How to stop stealing of LG funds – Dr. Kanam
President Muhammadu Buhari has promised to do something about the local government administration in Nigeria. As a former LG boss, what are the issues that need to be considered?
First of all, I want to seize this opportunity to congratulate Mr. President on the commendable steps he has taken in turning around the situation in our dear country. Regarding the question you asked, I believe we all know there is something called joint local and state government account. That is an account operated jointly between local governments in a particular state and the state government, which however is not the case. A quick reference to Section 162 of the constitution, particularly sub section 6 clarifies this matter. It states that, “each state government is to open a state joint local government account not a joint state and local government account.” What’s the difference? The difference simply is as opposed to state government and local government joint account, whereby local governments within a state and the state jointly operate and decide how the money is to be distributed or used. But the state joint local government account is an account where all monies belonging to local governments in a particular state coming from the federation account will go into. Then, as soon as that money enters into that account, another statutory law which is the Allocation of Revenue Act comes into operation. This implies that the chairman of this Joint Allocation Account in the state, who is the commissioner for local government, quickly calls for the meeting of the Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC), which is constituted by the commissioner and all the executive council chairmen, and this again is a major problem we have in the running of local government. This is because, any time we dissolve a council, the operation of that
Joint Accounts Allocation Committee becomes illegal since there are no elected council chairmen to attend that meeting to meet and distribute that money in accordance to the predetermined distribution formula and the bases of which that money is given to each local government from the federation account. Each local government already has a figure representing its share from that joint account.
State governments have no dime in that account other than a constitutional requirement that at the end of every quarter, it is supposed to pay 10% of its internally generated revenue into that account, which will increase the take home of the Dr. Saleh Kanam was in the news between 2008 and 2011 in Plateau State, when he was removed by the then state governor, Jonah Jang, as local government chairman. He speaks on the abuse of local councils by governors and how the present administration can change the trend. Excerpts: local governments. But it is the other way round, where we are witnessing reductions, dubious cuts here and there, and at the end of the day, the local governments only go with what they can pay salaries.
In a nutshell, the state has nothing to do with that account. In fact, the Allocation of Revenue Act 2004 under Section 8, specifically under subsection 8, prohibits states from borrowing from that account, and it is very important for the governments of the state to understand this. The supervising powers of state over local government do not include dabbling into the finances of the local government, but to supervise how these funds are to be used. That is why we have the office of the auditor-general in respect of the local government at the state level. The House of Assembly also has committees on local government; there is also the local government inspectorate division in the ministry of local government and the governor too is empowered under local government laws in the state to receive petitions from people from local governments.
I have been hearing people, even the governor of Kaduna State saying that he has abolished Joint Account. This is not acceptable since it is provided by the law. Saying the state government is to take certain amount from that joint account to do something with it, which we all know is prohibited by law are some of the things the present administration needs to find a way of stopping.
But why has this practice persisted?
Anybody who has the opportunity of taking what does not belong to him will willingly take it and I think that is what the state governments are doing. As state executive, even if the governor doesn’t know, he has the ministry of justice to advise him on legal issues. Governors can get clarifications on anything they don’t understand, from either the office of the Attorney General or the ministry of justice. I don’t think there is an issue of ignorance there. As for the local government chairmen, unless and until the method of election in our country at the local government is rectified, we’ll continue to produce people that are not elected but selected by governors, whose main interest when they come to office is what they get as salaries and other things that are not in the interest of the people.
Also, I must say that with apology, many of the chairmen are ignorant of their own powers and the position of the law in respect to a lot of issues. The organization that is supposed to fight and ensure that the right thing is done, and which I believe is not doing the right thing as far as I’m concerned is the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE).
ALGON is already a crippled organization if you look at the background from which its members were brought into office, so the only organization is NULGE. I’m calling on NULGE to ask her lawyers to go to the Allocation of Revenue Act and Section 162 of the constitution and quickly do something about going to court, so that the stealing of local government funds and that of state governments will stop.
But some say governors take interest in the finances of the LGs due to the high level corruption there…
There is already a mechanism in place to check alleged corruption at the local government level. It is corruption at the state level that worsens corruption at the local level. If we have a good state government with powers to supervise local government, there will be no corruption in the state and there will be no corruption in the local government.
I’ve earlier mentioned that the state government has about four supervising powers over the local government. The governor can receive petitions and direct the correction of any wrong doing in the local government level. There is the auditor general for local government who works under the local government but at the state level, checks how money is spent and received at the local level after every six weeks. We also have the inspectorate division in respect of local governments in the same ministry. Whenever the meeting of the local government is conducted, there is always the representative of the state, particularly from the ministry of local government and chieftaincy affairs. Thirdly, there is also the oversight function of the State House of Assembly; this is also a state organ not a local government organ. With all these powers, if there is still corruption at local government, then squarely, the root cause of corruption is at the state level.
State governors have also been sacking elected local government chairmen at will, is this right?
That’s the manifestation of the fact that majority have not come to accept the rule of law as the criteria for running the democratic process. Let me start by telling you the problems associated with the dissolution of local government councils. First of all, if you want to engage in any state creation constitutionally in Nigeria today, local government councils must come into the process. So, if at the time the federal government wants to engage in state creation and majority of local government councils in the country are constituted by caretaker committees, any participation by those caretaker committees renders the whole process illegal.
We have to look at Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution and see what kind of local government is recognized by our constitution. The section says “the system of local government by democratically elected local government council is under this constitution guaranteed”. So any time you have a caretaker or a sole administrator at the local government, or the transition committee or the management committee or whatever kind of committee, you have to reconcile it with that fact.
The second issue is that the Joint Account Allocation Committee of which local government council chairmen are members becomes illegal because the right people to represent the local government councils have been dissolved. Thirdly, by implication, the state also vests itself with the power of collecting money on behalf of local government through its commissioner of finance. As soon as the money comes into their hands, it is in trust for democratically elected local government councils. If you dissolve the local government council and bring your appointees as those who will manage the local government, then there is already no structure since it is only your appointees collecting the money for you and not the local government councils. That’s my interpretation of that section and these are some of the problems. There are many Supreme Court decisions saying dissolution of local government, removal of chairmen, suspension of chairmen or councilors are all gross violations of the constitution.
Dr Saleh Kanam