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Senate moves to reform local governments

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Senate moves to reform local governments

The Senate, yesterday, called on state Houses of Assembly yet to consider and pass their concurrence to a bill geared towards granting full autonomy to local governments, to do so before the expiration of the current National Assembly.

This is coming barely 48 hours after the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) issued a new financial guideline on the operations of the local government accounts expected to take effect on June 1.

In a motion sponsored by Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, the Senate said it is alarmed at the continuous pillage of cash allocated to local councils across the states through the State Joint Local Government Accounts.

Senate backed the NFIU guidelines limiting cash transactions in the accounts of local governments to a daily maximum of N500,000.

It called on the 36 state governments and the FCT, to fully support the implementation of the new NFIU guidelines to promote good governance at the local government areas and restore governance at the grassroots levels.

However, the position of the Senate that financial institutions should support the implementation of the new guidelines, contravenes Section 162(6&7) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, deputy president of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu told his colleagues.

Section 162(6&7) states that “Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the local government councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State;

“Each State shall pay to local government councils in its area of jurisdiction such proportion of its total revenue on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”

Ekweremadu warned that if any section of the constitution is flouted, governors may challenge the move in court. He said the best option was to amend the various sections of the constitution to grant full autonomy to local governments.

He said: “Today, we have lying in all the states, the National Assembly Bill on the reform of the local government system, which was part of the last efforts by this National Assembly to amend the constitution. Now some states have been sitting on it.

“So, I want to use this opportunity to appeal to those states where the bill is still hanging to allow the state Assemblies look into those bills and take a decision one way or the other. If we are able to do that, it will be one of the best legacies this Assembly would give to Nigerians.

“The issue of the management of allocations of the states, federal, and local governments is all set out in Section 162 of the Constitution. As a responsible parliament, I want to suggest that it is better for our relevant Committees to liaise with the NFIU to ensure that whatever guidelines they are coming up with do not clash with the Constitution.

“I remember that many years ago, when the Federal Government started saving money through the Excess Crude Accounts, governors went to court to challenge it. So, I envisage a situation where the governors could go to challenge the NFIU guidelines and I suggest that our relevant committees sit down with the NFIU to ensure that whatever guidelines they come up with that we do not engage ourselves in unnecessary litigations.

“The other issue is the limiting of withdrawals by local governments to N500,000 a day. This might work in my local government and some other rural local governments. But in a place like Lagos and Abuja, it is going to be absolutely impossible because what they do everyday is enormous.

“So, that is another area the Committee might need to sit down with the NFIU to find out the appropriate amount that will be able to support the Local Government operations in a day, especially the urban local governments.”

Many former governors, cum senators, who supported the motion, said the reforms were overdue and would help free up funds for the development of local governments.

Senate President, Bukola Saraki urged the standing committees on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes; State and Local Governments, to follow up and ensure that positions reached by the Senate are adhered to.

He said the local governments, as currently constituted, cannot deliver dividends of democracy to the people as long as state governors were in charge of the funds.

Meanwhile, the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) has has hailed the NFIU guidelines on N500,000 daily cash withdrawal limit.

NULGE National President, Khaleel Ibrahim thanked the Federal Government and pledged to work for the success of the guidelines.

“We will train our members across the length and breath of the country to keep an eagle eye on the operations of the funds going to local government councils henceforth to ensure that the abuse which has been perpetuated in the past are stopped for good,” he stated.

He added that with the introduction of the guidelines, corruption at the grassroots level of government will be drastically reduced and development will be accelerated.

He called on political parties to put forward credible and capable Nigerians to run for political offices at local government levels, where they can deploy their talents to run effective administration.

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