The Buhari administration, last week, announced plans to begin direct allocation to local governments from June 1 to stop state governors from hijacking those funds through their Joint Account Allocation Committees. In this interview, a former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Obong Victor Attah, describes the FG’s move as unconstitutional, saying it is an attempt at using a wrong to right another wrong. He canvasses true federalism as the only way out of Nigeria’s numerous challenges.
You have been a consistent advocate of true federalism. What is your take on the decision of the Federal Government to fund local governments directly?
The issue is, for how long shall we operate a system that forces us to replace one evil with another evil? When you read this Vanguard headline today, ‘FG stops governors from seizing LG allocations’, it sounds fantastic because what has been going on was sorely evil. Governors would receive money and yet starve local governments. They treat them as if they do not exist; give the Chairman pocket money so that he can go and keep quiet. This is completely and totally wrong because the local government is the closest tier of government to the people. It has obligations and responsibilities to the people and it was not being allowed to perform the functions in any way because its funds were being seized by state governments. But there is no place in the world where you have federalism and the Federal Government relates directly with local governments. Local government administration is purely and entirely the function of the state government and I am surprised because Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was governor (of Lagos) with the Vice President Osinbajo as Attorney General when Obasanjo did that evil of seizing Lagos State local governments funds. I joined them in the fight because they had also joined me in the fight for resource control.
All these things are wrong and they all boil down to the fact that we are not operating a proper federal system. So, for how long shall we persist in this attitude of placing one wrong on another? Is it until the country explodes? Why don’t we just stop, put a halt to all these evil and have a rebirth, complete rebirth and a complete rethink of what Nigeria should be and how its federalism should be operated?
You were a state governor for eight years. How did you relate with LGAs?
When I was in government, it was clear to everybody that the local government in which the state capital is located carried the highest burden of primary school teachers and the running of primary schools is the responsibility of local governments. If the Federal Government sends money to my local government, that local government, Uyo, will not have funds even to pay half the primary school teachers. While others would be awash with money, Uyo will not have the money to pay because up to 40 percent of primary school teachers in Akwa Ibom are in Uyo and others distributed to the remaining 30 local governments. This is just one aspect of the responsibility of local governments not to mention the fixing of rural roads and other things that local governments are supposed to do. We had taken a decision that we were educating Akwa Ibom children and so we could not put the burden on Uyo local government simply because the capital is located in Uyo. What we did was to put the salaries of primary school teachers on first charge. We must pay every primary school teacher before we share the money. But at least, we honestly distributed the money even though there were complaints about what my Commissioner for Local Government then was doing and the EFCC came and investigated, but, till today, I do not know what the result of the investigation is.
The allocation formula is there with all the other elements but one factor that clearly was lopsided was the issue of primary school teachers. All the local governments participated in designing the formula. They participated fully in what we did.
It is so completely and totally wrong that, in a federal system, the central government should have direct relationship with the local government. It should never happen. It is the state governments that should even create local governments. It is the state government that administers the local government. The laws for local governments are made by the state Houses of Assembly. So, we just take this federal idea and go halfway with this and put another half….and we do not operate it properly as it ought to be. We really must change this system. We must agree and emphasize on a new arrangement that makes it possible for local governments to be what they are, have the correct relationship with state governments and then we will have a federal system that works for all of us.
How about the N500, 000 ceiling on daily withdrawal for the LGAs?
What I am telling you is, all those should be made by the state assembly. The laws that states make for their local governments should be respected. This shouldn’t be a Federal Government law.
How about states that have refused to conduct LGA elections? Should they also benefit from this direct allocation?
It is illegal and it cannot happen in a proper federal system. There are laws made that there should be an election and the tenures are stated and you must obey. That is why I tell you that when you apply this federalism halfway and stop, there will be issues. A governor that does that should be impeached.
But the state assemblies are like rubber stamps. Would you advocate financial autonomy for the assemblies before the LGAs?
They should not be rubber stamps if they were properly elected by the people. What I would rather we have is proper true federalism. We had it before under the parliamentary system and the local governments were there under the regions and we didn’t have these complaints because we operated a proper federal system. When we turn something upside down, we don’t know how to turn it back right up, we just turn it halfway up. Total nonsense and more nonsense will come out of more nonsense because we are not running a proper system. Let Nigerians stop trying to think that we can continue to panel beat this system. Let us go to a proper federal system and bring back the parliamentary system that we had.
This is like a fire brigade approach to stop those evil governors from seizing local government funds but it is wrong. That is why I said we are cutting wrong on wrong, replacing evil with evil and the only way to kill that is having a proper system, properly enunciated and properly run. This is trying to use wrong to right a wrong and it makes it very faulty. Don’t try to use wrong to replace another wrong.