By Omeiza Ajayi
ABUJA – Elder Statesman and former Governor of Akwa Ibom state, Obong Victor Attah has faulted the decision of the federal government to directly fund local governments in the country, saying it is an attempt to “right a wrong with another wrong”.
While he conceded that most state governments have behaved less than honourably in administering the finances of local governments, Attah who has been a consistent advocate of True Federalism, said the federal government has no right to deal directly with the third tier of government.
“The issue is for how long will we continue to operate a system that forces us to compound one evil on another? When you read this Vanguard headline today, ‘FG stops Govs from seizing LG allocations’, it sounds fantastic because what has been going on was solely evil. The governors would receive money and yet starve the local governments.
They just treated them as if they did not exist; give the Chairman small pocket money and let him go and keep quiet. Completely and totally wrong because the local government is the closest to the people. It has obligations and responsibilities to the people and they were not being allowed to perform their functions in any way because their funds were being seized by the states.
But there is no where in the world where you have federalism that the federal government relates directly with the local governments. Local government administration is purely and entirely the function of the state governments and I am surprised because, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu was the Governor (of Lagos) with the Vice President, Osinbajo as the 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.
“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 the local governments. It is the state governments that administer the local governments. 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 mist change this system”.
He recalled his days as a governor and how he was able to relate with the local governments to evolve a structure of paying primary school teachers first from the bulk allocation to the local governments before redistributing the money.
“When I was in government, it was clear to everybody that the local government in which the state capital is located carries the highest burden of primary school teachers and running of primary schools is the responsibility of local governments. If the federal government sits and sends money to my local government, that local government, Uyo will not have the funds even to pay half the primary school teachers in Uyo. While the others would be awash with money, Uyo will not even have the money to pay all.
You can say up to 40 percent of the primary school teachers are concentrated in Uyo and the other schools are redistributed to the other 30 local governments. This is just one aspect of the responsibility of a local government not to mention in developing rural roads and other things that local governments are supposed to do. So, we took a decision that we are educating Akwa Ibom children and so we cannot put the burden on Uyo local government only simply because the capital is located in Uyo, all the civil servants are in Uyo, businesses are in Uyo, so Uyo carries, by far, the largest number of primary schools.
What we did was to make salaries of primary school teachers, first charge. We must take money and pay every primary school before we redistribute it. But at least, we honestly distributed the money even though I hear there were complaints about what my Commissioner for Local Government then was doing and EFCC came and investigated, and till today I do not know what the result of the investigation is”, he said.
As a way forward, Obong Attah said the country must practice true federalism if it must bring an end to the several teething problems that continues to plague governance.
“All these things are wrong and they all come down to the fact that we are not operating a proper federal system. So, for how long will 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”.
Irked by the misappropriation of local government funds by some state governments, the federal government had on Monday set June 1, 2019, as the take-off date of its new policy of sending allocations directly to the respective bank accounts of all local governments in the country.