Governors have kicked against the recent suggestion by President Muhammadu Buhari on the issue of local government finances, saying that it is wrong for the president to insinuate that they tamper with local government funds. Delta State Governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, who fired the first salvo, distanced his administration from the accusation that state governors are shortchanging the local governments by removing from the allocation what is due to them.
Similarly, the Enugu State government also dissociated itself from among the states that allegedly interfere with the finances of the local government system in their states, insisting it does not operate State Joint Local Government Accounts. Also, the Bayelsa State government denied having anything to do with the local government funds, saying, “We are not in the business of cutting local government money.”
In the same vein, a media aide and close ally of Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State, Hon. Modestus Nwamkpa, defended his boss, saying the local government administration under Uzodinma is structured to be open and devoid of sharp practices. In like manner, the Cross River State government said it has not tampered with any local government area in the payment of allocation due to it. Niger State Governor, Abubakar Sani Bello, noted that the local government areas have been granted partial autonomy in the state, and all monies forwarded to the chairmen.
The Benue State government also insisted it has complied with full autonomy of financial issues in the local government as directed by National Intelligence Financial Unit (NFIU). Recall that Buhari had, on June 10, while speaking to Arise TV, said if the federal, state and local system were being followed properly, there would not be problems. He went on to allege that the problem in the system stems from the fact that the local government chairmen are being compromised. He had said: “You as a local government are supposed to receive N300 million.
A document is given to you to sign that you have received N300 million but you are given only N100 million.” While reacting to the allegation, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa’s Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Olise Ifeajika, said instead of forcing the council chairmen to sign for what they did not receive, the state governor augments their allocation with millions of naira on monthly basis.
He said: “In Delta State, we don’t shortchange local governments. The administration of His Excellency, Sen. Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, is known for transparency, accountability and strict adherence to due process. “Over the years, we have engaged the 25 local governments in good relationships. Delta has been encouraging its local government with funds. “We provide them with funds when they don’t have to run the system. Local government chairmen can attest to that. “The state has been assisting the local government with N500 million monthly to augment their allocation.
Ifeajika wondered how a council area that is battling to survive with meagre allocation would be made to sign for slashed allocation. “When they have financial need, the state government intervenes. No local government chairman has ever complained about that in Delta.
“If other states or the Federal government is doing that, and killing local government systems without power devolution, Delta is not,” he said. Also, the Enugu State Commissioner for Local Government, Peter Okonkwo refuted the allegation, saying that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi never interferes with the funds accruing to the local governments in the state through the federation allocation. Okonkwo said that the state does not even have State Joint Local Government Accounts, insisting that allocations meant for the local government areas go to them directly.
He said: “It (interference with LG funds) doesn’t happen in Enugu State; moreover allocations go direct to local government accounts. “The scenario he (the president) is painting is false, actively very false, it’s not obtainable here. If there is any other place it’s obtainable, it’s not Enugu State. We don’t have a State Joint Local Government Account here; you can verify further, we don’t.
Enugu State has never done that even for one day, you can verify that too.” However, the Bayelsa State Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Ayibaina Duba, was comical in his reaction, asking “The president himself, which one is he tampering with? Is it the state’s own he is tampering with or which one? “Please I don’t have any answer for that question. There are some things I don’t want to react to.
First of all, I have not even read the statement from the president. “Let me talk to you when I have read the statement he made and under what context. We are not doing that anyway.” The chief press secretary to Bayelsa State governor, Daniel Alabrah, also said: “I don’t have any comment on that. Are you insinuating that my principal does that kind of thing? “If you said so, let’s leave it at that. Did they accuse my principal specifically? It is just some governors. It is a general statement. If any governor feels he is concerned, let him reply. I don’t have any comments.”
Similarly, Nwamkpa stressed that in Imo State, the allegation of unlawful deductions from council funds, is unfounded conjectural and a far-fetched assumption. “As far as local government administration is concerned, you will not find any government as transparent as the Governor Hope Uzodinma administration.
This government has been most prudent and transparent in the management and supervision of financial dealings with its local governments. “You have access to the Interim Management Committees at the local government areas, I challenge you to reach any of them and enquire if they are in any way being unduly short-changed by the state government in the disbursement of their monthly allocations. “That is why Imo people are today experiencing verifiable infrastructural upgrade through the Restoration, Rehabilitation and Recovery agenda of Governor Uzodinma,” he said.
The Chief Press Secretary to the governor of Cross River State, Mr. Christian Ita, also told our correspondent that Governor Ben Ayade instead of shortchanging the local government chairmen, had given them N11 billion to run their councils.” According to Ita, Ayade has always ensured that the councils get what is due to them from the federal allocation and has refused to tamper with their money. “The state government has ensured that all the 18 local government councils benefited from N11 billion, which Governor Ayade gave to them to ensure a smooth running of the councils and has not tampered with their allocation,” Ita said.
In Niger State, Governor Bello said the state augments those whose allocations are not enough. Speaking to one of our correspondents, his Chief Press Secretary, Mary Noel Berje, said: “Some local government areas can function on their own, but others cannot. “The state government has given partial autonomy to LGA chairmen and they are doing well.”
The state Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Sani Mohammed Idris, at a post council briefing in Government House, Minna, had earlier said that “Council decided that autonomy, which is geared towards repositioning the financial obligations of the councils, had commenced and will be for a period of six (6) months after which it will be reviewed.”
Idris, who spoke on behalf of the commissioner for Local Government, Community Development and Chieftaincy Affairs, Abdulmalik Sarkin Daji, said the State Executive Council believes that the partial autonomy will ensure sustainability in the local government councils. He stressed that the joint account that has hitherto been operational was necessitated due to the inability of some local government councils to sustain themselves. “This implies that when FAAC allocation is received and statutory deductions made, all the money will be sent to the local government councils directly.
“This will enable them to manage and pay their own bills and make adjustments where necessary.” In Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq’s Chief Press Secretary, Rafiu Ajakaye, said: “The President’s statement was qualified. It was never a blanket statement or a one-size-fitsall accusation against all the governors. “Since the coming of His Excellency, the state government has not touched a dime from local government funds and the records are there.
“There have been instances where allocations from the centre weren’t enough to pay salaries and settle other obligations at the local government level and what came through for them (in Kwara) was the savings made during slightly higher allocations under this administration.
“The leadership of the LGs are completely in control of their own funds while respective labour unions are privy to what comes to the local governments and how it is spent. “Salaries are first-line charge and once salaries are paid, there is hardly anything left for (even) running costs. “The state government is now shouldering the responsibilities of local governments such as environmental sanitation, healthcare.
A few months ago, the state government indeed had to bail out the local governments with a little above N110m to pay 100% salary when the federal allocation hit a new low. “So, this administration in Kwara State does not fall in the category of what Mr. President was describing in his interview. “And, in fairness to Mr. President, he made a qualified statement, which should not be misconstrued to be a blanket accusation against all the state governments or governors.” Also in Benue State, the government has challenged anybody to go and check the records, saying that anti- corruption agencies can go and check whether “we have tampered with funds available to the local governments.
“We do not go there; even the area where the local government and the state are supposed to be contributing money, the joint account, as enacted and signed into law by the Benue State House of Assembly, and the then governor signed, we have not operated that account since we came in. “We prefer that money goes to each of the local governments and they spend it. The records are there for anyone to come and see. “So, as far as we are concerned, we can say for ourselves that that the allegation is not true,” Governor Samuel Ortom, said. Similarly, a Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi-Kalu, when contacted to speak on the matter, said that such tampering with local governments’ allocations does not happen in Abia State. “No, it doesn’t happen in Abia State,” he insisted.