■ No tangible impacts in councils as FAAC disburses N762.095 to third tier in 6 months
Local government areas, which collectively represent the third tier of the Nigerian political governance structure, have since inception been in search for relevance. The seeming quagmire surrounding the local governments was aptly captured in a joint paper by Ozohu-Suleiman Abdulhamid of the Department of Public Administration, Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Abuja, Nigeria and Paul Chima, his counterpart in the Department of Public Administration, Faculty of Management Sciences, University of Abuja, Nigeria, published in the Commonwealth Journal of Local Governance in 2015.
As they noted, two major influences have had significant effects on the local government system: the intervention of the military in politics, and the 1976 reform of local government.
“The 1979 Constitution, which provided the legal framework for the 1976 reforms, plunged the local government system into a crisis of identity, and ever since local government system in Nigeria has remained an idea in search of relevance.
“The local governments have suffered from the whims of both the federal and state governments, a situation typified by the manner governors have abused the constitutionally mandated State Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA), and consequently stirred up loud demands for it to be abolished and thereby give true financial autonomy to the third tier of government in the country.”
Apparently responding to the demand, the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit, a specialised agency of the Federal Government began a push for direct release of statutory allocations to the LGAs from the Federation Account.
In May, the Federal Government ordered that starting from June this year, the monthly subvention from the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), as it pertains to Local Government Areas (LGAs), should be disbursed directly to them, especially those that have duly elected and constituted cabinet.
The move was to make the LGAs autonomous by freeing them from decades of stranglehold of the governors, who sit on their funds and spend it as they so desired.
The total dependence of the LGAs on their governors forced the council chairmen to become puppets and errand boys of their bosses, the governors, thus robbing the grassroots of desired development.
From FAAC records, the 774 local government councils, through the commissioners for finance, received a total of N762.095 billion FAAC disbursement between January and June this year.
A breakdown shows that N161.1 billion was received in June; N143.742 billion in May; N143.298 billion in April; N132.193 billion in March; N131.399 billion in February and N51.218 billion in January.
According to economic experts, the LGAs do not reflect the funds reportedly released to them by FAAC as the majority of these areas are ravaged by poverty, illiteracy, diseases, terrorism and other blights that show they have been starved of funds needed to tackle grassroots developmental challenges.
When the direct disbursement announcement was made in May, the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) commended the Federal Government for introducing such financial guidelines for local government areas through the NFIU.
The Ondo State NULGE Chairman, Mr Bola Taiwo said that the move would ensure transparency and grassroots development, hence the perennial clamour for local government autonomy.
“We are happy because this is a dream come true. We have been yearning and agitating for this because autonomy to local government areas has been our priority. Joint account is a constitutional matter,” he said.
He urged all state governments operating caretaker committees or administrators to immediately ditch such a practice, saying that the development was not only politically and economically harmful, but denies people in the LGAs the chance to choose their representatives.
“Election at LGAs is another issue that must be taken seriously by state governments. Setting up caretaker committees to manage affairs of local councils is another means of siphoning money because the committee members are not elected, but chosen by governors whom they are accountable to.
“Therefore, all caretaker committees should be sacked,” he said.
However, checks by Sunday Sun revealed that the federal pronouncement of direct disbursement to the LGAs has not taken off, despite the fact that June was set as the take-off date.
Sunday Sun gathered from some state commissioners of finance that the compliance was delayed because of some issues that still need to be fine-tuned.
A source explained the reason this way: “A lot of states are yet to conduct LGA elections to constitute a cabinet. They’re still using caretaker committees cobbled together by the governor. That is who the LGA chairmen will be loyal to. Not to those at the grassroots.
“The constitution says it’s only the duly elected chairmen of local government areas that the CBN can credit their accounts directly. Other than that, it will go to the state governors who then decide on what to do.
“In my time as commissioner for finance in Imo State, the governor had a separate account for the LGAs and once the money came, he credited their accounts since they were chairmen appointed by him. So, what happens to the funds in such LGAs depends on the governor and how he wants to spend it. That is what the Federal Government wants to correct.”
Though FAAC issues separate cheques for state and another for the LGAs under the state, Sunday Sun investigations showed that the funds are under the control of the governors through the commissioner for finance and the accountant-general of the state. The governors then determine what it is done with funds disbursed by FAAC to the local governments.
While the Muhammadu Buhari administration is determined to give the LGAs financial autonomy by paying directly into their coffers, Sunday Sun’s findings revealed that the presidential proposal is yet to take off as a good number of states have transition chairmen and other appointees at the instance of the governors. Notwithstanding this state of affairs, some states with elected chairmen have started to align with the new reality as reports from across the states indicate.
