NFIU, Governors’ War Of Attrition

Shuaib Shuaib condemns the foregoing practice in the country where the local councils are left as appendages of governors.

President Muhammadu Buhari and some state governors / Photo credit: Twitter
President Muhammadu Buhari and some state governors / Photo credit: Twitter

Over the last two decades, the senators and members of the House of Representatives elected to represent the Nigerian people for a period of four years have been depicted as self-serving politicians who have done little to improve governance in the country.

However, they may not be the ineffective and cold-hearted mercenaries they are made out to be. The lawmakers have made at least three attempts to improve governance at the local government level.

The earliest attempt was during Senator David Mark‘s first stint as Senate President.

And because state governors were caught completely unawares, this was the closest the country ever came to constitutional amendments that would have granted financial autonomy to local governments.

Twenty-seven state assemblies joined the lawmakers in the Senate and House of Representatives in approving the amendments, meeting the 2/3 threshold needed to make such changes.

For some inexplicable reasons, several state assemblies who had already approved the changes had to recast their votes allowing state governors to mobilise against it.

It has been roughly a decade since then, but the pressure and calls for local government autonomy only appears to be getting louder. On their part, governors don’t seem to be listening

The story that circulated then was that each governor spent at least, N50m to ensure that the two or three states where their legislators voted again rejected the amendments. And that was exactly what happened.

It has been roughly a decade since then, but the pressure and calls for local government autonomy only appears to be getting louder. On their part, governors don’t seem to be listening.

The Nigeria Governors Forum has been relatively quiet in the last four years of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

In the past, the forum has been used as a pressure group to force the hand of the Federal government into releasing money from the Excess Crude Account, policing how revenue from the federation account are shared and even exposing agencies who fail to remit funds into the federation account, which is jointly owned by the three tiers of government.

That the forum has made very little noise doesn’t mean the governors have been inactive on this front.

After all, they have gotten billions, maybe trillions of naira in bailout funds and reimbursement for deductions made in paying off foreign loans. The governors have just been using a more effective platform to achieve their objectives.

The National Economic Council is meant to give state governors a window and the opportunity to offer advice to the president.

It is their respective states that make up the economy. That makes co-ordination with them sensible. What the governors couldn’t manage with NGF, they have now done with NEC; that is, take executive decisions at the federal level.

Without belittling the presence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and his leadership of the Council, governors have effectively turned it into an agency of government with executive powers that even gives orders to other federal organs.

It started innocently with an order to audit the non-remittance of revenue into the federation account by a number of agencies, NNPC in specific.

Since then, its powers have grown but mainly focused on extracting money from wherever it is available. It could be excess crude account or even the Central Bank of Nigeria.

But it still shows how state governors easily manipulate the council to serve their needs rather than use it to offer advice to the President

In its explanation to a recently leaked audio purported to suggest N500bn had been stolen from the CBN, the apex bank said it made a N650bn loan to 35 states at the behest of the council.

Yes, the CBN statement did say it got approval from the Finance ministry and the Presidency to give states the loan.

But it still shows how state governors easily manipulate the council to serve their needs rather than use it to offer advice to the President.

And that is all the council does now, address the grievances of state governors. Of course, CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele has his own set of transgressions, printing money, trillions and trillions of naira and ‘dashing’ everybody; governors, bankers and even farmers.

The Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit came into existence in 2004. The unit, domiciled with the EFCC was set up for the purpose of monitoring and countering Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism activities.

Today, NFIU is relatively an autonomous body domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria. And for the first since the law establishing was amended, the unit is flexing its muscles by reeling out a set new guidelines that directly affect how local government funds are administered.

But their guidelines have generated a debate on whether the objective is political aimed at state governors or is a genuine attempt to curb money laundering at the local government level, which the present system in place seems to engender.

The objectives of NFIU could even be both. Yet, a careful perusal of statements coming out of the unit on the guidelines will show a number of things.

First, it sees local government funds as a source of financial irregularities which needs to be address.

Suspicions and tendencies for corruption to thrive at the LG level is however not a reason for the third tier of government to left as appendages of governors and remain dysfunctional

It is no secret that some local government chairman have to give financial returns to governors and there is presently a case in court where a former governor has been charged and testimony to this effect has been given.

Second is that they have tried to navigate the restrictions in place based on the constitution, its own legal powers and the rights of state governments to control LG funds.

There is no denying it. Each governor has something to show in terms of infrastructural development and initiated projects.

In a number of cases however, a closer examination of these projects the governors are claiming as theirs, will show they were executed with local government funds.

Naturally, Abdulaziz Yari, the governor of Zamfara who has departed as NGF chairman has been vehemently opposed to anything resembling autonomy for LGs, may have germane points about the lack of checks and balances at the local government level.

Suspicions and tendencies for corruption to thrive at the LG level is however not a reason for the third tier of government to left as appendages of governors and remain dysfunctional. But those are not the only concerns of the governors.

In each state what the constitutional share of funds from the federal allocation of each local government does necessary meet their needs especially when population, staff, numbers of schools and healthcare centers are put into account.

While some LGs will end up having shortfalls, others will have excess funds as distributed from the joint accounts.

Written by Shuaib Shuaib

Shuaibu, a former Editor of the LEADERSHIP Newspapers, is based in Abuja.

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