Local government workers under the auspices of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) and the 36 state governors have taken to the trenches over the guidelines issued by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) on councils’ funds.
While NULGE urged President Muhammadu Buhari to ignore the opposition of the governors to the guidelines, the state chief executives said the guidelines are aberrations and should be discarded.
In a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari which LEADERSHIP Weekend obtained, the council workers accused the governors of turning the joint state local government account into a source of “slush fund” from which they routinely withdraw money without any form of accountability or restraint.
The letter signed by NULGE president, Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, described the guidelines from the NFIU as bold steps to end the unconscionable financial recklessness by the governors who are feasting on funds meant for the 774 local councils in the country.
Khaleel said: “Before now, as Your Excellency is aware, local government funds sent to the joint state-local government account have been subjected to the most unimaginable abuse by state governors across the federation. The governors almost without exception have since 2003 turned this account into a source of ‘slush fund’, from which they routinely withdraw funds without any form of accountability or restraint.
“Against the background of what we know about the operations of the state local government joint account, the measures outlined in the NFIU’s guidelines will go a long way in checking the practices of governors who hide behind their immunity while in office to commit all manners of atrocities in the misuse of funds meant for grassroots developments across the federation.
“For us in the local government system, who have been victims of the financial maladministration and financial recklessness by state governors, nothing in the guidelines indicates that the federal authority is desirous of encroaching on the duties and responsibilities of any of the two other tiers of government-states and local government, in the tripod that makes up the federation. We do not see how ensuring that the funds meant for the councils reach the intended destination offend in any way the provisions of section 162 of the constitution and its various subsections,” he said.
Khaleel argued that contrary to the assertion of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) that the NFIU guidelines are “stoking mischief and also deliberately seeking to cause disaffection, chaos and overheat the polity”; it is the opinion of NULGE that it is the governors who have been ganging up to prevent the wishes of the people of Nigeria to guaranteed financial and administrative autonomy for the third tier of government.
The NULGE boss also accused the governors of ganging up to frustrate previous attempts by the National Assembly to grant financial and administrative autonomy to the local government system.
On their part, the governors for the second time in a week, described the NFIU’s enforcement and guidelines to reduce crime vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawals from local government funds throughout Nigeria which is to take effect from June 1 as an aberration.
According to the governors, It defies logic, pointing out that it has, therefore, been rejected by all the 36 governors of the federation at their last meeting of May 22, in its entirety, because it is not only revisionist but issued in bad taste.
In a statement issued yesterday by the head, Media Affairs of the NGF, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, he argued that “it is revisionist because it portrays the NFIU as an agency that is totally oblivious of the workings of states and local governments in the country and it at once exposes the NFIU as either over-ambitious or trying hard to impress the presidency.”
Barkindo noted the so-called NFIU guidelines portend imminent danger for the nation’s democracy and if left to flourish may impede the smooth running of local government administrations throughout the country.
For a start, he explained that Section 7 (6) (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) confers on the states and National Assemblies the powers to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to the councils in the federation and within the states respectively.
He said: “Similarly, Section 162 (6) of the same constitution expressly provides for the creation of the State 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.
“Most importantly, Section 162 (7) of the constitution confers on the NASS the power to prescribe terms and manners in which funds from the SJLGA may be disbursed and in subsection (8) the constitution empowers the State Houses of Assemblies to prescribe the manner in which the amount standing to the credit of councils in the state shall be distributed.
“Therefore, to observe the NFIU guidelines is to hold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in breach. This is because nothing in the NFIU Act 2018 gives the NFIU the powers that it seeks to exercise and in giving those guidelines, the NFIU is acting in excess of its powers and in strict violation and disregard for the constitution of the country.
“If the NFIU had bothered to confer with the relevant stakeholders of the joint accounts it would have understood the rudimentary aspects of the accounts that make it impossible, incongruent to reason and impracticable for any authority apart from the constitution, to sever states from that account, the NGF said.