‘It’s a Major Step Towards True Local Government Autonomy’

Seriki Adinoyi discusses with Jos-based lawyer, Haroun Harry Audu, the directive from the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit to stop the convention of remitting monies meant for local governments into a joint state and local government account

What’s your opinion about this new policy of the Federal Government on local governments now getting their allocations directly from source without passing through the state governors like it has always been?

It is a necessary correction and a necessary development for our democracy most importantly because of the provision of the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.

We do know that there are three tiers of government constitutionally provided; the federal, the state, and the local governments, and emphatically, the local government is a creation of the law. It is therefore expected that funds meant for the federal government goes to the federal government, while that meant for the state goes to the state, and that for the local government also goes to the local government.

In my honest opinion, there has been a constitutional anomaly where in 1999 they created the joint local government account supervised by the governors. That was a total shortchanging of the local governments in terms of funds that were supposed to go to them directly.

Even though these funds come into the local government accounts, by the extra constitutional provision that set-up joint local government account, the funds are warehoused and administered at the pleasure of the governors and their appointees.

So, what has happened by this policy, which we understand is at the instance of the National Financial Intelligence Unit, is to restore the constitutional sanity that should ordinarily apply to the local government, that is, to take their resources meant for them.

In my view, this policy is to secure the local governments from the banditry and kidnapping mentality of the state governors and their appointees at the ministries of local government and the state houses of assembly, who ordinarily should have direct constitutional oversight over these local governments, but are conniving with the governors to shortchange the local government.

It’s a fantastic policy that we want to see actually coming to be. I say this because there are many of such policies in the past, but whether they have been executed to the letter is a different story all together. And we do have a history as a people of making huge pronouncements. We are long on talk and short on carrying them out.

But as a Lawyer, you know that it is not spelt out in the constitution that the funds should go directly to the local governments.

The provision of the 1999 Constitution, Section 162(6), requires each State to maintain “a special account to be called State Joint Local Government Account, into which shall be paid all allocation to the Local Government Council…”

Despite the constitutional provision, the serial allegations of state governments meddling with local government funds and thereby undermining their financial autonomy cannot be ignored because these are facts of our existence.

In just about every state in Nigeria, there is evidence of undue access and deduction from the joint account by the state governments. These states have misused, abused and misapplied funds from the joint accounts for all kinds of reckless purposes.

The state-local government joint allocation committee should be scrapped while funds from the federation account should be sent to the local governments directly. The new policy emanating from the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) should serve as a major step towards true local government autonomy; being a tier of government constitutionally guaranteed and secured.

The foundation is that the constitution provides for three tiers of government. Unfortunately, one of the biggest things that have happened to us in the negative, is that in every state, the local government system has been compromised. We don’t even have democratically elected leaders as such at that level, which is also a constitutional provision. State governors hijack the local government and impose caretaker leaders or they manipulate local government elections and put client or compliant leaders at that level who will continue to support their banditry of hijacking funds. I do not agree with the argument that because the constitution does not spell it out, nothing should be done about it. In fact, the distribution of resources is actually an engineering process between the three tiers of government. What has happened is that the local government has been shut-out because we have undermined the democratic credentials of the local governments.

Do you see the Governors going to court o this?

Honestly, I don’t see the governors going to court on this, because they too know how wrong it has been.

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