The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) recently started a war to safeguard Local Government funds from thieving state governors. I hope the unit (NFIU) has the spleen to carry out the fight. They can count on my support, whatever that means.
I must however hasten to warn NFIU that they are up against a very formidable group. Since the return of democracy in 1999, state governments and governors have appropriated powers that have made nonsense of the whole democratic enterprise.
Before President Buhari came on the scene in 2015, state governors appointed members of their State Executive Councils, nominated who represented the states at the Federal Executive Council, nominated who was appointed from their states to head Federal Parastatals, Ambassadors etc. But the greedy governors were not content with controlling the federal and their state turfs. They extended their frightening powers to control the Local Governments also.
The States Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC) are all independent only in name. State governors, irrespective of political party affiliation, often handpick who emerges as Local Government Chairmen and Councilors. The pretended elections held by these bodies are a complete sham.
Thus the state governors appropriated for themselves powers to constitute governments at the Local Council level, at the State and also at the Federal level. They use the enormous resources at their disposal to determine who wins federal and state seats in the legislative houses. Realizing the enormity of the powers at their disposal, they came together to constitute the most influential political pressure group in the country, the Nigerian Governors Forum NGF. At the peak of their power and influence, Professor Jibril Aminu told me that “one with governor in Nigeria makes the majority”.
In the build up to the 2015 elections, the fight to control this all powerful pressure group was fierce; so fierce that it finally broke into two factions. Thus the country was saved from the chocking tyranny of the governors group by the time Buhari came to office as President in 2015. They had very limited input in the constitution or composition of the Federal Executive Council while they maintained complete control of their governments and the Local Councils.
The recent policy guideline by NFIU appears to be yet another attempt by the Buhari presidency to whittle down the tyrannical powers of the state governors and grant some financial autonomy to local governments. Expectedly, the state governors have already reacted angrily to the effort. The out-going Chairman of NGF, who is also the Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, signed a letter to President Buhari dated May 15.
In the letter, the state governors accused the NFIU of attempting to dabble into a matter that was beyond its mandate. The governors told the president that the NFIU was “stoking mischief and also deliberately seeking to cause disaffection, chaos and overheat the polity.” The governors contended that Section 7 (6) (a) and (b) of the Constitution conferred on the National Assembly (NASS) and the State Houses of Assembly, the powers to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local councils in the Federation and within the State, respectively. They stated also that Section 162 (6) of the Constitution expressly provides for the creation of the State Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA) into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.
The state governors can advance all kinds of fine Constitutional arguments to cover up what they have been doing to helpless Local Councils. What has been going on in almost all states of the federation is a situation of aggravated gluttony on the part of the state governments. State governors highjack Local Government funds, put it in their pockets and use same as their pocket money. I am aware of one state where Local Government chairmen are made to sign that they have collected hundreds of millions of Naira from federal allocation whereas what is given to them is a small fraction of what they signed. The huge balance is given to the governor.
As the time worn saying goes, “old habits die hard”. We should not expect the state governors who have become used to the manna from heaven dropping freely in their pockets as local government funds to give up the goodies. Governor Abdulaziz Yari has spoken their mind and I do not expect the new Chairman of the Governors forum, Dr Fayemi Kayode to say the contrary. Anybody who thinks the governors are going to give up their complete control of the Local Councils in their domain without a sustained fight is a dreamer.
Sadly, we are caught between two great evils – the proverbial devil and deep blue sea. As Military President, Ibrahim Babangida tried to secure for the elected Local Councils their financial independence. Unfortunately, they hardly used that independence in a responsible manner. Some Local Government Chairmen simply used the money to take new wives and went home to sleep and enjoy themselves. If the Local Councils are to be granted the kind of financial independence proposed by NFIU, there must be a system put in place to ensure accountability at that level.
The most fundamental thing to do is to free the Local Governments from the apron strings of the State Governments through the State Independent Electoral Commissions. At the Constitution and Electoral Reform Committee, Chaired by Senator Ken Nnamani and which I served as a consultant, we resolved that the State Electoral Commissions be scrapped and their responsibilities be handed over to INEC.
The State Electoral Commissions are independent only in name; they have abdicated their responsibilities and handed over their powers to state governors who handpick Local Government Chairmen and Councilors; they are destroying democracy where it matters most – the grassroots.
As long as state governors have the powers through their so called “independent” state electoral commissions to decide who controls the Local Councils, they will also be able to subvert the financial regulations announced by NFIU.