Governors of the 36 states of the federation are uncomfortable with the decision of the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to monitor the operations of the controversial state/local government joint account.
The governors, who deplored the NFIU’s move yesterday, described it as illegal because it was beyond the agency’s mandate.
They, therefore, asked President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the matter by calling NFIU to order.
The chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) and governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, signed a letter in which the governors expressed “dismay and angst at this brazen attempt by the NFIU to ridicule our collective integrity and show total disregard for the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended)”.
NFIU, which was excised from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC, sets June 1, 2019 as the takeoff date for the new order, making it compulsory for all local governments’ allocations to go straight to their respective bank accounts.
The decision was contained in a guideline released by the NFIU after a meeting with officials of commercial banks in Abuja.
According to a statement issued yesterday by the NGF head, media affairs, Abdulrazaque Bello Barkindo, from the letter written by the governors, titled Re: “NFIU Enforcement and Guidelines to Reduce Crime Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawal from Local Government Funds Throughout Nigeria Effective June 1s, 2019”, the NGF drew the attention of the president to Section (6) (a) and (b) of the Nigerian Constitution (as amended) which confers on the states and National Assemblies the powers to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to the local councils in the federation and within the states respectively.
In the letter dated May 15, 2019, the governors added that Section 162 (6) of the same constitution 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
Yari 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 of the constitution of Nigeria.”
The NGF chairman accused the NFIU of “stoking mischief and also deliberately seeking to cause disaffection, chaos and overheat the polity.”
Yari argued that the councils are a creation of the constitution and are not financial institutions. They are not reporting entities and are therefore not under the NFIU in the manner contemplated by the NFIU so-called guidelines, he stated.
The governors said that “in principle, the NFIU should concentrate on its core mandate of anti-money laundering activities and combatting financing terrorism as prescribed in the Act establishing it and should desist from encroaching on or even breaching constitutional provisions.
“The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) is the Nigerian arm of the Global Financial Intelligence Unit (GFIU) once domiciled within the EFCC but now for the purpose of institutional location domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“This means the NFIU is only mandated to trace or track laundered money that finds its way into terrorism financing and report such to the nation’s security agencies.
“The NFIU should seek to comply with those standards on combating money laundering and financing of terrorism and its proliferation as stipulated and not dabble into matters that are both constitutional and beyond NFIU’s purview,” the NGF said.
States Urged To Adopt Federal Budgeting Model
Meanwhile, state governments have been advised to adopt the budgeting model operated at the federal level where the monies due to the judiciary and the legislature are captured as first line charge in the annual budget laid before and passed by the National Assembly.
The call was made by the Presidential Implementation Committee on Autonomy of State Legislature and State Judiciary in a communique it issued at the end of a two-day retreat held in Abuja and signed by the attorney-general of the federation and minister of Justice, who is the PIC Chairman, Abubakar Malami (SAN), presidential liaison to the National Assembly (Senate) and secretary (PIC), Senator Ita Enang and, 20 other members.
In March 22, 2019, President Buhari had inaugurated the committee to fashion out a workable national strategy for the implementation of financial autonomy of state legislature and judiciary in accordance with the provisions of Section 121(3) of the 1999 Constitution (Fourth Alteration) whereby funds appropriated to these two tiers of governments at the state level, are released to them directly.
Accordingly, the committee noted that there were various levels of minimal compliance in various states but all fall short of the expected compliance, as budget performance across the 36 states of the federation showed that the least allocations to the state judiciary in the past three years was 0.6 per cent of the budget of the entire state, whilst the highest allocation was 4.89 per cent.
The governors, being the heads of the executive arm of government were urged to begin the full implementation of the financial autonomy granted the legislature and the judiciary.
The committee said that the budget proposal of the legislature and the judiciary should be defended before the relevant committees of the legislature, adding that the total sum, both capital and recurrent expenditures, approved should be released monthly on a prorata basis by the accountant-general of the state, directly to the heads of the legislature and the judiciary, and heads of the Judicial Service Committee or Commission.
It added that the budgeted sum, capital and recurrent, howsoever described, be released to the judiciary to be spent by the judiciary on the projects, programmes and capital development of the judiciary, including recruitment and training of personnel and the same applied to the legislature.
The committee declared that the current practice in some states where appropriated recurrent expenditure due to the judiciary and the legislature in the budget, are released to the judiciary and legislature and the capital components are warehoused in the executive, is hereby abolished.
According to the presidential committee, the model budget template of the judiciary and legislature, the strata of line consultations and inter arms, as well as inter-agency pre-budget consultations and front loading as already done in some states, should be adopted.
The committee expressed its appreciation to the NGF over its commitment to the implementation of the financial autonomy of state legislature and judiciary in accordance with the 4th Alteration to the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
However, the presidential committee called for the establishment of a State Allocation Committee comprising the commissioner of finance, the accountant-general of the state, the clerk of the state House of Assembly, the chief registrars of high courts, Sharia Court of Appeal and Customary Courts, the secretary of the Judicial Service Commission/Committee and the secretary of the State Assembly Service Commission if any, for the purpose of determining the amount due to each arm of government based on the budgetary provision but subject to the funds available to the state.
The retirement benefit and pensions of judicial officers of superior courts of records in the state should be paid by the National Judicial Council (NJC) as they receive their salaries and allowances from the council while in office, the committee stated.
It further encouraged all state Houses of Assembly to pass the Funds Management Law or Budget Process Law by whatever name called, as a legal framework that will ensure judicious budgeting and use of funds accruing to the state.
The retreat was opened by the acting Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Ibrahim Tanko Mohammed, who was represented by the administrator of the National Judicial Institute (NJI), Justice Rosaline Bozimo (rtd). It was attended by stakeholders from the legislature, the judiciary, representatives of Judicial Staff Union of Nigeria, representatives of Parliamentary Staff Union of Nigeria (PASAN), and civil society organisations.
Malami was represented by the solicitor-general and permanent secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, Mr. Tayo Akpata.
Goodwill messages were delivered by the Speaker, House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Governor Yari, who was represented by Governor A. Abubakar of Bauchi State, and Dr. Clement Nkwankwo, director, Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC).
The meeting commended President Buhari for signing into law the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (Fourth Alteration) and for inaugurating PIC and described it as a clear demonstration of his commitment to give effect to the financial autonomy of the legislature and the judiciary at the state level.
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