THE Supreme CourtÂ three years ago annulled some sections of the Monitoring of Revenue Allocation To Local Governments Act 2005Â that awarded the Auditor-General of the Federation powers to monitor the use of funds allocated to the local governments.
Justice Niki Tobiâ€™s lead judgement then stated: â€œThe Federal Government is not an overseer or auditor of how the funds distributed to states and local governments are spent.
That function falls on the House of Assembly, the Auditor-General and the people of the state,â€ Justice Tobi said, quoting a lecture of former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Muhammadu Uwais delivered in 2005.
Governments of Abia, Delta and Lagos had brought the suit, arguing that some provisions of the Act ran against powers the Constitution vested on states over local governments.
Section 9 of the Act had stated: â€œThe Auditor-General of the Federation shall, following the end of the financial year, report to each House of the National Assembly, stating how the monies allocated to each state for the benefit of the local government councils within the state were spent.â€ Section 162 (8) of the Constitution states: â€œThe amount standing to the credit of local government councils of a State shall be distributed among the local government councils of that State on such terms in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State.â€
Justice Tobi said: â€œThe word â€˜monitoringâ€™ conveys some element of policing the state governments. The word means to watch, to check. It is a very arrogant word that spells some doom in a federal structure.â€
A warning Justice Tobi gave during that judgment remains relevant. â€œI should say that any person who is at the corridors of local government finances or funds and sees this judgement as a victory in the sense that he has freedom to steal from the finances or funds, should think twice and quickly remind himself that the two anti-corruption bodies ICPC and EFCC are watching closely, and will without notice pounce on him for incarceration after due process,â€ he warned.
Local government funds are a major platform for corruption. Accountability is absent. State governments leaning on Section 162 (8) of the Constitution use the funds as they wish. State Houses of Assembly are so weak that they allow governors to use the funds without clear provisions for accountability.
Efforts at prosecuting local government chairmen, and the various state accountants-general and auditors-general, who superintend the abuses, have at best been tepid contrary to the expectations of Justice Tobi in his judgement. None of these state officials enjoys the immunity which hinders prosecution of governors, the principal culprits in the misuse of local government funds.
Unprecedented resources have been available to local government councils in the past 12 years. They have been misused with impunity.
The war on corruption would remain a farce if public funds are wantonly stolen without sanctions.