The recent statement by the President, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Comrade Ibrahim Khalil, attributing the increase in poverty among the average Nigerians to lack of absolute autonomy of local government administration, once again brings to the fore the vexed issue of the autonomy of the third third tier of government. Khalil stated this penultimate Sunday while briefing journalists at Wudil town, in the Wudil local government area of Kano state. He said the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically affected the development of local government administration and it was a great set back to the development of the nation.
The NULGE president said the steps embarked upon by the state governors rejecting the autonomy of local governments was unwise and it is a serious challenge to the security of the nation. He stated that if local government administrations are handicapped, financially, job opportunities for the teeming youths at local the level would not be available, which can lead to the mass trooping of youths to the urban centers, resulting in an increase in the rate of crimes and other social vices. He, however, said NULGE would not relent in the struggle for local government autonomy with the aim of ensuring a better life for the nation.
It is instructive that the eighth senate had in May last year, shortly before it wound up, adopted a motion asking relevant stakeholders including state houses of assembly and the presidency to expedite action on the financial autonomy for all the 774 local government councils in the country The senators frowning on the alleged mismanagement of state/local government joint accounts by state governors.
This was sequel to the adoption of a motion moved by Senator Sabi Abdullahi (Niger North), over the financial guidelines issued by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) at the time. Abdullahi in the motion tagged: “Guidelines to reduce vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawals from LG funds throughout Nigeria effective 1st June,” said issuance of the new guidelines was prompted by threats by international financial watchdogs to sanction Nigeria because of financial abuse.
According to him, the NFIU guidelines would reinforce the existence of the local government as an independent government established by the constitution at the grassroots level with sovereign and elected officials. Supporting the moves by NFIU, the senate said the guidelines limit cash transactions in the accounts of local governments to a daily maximum of N500,000 and subsequent withdrawal must be by approved cheques or electronic payment channels to promote registered transactions by all the local governments.
It called on the 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), to fully support the implementation of the NFIU guidelines to promote good governance at the local government areas and restore governance at the grassroots level. Contributing to the debate on the motion, the then Deputy Senate President and Chairman of Senate Committee on Constitution Review, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, urged the senate to liaise with the NFIU to ensure that the guidelines are not in conflict with any part of the constitution.
He appealed to state houses of assembly to fast-track their work on pending constitutional amendments, which would give legal backing to local government autonomy. Ekweremadu warned that if any section of the constitution is flouted, governors may challenge the move in court. He said the best option was to amend the various sections of the constitution to grant full autonomy to local governments.
But former Plateau State Governor, Senator Jonah Jang (Plateau North), faulted the motion. He said, “In some states, the state government takes over the local government funds and abuse it. We have also witnessed local government chairmen signing cheques at the beer parlours. On his part, the then Deputy Leader of the Senate, Senator Bala Ibn Na’alla, said: “If we succeed in executing this, 60 per cent of corruption in Nigeria will be resolved. This will be a major landmark if the senate decides to follow through its resolutions,”
The then Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, in his contribution urged the standing committees on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes; State and Local Governments, to follow up and ensure that positions reached by the senate are adhered to. He said the local governments, as currently constituted, can’t deliver dividends of democracy to the people as long as state governors are in charge of the funds.
NFIU’s new guidelines mandates financial institutions to distribute funds accruable to local governments among the local government councils of that state and not for other purposes. “With effect from June 1, any bank that allows any transaction from any local government account without monies first reaching a particular local government account will be sanctioned 100 per cent, locally and internationally. In addition, a provision is also made to the effect that there shall be no cash withdrawal from any local government account for a cumulative amount exceeding N500,000 per day,” the guidelines stated.
We are miffed that governors have continued to disregard both the NFIU guidelines and the subsisting senate resolution granting financial autonomy to local governments in the country. This is quite despicable as it against the rule of law. We, therefore, urge the presidency to call the governors to order with a view to deepening our democratic principles and practice.