From ADETUTU FOLASADE-KOYI, Abuja
Governors and federal lawmakers are set for battle over moves by the National Assembly to grant financial autonomy to the 774 local governments. The National Assembly has listed as one of its main agenda, an amendment of section 162 (6) of the 1999 Constitution which will finally free the councils from the joint account system where their funds are being remitted into, but which is operated by governors.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State had earlier said his colleagues would resist attempts by the National Assembly to grant autonomy to local governments because they are not federating units. He declared the moves by the National Assembly as illegal. Already, some Senators have taken the battle to the doorsteps of the governors with a lobby of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the umbrella body of local governments, the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE). Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and a former national president of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Smart Adeyemi, disclosed this in Abuja at the weekend.
He said governors manipulate the joint account operated by states and local governments and cited instances where, at least, three former and serving state commissioners have been arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged fraudulent diversion of local government funds. Adeyemi said some local government chairmen have disclosed how they were made to sign for far less than was due them from the Federation Account. He cited a local government chairman who told him how he was made to sign for N40 million when the council was actually allocated N155 million from Abuja. Also speaking at the weekend, Kano State Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso said his colleagues had to intervene when council chairmen criminally divert funds meant for development of their areas.
He backed Amaechi on the two-tier system of government and warned the National Assembly not to introduce an illegality into the Constitution. However, Adeyemi insisted that the lawmakers are determined to lobby stakeholders to ensure financial autonomy for local governments by abrogating the joint account system enshrined in the Constitution. His words: “Governor Amaechi is the best governor based on what he has done in Rivers State and indeed, in his response that every month, about N2billion is given to local governments. He is intelligent and articulate, but good as those qualities are, we are equally not short of those qualities in the National Assembly.
“Unfortunately, Rivers State is not Nigeria. What he is doing in Rivers State, I wish others are doing that. If they are adding more money to the allocation of local governments, we will have no business discussing that, but as Chairman of Governors’ Forum, I hope he goes round to see what is happening in other states. Democracy is not about arrogance, but about people discussing and coming up with superior arguments. “The Chairman of the Governors’ Forum should ask his colleagues if they are doing what he is doing, if not, then, there is reason for us to be concerned. Perhaps, the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum is unaware that at least, three commissioners are standing trial for alleged diversion of local government funds.
“That alone, is a breach of the Constitution…I dare say that states doing this have endorsement of the forum; in fact, some states have, in the last two, three and four years refused to conduct elections… “I read an interview where he said that the Governors’ Forum will not allow the three tiers of government to be so entrenched in the Constitution, but let their Excellences know that it pays them to allow the three tiers of government to survive, else, they will not sleep with their two eyes closed and their old age would be disturbed. “In the course of the interview, his Excellency did say that there is nowhere in the world where in federal system of government, councils are on their own.
“We say to him that the federal system of government of our nation slightly differs from what we have in other nations of the world because of our diversity as a people. Yes, we are one Nigeria but nobody wants to have his tribe oppressed or relegated as second class citizen in your own state. “There was a case of a local government chairman who told me that he was actually supposed to collect N155 million for that month, but he received N40 million; yet, he signed that he received N155 million and I want the Chairman of the Governors’ Forum to hear this.” “If we speak from this end, we do not speak on the basis of any local environment; we speak from the collective contributions coming across the country and that is the difference between the man who is in Abuja and the man who is not in Abuja.
We look at issues from the national point of view, they look at issues, perhaps from their own states. I can appreciate what the chairman of the Governors’ Forum is saying.” “But His Excellency, Governor Amaechi should know that what you are doing, your colleagues are not doing that and that explains why we have people living below the poverty line. “Let me tell you, in my state, in my senatorial district, there are areas in Kogi State where people still use tankers to fetch water, because there is no money provided for the local government. I then asked, where is your allocation? They tell me they collect it from them in the state. When the allocations due local governments come, they are stuck in the states. “Let the governors know that we will do everything humanly possible.
I speak not only as a Senator; I speak as a journalist and as a former labour leader, that it will be inexplicable in years to come for anybody to scrap the third tier system of government in Nigeria. We will mobilise other stakeholders against entrenchment of two tiers of government in Nigeria. It’s not a progressive move for the country. We will mobilise NULGE and NLC; that they should not just fold their arms and allow this illegality to continue. “I would rather support devolution of power should go to the local governments rather than the states. We should rather scrap the states because most of them are not even viable. Corroborating Adeyemi, Vice chairman of the Trade and Investment Committee, Senator Ibrahim Musa, dismissed Amaechi’s opposition to financial autonomy for local governments, adding that section 7 of the Constitution already recognizes local governments as a tier of government.
Musa noted that governors are hiding under 162 section (6) to embezzle local government funds. “Governor Amaechi has said that local governments cannot be federating units? That is his own view; his personal opinion. Everybody has the right to express his own view and he has just done that. Local governments are recognized in the Constitution. Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution has already taken care of that. “Section 162 (6) is specific about local governments.
The problem between the local governments and the governors is rooted in section 162, sub section 6 which talks about their joint account. That is where the governors are hiding. “The National Assembly wants to amend that section, give them autonomy so that local governments can get their money directly from the source. If we do that, state governors would stop talking of stopping autonomy for local governments. “Once we can solve that problem, the local governments will perform. Please, let the governor know that local governments have been in existence before the coming into existence of the states so why are they telling us that?” Defending his colleagues, Kwankwaso wondered why the National Assembly should be concerned about autonomy of local governments when “they are not complaining.
“The opening balance of each of local government in this state is an average of over a N500million for 2013. Before we came, local governments were not paying salaries, they were just sharing the money. Now for you to say we should send money directly to the local government in Kano is to destroy what we have already built with the local governments in the state. And who said local governments are complaining?”, he queried