Diversion of IG fund: Further call for action – Dr.Muiz Banire SAN
In the edition of this column published in these newspapers of the 8th day of July, 2021 (Issues in death of local government in Nigeria
I x-rayed the challenges confronting the local government administration in Nigeria, the attitude of the operators and I proffered solutions thereto. Recent developments, as regards the administration of local government in the country, have once again compelled me to revisit this issue.
Governors have persisted in the unwholesome and criminal practice of diversion of local government allocations and have recklessly continued to dissolve local government elected officials to plant their own surrogates. In many states, local government elections are not held until the tail end of the tenure of some governors who believe that the local governments are meant to be appendages of the State government. Where helt, the resultantant effect is always appointment as such purported elections are never credible. While Section 7 of the Constitution provides that ”
The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed”, unfortunately, it went further to subject the local government to the States House of Assembly by providing that “the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”
The diversion of the local government funds is therefore facilitated largely by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) which subjected the autonomy of the local government councils to the States’ House of Assembly and through remittance of allocation to the State Government.
There is so muchpilferage, right from the Governors deducting local government funds directly, procuring phony materialsand services on behalf of local governments, purporting to be executing contracts on behalf of local government councils in their domains, creation of unsolicited revenue collection agencies for local governments and conversion of funds generated therefrom, extortion of the council chiefs through oversight functions by the States’ Housesof Assembly etc.
The two arms of government, partaking in these horrendous activities, gave licence to the local government officials to carry out their own banditry.Whatever be the remnants or crumbs that eventually lands at the local government doorstep, they also feast on . Nobody, therefore, can control these ultimate robbers. Lamentations by the President, of recent, is mere restatement of the obvious and a boring tune already. While there may be agitations that our distorted idea of federalism, in which so much powers are lopsidedly concentrated in disproportionate manner, is responsible for this, it is clear that the concept of federalism is not uniform all over the world. It is so much of the creation of each country’s own Constitution. As the much-revered Niki Toki JSC (of blessed memory) put it, there is no universal connotation of federalism and it is simply a function of the country’s Constitution.
In Nigeria, our Constitution recognizes three tiers of government which include the local government. Even in the distribution of revenue, local governments are constitutionally recognized as being entitled to partake in revenue sharing. It is the funnel through which the money is percolating to the local governments that is faulty, rusty and leaking. How and who can tame the diversion of the local government funds? As said earlier, there have been several lamentations by the President to no avail.
I honestly believe that there is really nothing much that the President can do other than condemning the act and directing the anti-corruption agencies to monitor the disbursement and expenditure of the funds. While he has consistently been condemning, he has not triggered the anti-corruption agencies to do the needful. Eradication of corruption in the lands has been upheld by the courts to be a shared responsibility of all tiers of government. Beyond this, the continuous pilferage is also an indictment on the anti-corruption agencies who have failed to perform their duties. By the laws establishing them, they actually need no trigger from the President as the laws already empowered them all to do the needful.
The failure in this regard can be traced to the officials of the anti-corruption agencies themselves who have been, in most cases, compromised by the governors and State officials they are supposed to monitor and check. In cases where State officials have been invitedby anti-corruption agencies, there is nothing realised from the efforts save for mere routine questioning and few have been sufficiently indicted and prosecuted to conviction. In some cases where we heard of prosecution, the matter would whet the appetite of the populace in the media for a while and fizzle out like candlelight in a heavy wind. To this end, there may be the need to critically restructure the Constitution to enable the local government councils stop being appendages of State governments.
They have to be weaned off the States’ umbilical cords. Most State governments are only thriving on the local government funds in the absence of which the emptiness in the revenue generation capacity of the governors would become exposed.
The inability of the governors to create wealth is responsible for the unviability of many States we have in Nigeria as they only depend on federal allocations and when that is not flowing sufficiently any more, they resort to local government funds to rescue themselves from public annoyance and achieve self-enrichment. The Councils need to be insulated against the States in all ramifications and this is best done by constitutional amendments to enable them function as a proper tier of government. Councils in other climes have their budgets not tied to the benevolence of other tiers of government.
