As the June 1 commencement has passed, suddenly the all powerful governors have something to chew about, and it is none other than the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU directive over council funds. The newly created unit incurred the wrath of state governors last month when it told them to steer clear of Local Government funds effective from June 1. The NFIU had on May 6, 2019 issued new guidelines to reduce vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawals from local government funds throughout the country. This was part of the measures put in place by the Federal Government to guarantee the much desired Local Government autonomy. President Muhammadu Buhari had last year signed the NFIU bill into law, thus separating the agency from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
What the new guidelines mean is that governors may lose control of Local Government funds, as the guidelines bars them from tampering with funds meant for local councils from June 1. With the new guidelines, the joint account system currently operated by states and local governments now exists only for the receipt of allocations from the federation account but not for disbursement. The new measures place a daily cash transaction limit of N500,000 for each of the Local Government areas, which would be registered and monitored by the NFIU through e-payment module.
We are surprised (and not surprised) at the loud protest by state governors. They say the measure is a brazen attempt by the NFIU to ridicule their integrity. According to them, the NFIU had no business with how state governments disburse funds to their respective local governments.
The governors under the aegis of Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, in a letter issued on their behalf by Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, spokesman of the forum, asked President Buhari to call the NFIU to order. They argued that the move violates the constitution, insisting that they have the powers to make statutory allocations to the Local Governments. Taking their argument further, the governors said Section 162 (6) of the 1999 constitution (as amended) expressly provides for the creation of the States Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA) into which shall be paid all allocations to the LGAs of the state from the Federation Account and from the government of the state. The NGF emphasised that nothing in the NFIU Act 2018 gives the body the powers that it seeks to exercise in the guidelines that it released and is therefore acting in excess of its powers and by so doing, exhibits complete disregard for the constitution of Nigeria.
On the other hand and quite surprisingly, it is also trite to say that the Local Government administration is completely dead in Nigeria. For the records, it is state governors that killed it. Despite being the third tier of government in Nigeria (as envisaged by the 1999 constitution as amended), state governors have brazenly taken over the running of local governments for more than a decade now. Most state governors have blatantly refused to conduct Local Government elections. They appoint their hangers on as caretaker chairmen for years. Even where they conduct elections, the positions are filled by all sorts of stooges who do not care to assert their constitutional rights so long as they can collect their own salaries. Thus Nigerian LGAs are nothing but drain pipes. A tier created to advance development and ensure economic activity at the rural level is nothing but a scam. Yet governors make constitutional claims that are best observed in breach.
There is no gainsaying that governance is dead at the Local Government level. In most cases, council workers (that is where they are paid at all) only appear at the end of the month to collect salaries they never worked for. It is worthy of note that states and their local governments are supposed to collaborate on issues related to development of agriculture and non-mineral natural resources, health services as well as primary, adult and vocational education. Presently, there are 774 local government areas in Nigeria.
Specifically, these local councils are to deal with issues related to roads, street lighting, drainage and other public facilities, including sewage and refuses disposal, homes for destitute and infirm, cemeteries and burial grounds, as well as economic planning and developments.
The discussion stirred by NFIU is a patriotic one. Whether they are not empowered to carry out what they have decided to do is another matter. But something must be done and urgently too to rescue Local Government funds from the vice grip of state governors. This must be done as urgently as yesterday. Council funds are not state funds.