Written by Dare Adekanmbi, Adewale Ajayi, Biola Azeez and Yinka Olukoya
Friday, 13 April 2012
At the end of the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) meeting for the month of February held in March this year, the figure of the funds jointly shared by the three tiers of government was as huge as it has always come every other month. But excitement was absent in the receipt of N73.978 billion representing 20.6 per cent of the total statutory by the 774 local government councils across the country. It was not the only amount received by these councils that month: there was the Value Added Tax (VAT) in which they also collectively got N20.364 billion, representing 35 per cent of the total N20.364 billion shared among the three tiers of government.
These piles of money notwithstanding, there was very little expectation the funds would make an appreciable difference in the performance of the councils. This has been the experience over the years. Going by the 1999 Constitution, Nigeria operates a federal structure with three federating units. The three units are federal, 36 state governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the 774 local government councils. Of the three tiers of government, the councils are the most critical because they are the closest to the grass roots, where more than 70 per cent of the entire national population reside.
In spite of the essential nature of the third tier of government to development at the grass roots however, the overlord posture of state governments over the councils have largely rendered the councils castrated, helpless and with no semblance of qualitative development in the local areas. This prompted a representative sampling of the situation in some states of the country, with a resultant shocking find that state governments dip hands into local government allocations and, through the instrumentality of the Joint Account Committee (JAC), a metaphorical conduit pipe, slaughter the councils by pinching and handing out peanuts to them, in a Father Christmas-like fashion and according to the whims and caprices of the almighty state governors.
The Situation in Oyo
The relationship between the state government and its 33 councils is best described as that of a master-servant dealing, as far as JAC is concerned. And the situation in the political capital of the South-West geo-political zone is not isolated as it mirrors the general situation in most states.
Mr Adetola Oguntimeyin is the secretary of the state chapter of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE). In an interview, he characterised JAC as an aberration that had stifled the growth and development of the third tier of government not only in the state but also in the entire country. He pointed out that this had robbed the councils the chance to perform their statutory duty of bringing governance to the masses at the rural areas.
According to him, “Nigeria is a very funny country. Development is supposed to start from the grass roots because most people in the country reside in the rural areas. And because there is no development at the rural level, that is why you see drifts from the rural to urban areas. And unfortunately, the state governments have not allowed development to take proper shape right from the council level. This is why the country is what it is today and will so remain until fiscal autonomy is granted the councils before we get out of this mess.
“Let me give you an example. A local government in Oyo State recently received over N150m allocation from Abuja but more than N140m of the money was taken away by the state government and what eventually got to that council was N18m, which could not pay half of the salaries of council workers and those of the huge number of special advisers who also have their own special advisers. This represents what the local governments in the state have been experiencing all along and this has been the bane of development at the councils,” he said.
On the argument by state governments that blatant diversion of money meant for payment of workers’ salaries by council chairmen necessitated the creation of JAC to enable states deduct primary school teachers’ salaries at source, Oguntimeyin responded that the salaries of primary school teachers should be the responsibility of state governments which hire and fire teachers, wondering why such burden would be transferred to the councils.
Explaining, he said “the local governments are not responsible for the creation of the schools, the employment of teachers but their salaries are monthly being drawn from the council allocation. Although being the primary level of education, our contribution should be participatory and not be total as currently holds. This was what the Supreme Court said in a judgment on the funding of primary education in the nation some years ago. This verdict was not enforced. About 10 states in the country complied, but, take it from me, all the states in the South-West turned blind eye to the judgment and they continue to siphon and live on council funds.
The experience in Benue State
Council administration in Benue is largely under the control of the state government. Like in other states, council chairmen get their allocation at the pleasure of the state government. In fact, it has been argued by members of the opposition parties that refusal to conduct council poll in the state was due to the unbridled appetite of the state government for councils funds.
Special Adviser to the governor on local government and chieftaincy matters, Honourable Solomon Wombo, once confirmed to newsmen that council funds were under the supervision of the state government and that this was done to ensure judicious use of the funds by council chairmen. Providing a justification for the practice, he noted there was a bureau that looked into the list of projects to be executed by the councils and that the bureau approved the projects according to their priorities.
While denying that the state government tampers with funds meant for 23 councils in the state, he stated that what the councils were getting from Abuja could hardly make them pay workers’ salaries. He blamed this on irregular figures accruing to the all the three tiers of government. He explained further that the allocation that accrued to the councils in the month of February was N2.2 billion, which, he said, presented a differential of about N800 million from what they got in previous allocation.
But the state chairman of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Comrade Abba Yaro, however said instances of the state overbearing interference with council funds and with attendant hindrance in the smooth running of the councils. “I don’t have much to say about this issue because it is a Peopled Democratic Party (PDP) affair. But I think you are not unaware of the crisis in Tarka Local Government where the state government was said to have tampered with their funds running to millions of naira. So, you cannot erase the state government’s interference on the councils’ funds, after all, the chairmen are appointments of the party and the governor and so they can do anything they like with council funds without the councils raising eyebrow” he added.
What obtains in Kaduna State
The situation of the 23 councils in Kaduna state cannot be said to be any different from what obtains in other councils nationwide.