In Rivers State, described as the treasure base of the nations, council chairmen have laudatory words for Governor Nyesom Wike, who they said has shown transparency and true leadership.
They affirmed that Governor Wike does not interfere in the running of the affairs of their respective councils.
One of them, who was re-elected the Chairman of Ikwerre Local Government Area in the last council election, Mr. Samuel Nwanosike told Sunday Sun that Wike had given chairmen of the 23 local government areas free hand to function, access their funds and execute people-oriented projects.
He said emphatically that the governor has not interfered with how they run their councils, noting that this enabled some of the re-elected chairmen to execute prominent projects in their different LGAs.
His words: “As far as I am concerned, the governor has not interfered with how we, the chairmen, run the councils. Even, he has encouraged us to do more. It is the free hand he gave us to operate that helped some of us, the re-elected chairmen, to execute some projects for our people.
“In Ikwerre Local Government Area, we don’t announce our achievements. But, we invite you the media to come and make your unbiased assessment. I can tell you that Ikwerre Local Government Area is on a fast rise because Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike allows us to function without any interference. All the 13 wards in the local government have experienced the dividends of good governance.
“The council headquarters has taken a new look; everything is working very well with basic amenities provided for the Ikwerre people.”
Nwanosike added that the council has lined up projects to flag off to mark the first 100 days of his second tenure in office, attributing the success story to the governor’s sterling leadership.
Though Abia State has elected chairmen and councillors, it is still operating joint state/local governments account system, in which statutory allocation of the LGAs is domiciled, and to which the state government makes a contribution from its internally generated revenue before the total funds are then disbursed to the LGAs.
Explaining this in an interview, an official of the state government, who wished not to be identified in print, said that apart from its constitutionality, the idea behind the arrangement is to make more financially buoyant LGAs assist the financially weak ones.
The source debunked the insinuation that the arrangement was an indirect means for the state government to control local government statutory allocations.
“How can the state government control LG finances when they are ahead of us in the payment of teachers’ salaries? They pay primary school teachers and those in junior secondary schools and they are ahead of us in that regard for one month. If that is the case, how are we controlling them?”
However, unconfirmed report has it that in line with the long clamoured autonomy for LGAs, this month’s allocation was paid directly to the local governments in the state.
When asked about questions concerning local government allocations, some council chairmen were evasive in their responses. Despite the shortfall in the allocations as Sunday Sun learnt, some of the chairmen are striving to make impact in their areas by embarking on one project or the other.
For instance, in Obingwa Local Government Area, the chairman has started the renovation of school blocks in the council area, in addition to grading of rural roads.
In Ukwa East, in addition to working on rural roads with direct labour involving youths as a way of keeping them gainfully engaged, the council has gone into partnership with a higher institution to train the youths, equip them with skills in various trades.
Other LGA chairmen in the state such as Bende, Isuikwuato and Ohafia have embarked on projects aimed at uplifting lives in the rural areas.
In Delta State, statutory allocations to local governments go directly to them, as the Chairman of the state’s chapter of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Mr. Victor Ebonka, told Sunday Sun in a chat on phone.
Ebonka who is the executive chairman of Ika North-East Local Government Area, said that the new policy of direct disbursement to council was not implementable.
He said that this was as a result of the constitutional creation of the JAAC, adding that until that provision is amended, there would be no autonomy for councils.
According to him, the Federal Government is making pronouncement without knowing the situation on ground.
“They are still maintaining JAAC which is a constitutional provision, yet they want councils to receive allocations directly. That will not be possible until the constitution is amended. It may interest you to know that no local government council in Nigeria has received allocation directly since that pronouncement was made,” Ebonka said.
He gave kudos to the Delta State government for augmenting allocations of councils in the state and stressed that without the financial support of the state government, some councils would not have been able to survive.
“It may also interest you to know that unlike in some states where council allocations are pilfered, the Delta State governor is augmenting our allocation every month for the councils to be able to meet up with statutory duties,” he said.
One of the council chairmen, who pleaded not to be named in print as he was not authorized to speak, corroborated Ebonka’s views, saying that the Federal Government only made a political statement without constitutional backing.
He said the pronouncement of direct disbursement to councils would not hold water, until JAAC is abolished.
“No council across Nigeria has received directly from the Muhammadu Buhari government since he came on board. That pronouncement by the Federal Government was a political statement of convenience. The NFIU cannot override a constitutional creation like JAAC,” the source said.
In Ebonyi State, the leadership of the state chapter of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), confirmed that the 13 council areas directly receive their statutory allocations.
