UMAR MOHAMMED writes on the intrigues surrounding the disbursement of local government funds in Zamfara State
The idea of local government was mooted in 1976 by the Military administration of General Murtala Mohammed to serve as an intermediary player between the federal, state authorities and the grassroots as well as fast track accelerated development.
In other words, the smooth running of the society needs to be cemented from the grassroots through adequate representations, policy formulations, implementations, and equitable distributions of resources and services.
Unfortunately, to suit their interests and political agenda, federal and state governments maintained great level of influence and control over local authorities. Analysts opine that this scenario impacted, negatively, the effectiveness and performance of the local government.
The introduction of joint accounts was part of the ploy by state governors to have absolute control of funds meant for the local governments.This development had rendered the 774 local government councils in the country ineffective in terms of running the local administration, especially, the common services expected from the councils.
The series of complaints over time by the Association of Local Government of Nigeria, (ALGON) and Nigeria Union of Local Government employees, (NULGE) have attracted the attention of the National Assembly on the need to address the longstanding problem between the state and local government council.
It is important to state here that the Nigerian constitution allows governors to receive monies from the center on behalf of the local governments and to decide what is disbursed to local governments thereafter.
The intervention of the National Financial Intelligence Unit, (NFIU) ordering for funds to be paid directly to local government account, has brought an end to the unnecessary monopoly by state governments in the country.
As the directive for the direct allocation of local government funds took effect from June, many council chairmen are poised to disagree with the state government over the new policy.
The party differences in Zamfara State may have been the main reason, the disagreement between the local government chairmen and state government came to the fore.
Following the release of the allocation, the council chairmen were invited for the monthly Joint Account Allocation Committee (JAAC) meeting. The APC council chairmen outrightly disagreed with the fomula for the sharing of the funds.
ALGON walked out of the meeting with the state government officials in protest against the alleged unlawful attempt to shortchange the local governments of the monthly federation grants.
The chairman Maradun local council, Alhaji Ahmad Abubakar, who is also, ALGON spokesman disclosed at a press briefing that the current policy of the federal government and the guidelines released by the NFIU and the CBN was recently approved by the president.
He said the policy stipulates that the state and local government joint account should be shared according to the accepted formula by which local government share should directly be remitted into local government accounts.
The ALGON further explained that the new policy has prohibited banks from releasing local government fund from the joint account into any account other than remitting it directly into the local government account.
Abubakar disclosed that when the local government chairmen were invited by the joint account committee for a meeting, ‘’We were shown a table indicating that after all deductions were paid, the amount due for each local government was only five million (N5m)’’.
This according to him, is a gross violation of the law on the new policy on joint account funds, querying that the huge balance of between seventy to eighty million (N70-80m) naira was still hanging in the joint account instead of releasing it to the rightful owners.
He said this unlawful action has compelled the local government chairmen to walk out of the meeting in protest against the violation of the approved federal policy of the joint account sharing formula.
The chairman threatened that if the animality is not corrected, ‘’the option is to go to court for an interpretation’’, alleging that this action was a deliberate plan to discredit the local council chairmen in the face of the rural communities by ‘’creating false impression against us’’, he said.
In a swift reaction, senior special assistant on Media and Communication to the governor, Zailani Baffa said barely twenty four hours after accusing the Government, His Excellency, Governor Bello Muhammad Matawalle of meddling with their funds, the Association of Local Governments in Nigeria, ALGON, Zamfara State Chapter, has made further clarification to their stance.
Addressing journalists after a brief meeting with the governor, spokesperson of the Association, Alhaji Ahmad Abubakar Maradun said it became imperative to address the media again following the meeting with the state Governor which ironed out “an earlier perceived misunderstanding”.
Maradun said there was a gap of understanding which is now clarified and understood by both parties, hence, the JAAC will now continue without any hitch. Maradun added “We also discussed on the security situation in our 14 local government areas of the state with His Excellency the Executive Governor”.
The disagreement in the sharing of the local government funds might have caused unnecessary delay in the payment of certain category of workers, such as local government staff, primary school teachers, emirate council and pensioners.
Following, the intervention of the state governor, Hon. Bello Mohammed Matawalle, the council chairmen reconvened their meeting with the officials of the ministry for local government and chieftaincy affairs.
The second meeting was conducted peacefully without any acrimony.
The ALGON chairman, Hon. Mohammed Umar said the intervention of the state governor had saved the situation.
According to him, the council chairmen have now better understanding of the formula and agreed upon it.
“ We have reached a workable agreement with the state government and all is now well between us”, he added. With the truce amongst the JAAC members, the payment of salary to local government staff, emirate councils, mass agency workers and local government pensioners would be effected.
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