APC govs, NASS leaders hold secret talks over LG funds

All Progressives Congress governors have held a closed-door meeting with the leaders of the National Assembly over the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit’s guidelines  barring governors from tampering with local government  area funds.

A source at the meeting, which held recently, told one of our correspondents that among other issues discussed at the meeting, the governors, under the aegis of Progressives Governors’ Forum, were seeking the support of the National Assembly over their objection to the guidelines released by the NFIU regarding the funds accruing to the councils  from the federation account.

The NFIU  on May 6 issued the ‘guidelines to reduce vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawals from local government funds throughout Nigeria’,  which stopped governors from tampering with funds meant for the LGAs. The guidelines took effect from June 1.

The body  said, “The Unit also maintains its understanding of the 1999 Constitution that no debit is allowed on any local government funds unless and until the funds are credited to and reach the bank accounts of a local government in any state of the federation.

“No transaction shall be permitted on a local government account until all salaries of local government staff, primary school teachers, traditional rulers and all other staff are removed.”

In a follow-up statement, the NFIU  added, “The provision of the cumulative cash withdrawal not exceeding N500,000 per day is also firmly in place effective (from) June 1, 2019.”

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It said  any other transaction must be done through valid cheques or electronic funds transfer.

The 36 governors, acting under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, had rejected the instructions, saying the agency was dabbling in a matter that was “beyond its mandate”.

In a letter  to the President by then-NGF Chairman, Abdulaziz Yari, the  governors  said the NFIU’s action was a “brazen attempt to ridicule” their collective integrity and “show total disregard for the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended”.

The governors also approached the Federal High Court in Abuja for an order stopping  the implementation of the NFIU’s instructions in furtherance to their efforts, arguing that the NFIU Act 2018 lacked the power to issue guidelines on council finances, especially imposition of sanctions.

But the court rejected their request.

Justice John Tsoho declined a request by counsel for  the forum to restrain the NFIU from implementing the guidelines pending the determination of suit No. FHC/Abj/CS/563/19 before the Federal High Court 2, Abuja.

To fully implement the directive, the NFIU warned that any bank that allows any transaction from any council  account without the money first reaching a particular LGA account would be sanctioned 100 per cent, both locally and internationally.

The NFIU also said it was monitoring the implementation of the directive.

But at the closed-door meeting between the APC governors and the lawmakers, the source said the governors were passionate about  the issue.

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He said, “The governors lamented the lack of synergy and cooperation between them and the legislators and urged us to buy into their agenda for a smooth relationship between the two arms of government.

“Both parties deliberated on the report of the APC Governors Forum’s sub-committee on legislative matters, chaired by the Governor of Katsina State, Aminu  Masari.

“The governors specifically urged the APC caucus in the National Assembly to cooperate with them on issues that touch on their constitutional roles.

“The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and the Speaker of the  House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, took time to explain the issues relating to the NFIU financial regulations to the governors and the roles that the National Assembly could play on the issue.”

The source said Masari, during the presentation of the governor’s agenda, accused the lawmakers of not according to issues relating to them the importance they deserved.

The source said, “The governors noted that the fact that they had gone to court on the matter did not mean that the National Assembly leadership should not employ legislative means to save them from the NFIU.

“Although the governors spoke with confidence at the meeting, the fact that they are seeking the lawmakers’ support is an indication that the NFIU guidelines are giving them serious concerns.”

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The source noted that the absence of coordination between the governors and the lawmakers had created distrust capable of destroying the party.

He said both Lawan and Gbajabiamila, who spoke on behalf of their colleagues, promised to look into the APC governors’ proposal,  urging them to put their house in order.

Meanwhile, the National President, Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, Mr Alabi David, declined comment on the matter.

He said, “I have not been able to get the details of the discussion between the governors and the leadership of the National Assembly. However, until I have the details, I do not want to react because it is based on speculation. When I get the details of what they discussed, I will give you the  feedback.”

But a top council official in Cross River State said it would be inconsiderate for the National Assembly to reverse the NFIU decision on LG funds.

He said, “I think the National Assembly will be inconsiderate to attempt to reverse the NFIU guidelines. It will be anti-democratic. Unfortunately, our union leaders do not want to comment on the matter.  We, civil servants, are constantly being haunted for commenting on this matter.”

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