The state ALGON leader and Chairman of Ohaozara Local Government Area, Mrs. Nkechinyere Iyioku, told Sunday Sun in Abakaliki, that the funds are being judiciously utilized by the chairmen to the admiration and applause of the people.
She disclosed that council chairmen have used the funds to execute life-changing developmental projects in all communities across the state.
Her words: “We have been receiving our allocations directly to our council accounts. And the funds have been judiciously deployed to the development of our rural communities. We have constructed roads, built primary healthcare centres, constructed school buildings, procured farming equipment and also empowered our people.
“For example, in Ohaozara, my local government, we have constructed more than 12km concrete road, built classroom blocks in many schools, procured farming equipment and empowered our indigent women and youths.”
Iyioku commended Governor David Umahi for giving the council chairmen the necessary support to pursue the development of their council areas.
The Chairman of Jalingo Local Government Area, Alhaji Abdulnasiru Bobboji, who is also the state Vice Chairman of ALGON told our correspondent that each of the local government chairmen in the state receive their monthly statutory allocations intact and allowed to operate freely.
“These are statutory allocations and so we all receive them intact. That is how we are able to bring development to our people. We are all elected chairmen and so we definitely have the free hand to operate just like any other elected officials. What the state governor, Darius Dickson Ishaku, does most time is to always remind us that we would give account of our activities at some point so we should always think about the people first.
“While we pay the salaries of primary school teachers, the system is managed by the State Universal Primary Education Board (SUPEB), while the Primary Healthcare Centres are managed by the State Primary Health Care Development Agency (PHCDA). Meanwhile markets are managed by the local government authorities where they are sited,” Bobboji said.
The local government has also recorded a number projects which the chairman described as “projects with direct and the most impact on the people based mostly on their peculiar needs rather than our need to showcase.”
One of such projects is the ongoing construction of a bridge at Gongon Mahuja village in Wuro Sembe area of the local government. The community was completely cut off from the rest of the town because gully erosion destroyed the road completely. The multi’million naira project has received the applause of the locals.
The local government chairman also constructed another culvert at Bashin village to ease movement between Bashin village, linking Takanaban and Bashin Jalo villages in Turaki B ward in the local government area.
In the area of health, Bobboji said: “We built a primary healthcare centre which is called Dr Aisha Shettima Memorial PHC at Jekadafare. It is named after the first health worker who died of Lassa Fever in the state. Because it is strategically located, it serves a large number of persons. We also contribute in our own way in ensuring the functionality of all the primary healthcare facilities in the local government.”
The local government consistently maintains over 200 boreholes in Jalingo, paying for the servicing of the boreholes to ensure that they are functional.
Taraba State as a whole is plagued with various security challenges ranging from kidnapping, armed robbery, among others. In Jalingo local government, the activities of rival cult groups as well as petty thieves and rapists who have no qualms about stabbing people to death just to have their way had turned the place into a near lawless place.
Through deliberate efforts of the local government chairman, in close collaboration with the local communities and security agencies, especially the local vigilante groups, “the situation is now remarkably under control with less reported cases of knife attacks, rival cult clashes, raping and other crimes “ the Police Public Relations Officer of the Taraba Police Command, David Misal, told Sunday Sun.
Part of the efforts undertaken by the local government is to get the youths gainfully engaged through quarterly skill acquisition programmes where over 5,000 beneficiaries have been trained in various skills across the wards.
Bobboji said that every other local government is carrying out projects according to the needs of their people, augmenting the development strides of the state government.
The local government election held on December 9, 2020, raised questions as all the caretaker chairmen, who are members of the ruling All Progressives Congress were returned as elected chairmen.
Given the manner the chairmen were ‘elected’ into office, no local government chairman could do anything independently on his own without considerable influence from the state government which allegedly bankrolled their election.
However, with the recent directive by the Federal Government that elected chairmen would henceforth directly receive their statutory allocations, it remains unclear whether the 21 LGA chairmen would be able to dispense the funds independently without interference.
Efforts to speak directly with some of the chairmen were unsuccessful as they refused to pick their calls nor respond to text messages sent to them while some simply switched off their regular numbers after getting the text messages.
Nevertheless, a source confirmed to Sunday Sun that the LGAs received the monthly FAAC allocations directly but added a clause. Asked to clarify, he pleaded with the reporter not to put him in trouble jocularly before walking away: “But you know that he who pays the piper dictates the tune. Why do you want to put me in trouble? I have no comment for other questions please.”
Meanwhile, investigations carried out showed that local government staff in the state are still suffering for either non-payment of their salaries or payment in percentages with some taking between 20- 30 per cent of their monthly salaries.
It is also noted that no single council chairman has embarked on any meaningful project in the state as residents in most of the local governments are crying out for government attention.