They perform their constitutional roles of providing security, education and infrastructure within the unhindered ambits of their income and revenue generated. It is in Nigeria that we have abuse of power like in an animal republic. Efforts made by President Olusegun Obasanjo by ensuring an enactment to enable the Federal Government monitor revenue allocation to the local governments by State governments could not yield in the face of the Constitution that has made the States the funnels through which local government funds are to be distributed. Similar attempt was recently made by the Nigerian financial intelligence Unit, albeit, unconstitutionally, to intervene.
All still to no avail.Local government funds should go directly to them without an intermediary. I know many Houses of Assembly were opposed to this idea when it was muted in a constitutional amendment recently. The gang of robbers and treasury looters involved in the nefarious act canvassed all manner of arguments against it. And this is why local government councils are unable to perform their constitutional functions. They have been more like administrative units that the State governments decide what to make available to within their whims and caprices.
An average local government council is unable to run its own offices meaningfully as there is no fund to do that not to talk of tarring roads or building educational classrooms. Their functions have been taken over by terrible and illicit laws passed by Houses of Assembly and even what they are entitled to in terms of 10% of State’s internally generated revenueconstitutionally is denied them.
This disgraceful manner of operating local government system must stop. It is not that local government officials are saints anyway. Many of them are rogues too waiting to loot whatever comes their way. The rapacity in state governments has encouraged them to steal as much as possible too as the fear of post-office poverty terrifies them. They would rather loot public treasury in order to prepare for personal survival outside office. There is hardly any local government in contemporary times that accounts for the internally generated revenue. Most are embezzled through third party concessions.
The recklessness at the level of the local governments calls for anti-corruption agencies to beam searchlight on them. The people themselves need to start demanding accountability from those in charge of their affairs. Most of the council helmsmen are known before, and then suddenly they swim in illicit wealth once elected or appointed into office. Some could hardly feed themselves before assuming office.
Where people see this kind of sudden accrual of wealth, they need to speak out. They need to challenge the source of the sudden wealth. It is where people keep quiet, that evil thrives.
The Whistle-blower Law is still there to utilize and the public must start challenging their representatives. Just some few hours ago, I read of a courageous youth that wrote to a lawmaker representing his constituency to pack back home as his representation at the National Assembly has been uneventful and without any positive impact on the people. Probity and accountability should be the benchmark for public service. It is not enough for a leader to mouth readiness to serve, he must live up to it in words and in deed.
Our docility as a people has allowed our public service to be dominated by men and women of terrible orientation whose mentality is only attuned to personal aggrandisement and greed. A lot of our governors do not see anything wrong in subverting local government existence just to meet their own personal agenda.
This is an impeachable offence where we have lawmakers that truly bear the name, but most of the States’ Houses of Assembly are populated by surrogates and lackeys of the governor who knew they did not have any business in the House in terms of capacity and knowledge save for the personal ambition of the governor or a supreme leader of the party in the constituency that awarded them the party tickets in the first place. This touches on the integrity of those we elect, as rightly captured by Mr. President. Most of the elected officials as contended by him lacks integrity.
Where the Constitution of the land is being subverted by the executive in connivance with the legislature, where is the institution that will protect the people? Where is the body that will protect the law? Where a governor knows that the House of Assembly will not tolerate his indecencies in office, he will adjust his orientation to align with what is in public interest and not be looking for loopholes in the Constitution to subvert public interest.
Now, who will guard the guards? The ball rolls finally back into the court of the masses as far as policing the government is concerned. Where there is mass condemnation of local government destruction, we will see a change in the attitude of the governors. Let there be mass protests. Let there be acts challenging the status quo.
We definitely will witness a change. Exceptthe people so act, it is becoming obvious that there might not be any institutional arrest of the ugly trend.
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