News

December 4, 2022

Buhari, govs row deepens as Afenifere, Ohanaeze, PANDEF weigh in

*’Name state executives stealing LG funds’ 

…demand Constitution amendment 

By Dickson Omobola, Chioma Onuegbu & Chinonso Alozie

Concerned by President Muhammadu Buhari’s allegation that state governors steal funds meant for Local Government Areas, LGA, regional groups have urged the President to back the claim with evidence and name state governors pilfering the funds.

They also demanded a constitution amendment on local government autonomy, saying gaps in the constitution made it possible for governors to have influence over LGAs.

In separate chats with Sunday Vanguard, they said the President shouldn’t stop at raising the alarm but also ensure that necessary actions are initiated against offending state governors.

The President had, last Wednesday, said state governors were stealing funds meant for local administration, thereby causing what he termed stunted development at the local government level.

Before the latest alarm, the President, at different fora, lamented that local government administration in the country had been emasculated by governors, who he often accused of diverting allocations to them from the federation account.

However, regional bodies were unanimous in saying that any constitution amendment should ensure that governors no longer have powers to conduct LGA elections.

Evidence

National Publicity Secretary of the Afenifere, Comrade Jare Ajayi, said: “The fact that such an accusation could come from the Federal Government at this time establishes what has been in the rumour mill before that state governors do not allow local governments to have the quantum of money that comes from Abuja.  

“For the fact that federal government is aware of this means it should take action.

“We heard that some state governors are already denying that accusation doesn’t apply to them. It is up to the federal government to act upon it. Government must have documented evidence to back it up. And as I said before, it has been in the rumour mill before. However, the point is that local government may not be able to free themselves from the state governors. Federal government is in a position to take legal action to appropriately deal with the situation.

Election

“For us, Afenifere, we are using this opportunity to call on the state governors to allow democracy to operate at the local government level. Also, just as the President does not have the power to appoint governors for states, it is not democratic for governors to appoint caretaker committees or interim committees into local governments. A proper election should be allowed to take place so that those who would govern at the local level would be those elected by the people.”

Also speaking, spokesperson for Coalition of Northern Groups, CNG, Comrade Abdul-Azeez Suleiman, said: We are in absolute agreement with the President on the issue of local government finances being stolen by the states. At the risk of overstating the case, the CNG, like all other sane Nigerians, is in agreement that local government in Nigeria has been emasculated and the control of local finances is holding the local government councils back. They should be freed to collect and spend as they choose.”:

Constitution

On his part, Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonna, said: “What the President has said is true. However, local governments are manipulated by the governors because of our constitution. The problem, I believe, lies in the constitution because it allows the state government to organise elections for the local government. As a result, the governors select and do not give room for those at the local level to vote for the chairmen. Elections do not take place at that level.

“The governors or the state electoral body do so for the people. In effect, they select those who share values with the state government. What they call a joint state/local government account allows the governors to have some level of relationship with the local government. So, the governors select the person in charge. I re-emphasise that the fault is in the constitution. For instance, it is difficult to drop a yam with a goat and expect that the yam would not be eaten by the goat. It is impossible.’’

  Imbalance

Apex socio-cultural organization of the South-South geo-political zone, Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, has urged the presidency to mention the states misappropriating funds meant for their local government areas to enable Nigerians to interrogate the situation.

National Publicity Secretary of the Forum, Ken Robinson, said this while reacting to a recent statement credited to President Muhammadu Buhari that state governors are stealing LGA funds.

He said:” If the President has that sort of information at his disposal that is not common to the citizens, he should be able to mention the states that took the monies that were meant for their local government areas.

“But it is significant to point out that the issue of local government administration in a federal system, for us in PANDEF, is the business of the state. The inclusion of local government areas in the constitution is an aberration.

“ In other jurisdictions where they are practising true federalism, the creation, funding, structure and administration of local government areas is the business of the states.

“ In Nigeria, it has been included in the constitution to unduly appropriate money to certain sections of the country that contribute little to the national purse. It creates imbalance because certain sections that contribute little take away so much at the detriment of other areas that contribute so much.”