BY DAN OWEGIE
The Federal Government last week moved to block the illegal withdrawal of monies belonging to local councils by some state governments, a situation that have generated a lot of controversies over the years.
This is sequel to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), directive to all financial institutions, public servants and other stakeholders to comply with provisions of a guidelines and ensure including full enforcement of corresponding sanctions against violations from 1st June, 2019. The NFIU said their investigation uncovered that cash withdrawal and transactions of the State, Joint Local Government Accounts (SJLGA), poses biggest corruption, money laundering and security threats at the grassroots levels and to the entire financial system and the country as a whole.
The NFIU also came up with the explanation that the new guidelines were backed by section 162 (6) (8) of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended which states: “State Joint Local Government Account into which shall be paid allocations to the local government councils of the state from the federation account and from the government of the state”.
To so many Nigerians, this is a welcome development. The reasons are legend: First, States and Local Government Joint accounts have been a sore issue in the annals of Nigerian democratic rule as most states convert the Local Government funds to their personal estate and they only give just funds for overheads. The rest money is used in questionable manner that the NFIU has dug into and come to the conclusions necessitating the new move to safeguard Local Government funds.
Secondly, as a result of the spoils of the joint account, most governors have been rail-roaded into electoral corruption turning the SIECs into an extension of their family business as they sit in their living rooms to compile the names of the LGA chairmen. If there are issues, they announce the dissolution of the councils and set up care-taker committees. In so many instances, the elections were sham in some states, particularly where the Governor is unpopular.
Thirdly, the spoils of office of such Governors have led to undermining the party structures in the states as they now see themselves as maximum rulers, throwing caution to the winds and dictating all political positions and directions in the state without any proper consultation.
Where has all these led the nation to? Massive underdevelopment across the six geo-political zones, poor education in some states, poor primary health facilities, poor access to water supply, unpaid salaries of LG workers in some cases and poor infrastructures at the grassroots. It is tales of woe, sorrow and tears.
But there are some states that stood out. These are Edo and Lagos. In Edo State, the APC administration led by Governor Godwin Obaseki granted what can best be described as autonomy to all local government areas in the state to boost development at the grassroots. Every month, Edo people witnessed the Local Government Chairmen openly announcing the monies shared between them and the state in the monthly joint account committee meeting, just as it happens at the federal level.
The public disclosure by Edo State was seen by all as the hallmark of democratic norm of transparency and accountability, which the State Government sustained till the NFIU intervened to save other states. Overall, Edo deserves commendation from citizens.
As a fact, the Edo State Joint Account and Allocation Committee (JAAC), continued to disclose amount, which accrued to the 18 Local Government Councils in the state from the Federation Account. They also go ahead to announce what each local government area gets. This helped in drastically reducing the crisis around the Sate Local Government joint account before this new move by the NFIU.
It is therefore, heartwarming to learn that across the 774 Local Governments now, the amount standing to the credit of local government councils of a state shall be distributed among the local government councils of that state and not for other purposes.
The implications are equally enormous. It now means that the Local Government Chairmen and Councilors must now be prepared to take full responsibility. They must know that eyes are on them. They should know now that they are under the watch of the anti-graft agencies and that they have no constitutional immunity like Governors enjoy. It is good that the NFIU is responding to threats of isolating the entire Nigerian financial system by other International financial systems because of deficiencies in our anti money laundering and counter terrorism financing implementation policies.
The ACAs must be alive to their duties and join President Muhammadu Buhari to effectively fight corruption in the country. This amounts to taking the war against graft to the grassroots.
The Local councils must also take steps to boost their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) across the country, so that they can have adequate funds to drive developments at the grassroots. It is hoped that when this happens, it will go a long way in dealing with issues of insecurity in the country. The Local Governments can create the right environment and opportunity for young able-bodies men and women to seek employment or go into private ventures that can create jobs for others.
It is also gratifying to note that the Senate last week adopted a motion asking relevant stakeholders including state Houses of Assembly and the presidency to expedite action on financial autonomy for all the 774 Local Government Councils in the country to concretize this whole arrangement.
It is also good that the Senate recognizes that the NFIU guidelines would reinforce the existence of local government as an independent government established by the Constitution at the grassroots level with sovereign and elected officials.
It is important that the Nigeria Governors Forum or the 36 state governments and the FCT, fully support the implementation of the new NFIU guidelines to promote good governance at the local government areas and restore governance at the grassroots levels.
The State assemblies should as a matter of urgency fast-track their work on pending constitutional amendments which would give legal backing to local government autonomy without any further delays. Nigeria must move forward and we must all be seen to be making our own contributions in this regards.
Mr. Dan Owegie is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Edo State.