As the third tier of government, the local government areas are naturally the closest to the people and hence, are expected to address the immediate needs of those in the rural areas.
Unfortunately, due largely to endemic corruption, the councils are literally in chains and hence, lacked the capacity to provide the basic services for which they were created.
It is a statement of fact that corruption has eaten deep into the very fabric of our nation’s developments and it has also cut open the nation’s arteries and letting it bleed to death.
Whenever issues involving the inability of councils to function effectively are raised, fingers are often pointed towards the direction of state governors whom many believe have rendered the LGs ineffective due to excessive financial control.
However, it is increasingly clear that while the governors’ refusal to grant what many referred to as financial autonomy to the councils is at the heart of the factor impeding effective functioning of the local governments, the attitude of some kleptocrats at the local government level have further exacerbated the challenge.
In Nasarawa State, like most states of the federation, the councils are literally idle, not being able to execute basic projects due to paucity of funds due partly to mismanagement by the council officials.
It got so bad that even though the council areas received monthly allocation from the federal government, the payment of salaries which became the only thing they could do, was becoming almost impossible.
Gradually, the council workers perhaps for no fault of theirs were subjected to untold hardship occasioned by the payment of salaries in percentages. Like most of them admitted, the councils’ staff were silently bearing excruciating pains they never expected.
Like their counterparts at the state and federal levels, they envisaged regular payment of salaries and pensions, but the reverse was the case.
As stated earlier, things got so bad that for years, workers in the Nasarawa State council areas were paid salaries in percentages. But why were the council workers not paid their real due?
Findings revealed that most LGs in the state have overbloated payrolls which were as a result of the fact that some officials inserted fictitious names in the salary vouchers and claimed the money every month.
Through this criminal act, the councils were repeatedly fleeced of monies running to millions of naira. This, unfortunately, has been the trend for years in the state.
It is also observed that these officials also apply for unnecessary claims and allowances, at the expense of the development of their councils, thereby pushing the local governments into bankruptcy.
Not satisfied with the manner in which local government funds were recklessly tampered with, the Nasarawa State government decided to beam its searchlight on the councils to arrest the ugly situation.
It was on this note that the administration of the former governor, Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, in 2017 directed the enforcement of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) and the use of Bank Verification Number (BVN) in the payment of the salary of council workers. As should be expected, this exposed lots of ghost workers across the 13 local government and 18 development areas of the state.
LEADERSHIP Friday reports that a forensic audit and screening revealed that council areas have only 58,000 genuine workers and pensioners.
The audit further revealed that councils also lost over N990 million annually to leakages. The forensic audit showed clearly that massive corruption was being perpetrated by some officials in the council areas.
Understandably, the current administration of Governor Abdullahi Sule inherited these challenges and hence, set out to clean the Augean Stable by proverbially continuing from where his predecessor stopped.
Also, disturbed by the trend and determined to unravel this and ultimately end it, the current Nasarawa State House of Assembly (NSHA) set-up a six-man committee to investigate the finances of the state Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, over the non-payment of salary of local government staff and other unnecessary deductions of the council funds.
The speaker, Hon. Ibrahim Balarabe Abdullahi, while constituting the committee after Hon Danladi Jatau (PDP, Kokona West) raised the issue under matter of public interest, described the rot at the local governments as disheartening and unfortunate.
“What is happening in the local governments is sad and unfortunate; we cannot fold our hands to see our brothers and sisters who are working at the local governments suffering,” he said.
The speaker promised that the House would continue to ensure that the right things are done in the interest of the state and for the overall development of the country.
While raising the motion, Hon Jatau, the minority leader of the House, said that there was the compelling need to “investigate what is happening with the finances of the local governments in the state and why their staff salaries cannot been paid as at when due.”
Yusuf Turaki is the commissioner for Local Government, Rural Development and Chieftaincy Affairs. He said that the Governor Sule-led administration resolved to embark on forensic audit which he said became necessary in view of recent inability of the councils to pay their staff salary as well as pensioners.
“A group of persons is planning to shortchange the government and pewnsioners by replacing the dead and retired officers with different people without the approval of the authorities in charge of the councils.”
Clearly, the audit has unravelled yet some mess which eventually led to the state government’s decision to slam three months’ indefinite suspension on the directors of Personnel Management and Finance, as well as accountants of all the 13 local government councils and 18 development areas of the state.
Also suspended were the education secretaries and the DFS of all the 13 councils and 18 development areas of local government education authority.
Turaki said that the action was to pave way for seamless investigation, as according to him, a preliminary report by a seven-man committee set up by Governor Sule to look into the persistent shortfall in the salaries of local government workers in the state since 2012 indicates that the directors could not account for over N600million excess after payment of monthly salaries for workers since 2012.
According to Turaki, as at October 2020, after the audit, it was established that the salaries of local government workers stood at N700million as against the N1.1billion and N1.6 billion being claimed to be the wage bill of the councils between April 2012 and 2020 even though there was no employment of new workers.
As a result of the investigation, he said that the state uncovered N6.4billion fraud allegedly perpetrated by accounting officers in the 13 local councils and 18 development areas.
While assuring the public that concerted efforts were being taken to clean the rot in the councils, Turaki regretted that the state government had often augmented the councils’ allocations.
Already, the report of the suspension of the council officials has been received with wide accolades from mostly local government staff, most of whom, are advocating for stiffer penalties for those found wanting.
“To say this is a step in the right direction is an understatement. I welcome it and all those who were made to take home paltry amount as salaries will be happy to see these people punished if found guilty,” Omaku Osadagba, a retired local government worker, said.
On his part, Mallam Ayuba Umar, who also contested for the governorship seat in 2019 under the All Progressives Congress (APC), supported the action of the state government, as he suggested the need for an independent probe panel.
“What the governor needs is to constitute an independent probe panel to interrogate the activities of the Ministry for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs from 2011 to 2019. This will automatically involve the local government council activities over the same period,” he said.
Reacting to the development, the executive chairman of Lafia local government area, Aminu Muazu Maifata, who is the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) chairman in the state, said that his colleagues would abide by the decision of the state government.