Recently, many of the councils could not pay the workers’ salaries which have accumulated for some months. Although it was difficult getting council chairmen to comment on the management of JAC in the state, there has been a series of protests from council workers. Most of those who complained lately were from Kaduna North Local Government. They bemoaned their redeployment to another part of the state because there were too many workers concentrated there.
The absence of elected officials to manage the affairs of local governments in Osun state has further compounded the problem. The appointment of care taker chairmen, now referred to as executive secretaries, is an aberration. The state government capitalises on the fact that there are no constitutionally recognised executive committes in place to deny the councils of funds, which has further compounded the woes of the local government councils. The executive secretaries in charge of the council administration are handicapped because sufficient money is not made available to them; what they are given is just a stipend to pay salaries and execute little projects.
In most cases, to embark on a project worth about N5million in Osun State, the executive secretaries need to appeal to the state government, before money is released.
A source said the executive secretaries do not have a say on how the allocation is shared to them at the JAC meeting, and what they get is usually predetermined before they get to the meeting.
Members of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) said every move made to make them part of the JAC meeting was turned down by the government. The union insisted that this was to prevent them from posing any challenge to the state government on the use of LG funds.
Some of the local government bosses who spoke on condition of anonymity said money released to them was usually meagre, falling short of what they expected from the centre, but that they lacked the temerity to challenge the state government since they held the office in trust for the state governor, who picked them to occupy the office single handedly.
The state governor, Mr Rauf Aregbesola, in his defence, said at an occassion that the money not released for the councils was being kept in trust for the local government councils by the state government till a substantive administration would be put in place.
“But the clamour for election into the local governments which will usher in elected officials to run the affairs of the councils had been rebuffed by the state government. The Osun State Local Government Amended Law permits the governor to appoint caretaker committees to run affairs of the councils on a six-month basis for the first term, renewable for another six months. That has lapsed, but no election has been conducted into the council. The state government’s decision to change the nomenclature of the caretaker chairmen to executive secretaries was done probably to erase the notion that caretaker chairmen still run the affairs of the councils.
The public are not happy about the development because they bear the brunt of the hard line policy of the state government,” said a source.
Speaking on the development, the Osun State chairman of the Labour Party (LP), Comrade Afolabi Abiodun, said the action of the state government was aimed at killing the autonomy of the local government councils.
He maintained that even though the constitution recognised three tiers of government, the local government councils were being frustrated in Osun State .
Comrade Abiodun said the failure of the Osun State government to allow local government administration to flourish pointed to the fact that the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) administration in the state was being hypocritical in its demand for fiscal federalism since its action negated what it preached. “From all indications, the system of government in Nigeria is porous. Why call on the Federal Government to allow fiscal federalism when the state fails to allow the autonomy of the local government councils? It wants the local government to be submissive to the state, while the governor is championing fiscal federalism.”
He explained that the governor deliberately chose his cronies to run the affairs of the councils because he knew that with this crop of people, nobody among them could challenge him.
The president, Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Ogun State, Alhaji Tajudeen Olusesi, urged the National Assembly to abrogate some sections of the 1999 Constitution that put the local government under the control of the state, in terms, of allocation of funds.He said that local government funds had not been judiciously dispensed by the state government in the last eight to 10years in the state.
He noted that some states in the federation failed to allocate resources according to some criteria stipulated in the constitution for sharing of allocation such as land mass, IGR among others. He commended the present administration in the state for prompt payment of all unpaid salary arrears and deductions owed by the last administration.
Olusesi insisted that there should be no inequality in the distribution of allocation to local governments by the state government, adding that local government allocations should not be paid through the state government.
Against allegations that some state governors in the country, over the years, shortchange local government authorities in the remittance of the federal allocation and the seeming mum of these council heads on the matter, development in grassroots areas of the country have suffered.
On a few occasions, only local government authorities that are in the opposition against the ruling government come out in the open to complain on the matter, while those in the same political party with the ruling government dance along with the governor, since the governor in question selected them into the council power.
In Kwara state, the ALGON boss, Bayo Ishola, said there is no contention on the issue in the state, adding that the allocations were published every month in newspapers for public scrutiny. He went on to say that aggrieved local governments could have reacted negatively if they were not getting due remittance from the state government.
Also speaking, the senior special assistant to Kwara state governor on Information and Communication, Dr. Muideen Akorede, said there is no issue of illegal deduction of council allocation by the state government in the state.
Dr. Akorede, who said the allocation comes to the state government by law, added that the allocation is released to the local governments once it arrived.
“The allocation gets to the local governments through the state government by law. So, once it arrived, the Finance commissioner meets with the council chairmen and the treasurers, while the councils would write letters for the release of the fund for the project they want to achieve with the fund.
“Also, there is a joint state/local government account fund. Here if the state government initiates a project in a council area, it gives 60 per cent of the fund and the council authority gives 40 per cent and vice versa”, he said.
The governor’s aide also said that the council authorities paid teachers and traditional rulers statutorily.
Article source: http://tribune.com.ng/index.php/the-friday-edition/39208-states-feed-fat-on-lg-fundshow-govs-hijack-council-allocations
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