PERSPECTIVE – Using local governments to scoop national funds

PERSPECTIVE – Using local governments to scoop national funds

Comrade Owei Lakemfa

By Owei Lakemfa

Aare Afe Babalola, the 94-year-old Senior Advocate of Nigeria with a 60-year experience at the bar, recently revealed an open secret: that virtually all state governors are stealing the funds of the local governments.

The nonagenarian founder of Afe Babalola University lamented on September 7: “When I was a councilor, in those days, local government funds used to come directly to them. We all know what has been happening to their money. I think the current President (Bola Tinubu) should do all he can to ensure that local government allocation gets to them directly and not through the governors because they (governors) steal a lot.”

It is tragic for Nigeria that an old man whose life has revolved around the rule of law, knows better to appeal to political authorities than advocate for the rule of law, as it would be a waste of time.

Indeed, the local government contraption is a fraudulent system operating on the wings of mass deceit. It has been so for about half a century. I recall the shock of a younger friend when he went on his National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, primary assignment in a local government. The Council Chairman came to the secretariat once monthly to share the monthly federal allocation. He took ‘his share’, gave his councilors theirs, paid the staff and gave the balance to the influential persons in the area. All dispersed happily to await the next allocation. That was during the Babangida dictatorship.

Under the Abacha regime, there was a directive that traditional rulers be given five per cent of the local government allocation. This led to squabbles in some areas as the fight for supremacy amongst them which would determine the share of the loot they collect, intensified. In some areas, in order to get greater share, kingdoms were subdivided. In cases where traditional kingdoms spanned across two or more states, additional traditional rulers were installed so they can share the states largesse.

This July, I attended a reception for a former local government chairman who narrated some of his experiences under the state governor. In one instance, he and his colleagues were invited to meet His Excellency. While seated, a document was passed round for the signatures of the Council Chairmen. In it, they were allegedly empowering the state government to deduct payments over a period for a sundry of things. He said on inquiring when the chairmen met to take such a decision, he became a marked man.

In another instance, he said the Chairmen were instructed to sign vouchers for the purchase of a Hilux van each as the state government donation to the police. He said when he contacted a well-known motor dealer to ask for the price of the vehicle, he discovered that the price on each voucher was over 100 per cent higher. He said when he pointed this out to the governor, he promised to investigate. He added that he then decided that his local government would directly buy the vehicle and deliver to the government house. This, he said, seemed to have sealed his political fate in the state.

In practice, local government leaders are foot mats of governors. In the first place, they might have been appointed by the governor as the ‘elected’ leaders of the local governments. So it is a servant/slave-master relationship. It is, therefore, almost impossible for a local government chairman to raise a voice against a governor. This rarity occurred in Ogun State when the Chairman of Ijebu East Local Government Area, Wale Adedayo, accused Governor Dapo Abiodun of diverting in the last two years, the statutory federal allocation to the local governments.

Adedayo, a self-determination activist and journalist, alleged that over N10.8bn fund of the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme was also diverted by the governor. He also claimed that the 10 per cent of the state’s internally generated revenue which, constitutionally, should be paid local governments had been withheld for years. Adedayo claimed that this zero allocation to the local governments had been going on since the days of Senator Ibikunle Amosun, the governor’s predecessor.

Governor Abiodun not only denied the allegations but also claimed his administration augments the funds allocated to local governments in the state to enable them meet their obligations.

What logically should follow is the state government publishing the claimed allocations and release of funds, especially when they would have been done through the banks and not across the table. Rather, Adedayo was hounded. His fellow chairmen denied him and went to prostrate for the governor. His legislative council suspended him from office. The State Security Services detained him for days. The police also detained him. Then, he was arraigned on a two-count charge based on a petition signed by the Secretary to the State Government, Tokunbo Talabi. It states: “Petition against Wale Adedayo’s deliberate circulation of falsehood, false report to government, threat to life and interference with the exercise of executive function.”

Basically, local government allocations are regarded as free funds to be squandered. Just as the crooked would use bread to scoop the communal soup, so do many of our leaders use local government funds to scoop our national funds.

In the first place, the creation of local governments in the last 40 years has been based on fraud. Powerful people went shopping to be allocated local governments. Military officers who sat in the inglorious ruling military councils allocated local governments to themselves. These creations followed no rules, objective criteria, logic or sense; they simply flow from the power relations in the military. The more successful coup plotters you have in the military regimes, the more local governments you had; invariably, the less coup plotters you could muster, the less local governments your ‘people’ would have. This is why today, while Lagos State which was created on May 27, 1967 has 20 local governments, the old Kano State created the same day, has 71 (present Kano and Jigawa states). Bayelsa State which contributes about one third of national wealth has eight local governments, while many states which contribute very little, have quadrupled that number. Yet the number of local governments is part of the criteria for the allocation and distribution of national wealth.

While the idea of local governments being the third tier of government is very good, its practice is iniquitous, unfair, immoral and obstructive of social justice in the country.

Since the Constitution states unequivocally that: “Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of States and a Federal Capital Territory” (Section 2 sub section 2), a practical and equitable way forward is for the present local governments to be scrapped, and allow each federating state to create the number of local governments it needs and can afford.

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