no ulterior motives.

It is, therefore, advisable to the state governors, instead of relying solely on the federal allocation, they should think out of the box by looking inward for resources to develop and transform their respective states because every state is blessed. They should diversify their states’ economy and increase revenue generation for development.

Also, there must be administrative procedures in our LGs to ensure dutiful, committed, dedicated and effective leaders.

The NFIU decision is well thought out and for the best interests of the Nigerian society, it should be encouraged and not stopped. It should be a case of “No Retreat, No Surrender”.

Alabidun Shuaib Abdulrahman is a staff writer with Image Merchants Promotion Limited; Publishers of PRNigeria and Economic Confidential and can be reached on alabidungoldenson@gmail.com