The directive from the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), recently to return the financial responsibilities of the 774 Local Government Areas back to them as from 1st June, 2019 has elicited divergent response.
According to the directive, banks that permit financial transactions from the accounts of Local Governments without the money first going into the councils’ coffers run the risk of being sanctioned.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), who is saddled with the responsibility of checkmating money laundering, fraudulent banking, advance fee fraud and other related financial crimes, has been alerted to swoop on such offending banks and government officials who would thwart the directive of the NFIU.

The NFIU further placed a limit of #500,000 on the daily cash withdrawal stating that local government undertaking expenses must be made by approved cheques or electronic payment channels, all geared to promote transparent transactions by all the local governments in the country.

In this interview with our Reporter, Kate Okereke, the Abia state chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Hon Donatus Nwankpa gave insightful details of how the granting of Financial Autonomy to Local Government Areas would spur developments in the grassroot. Excerpts:

Sir, with the agitations railing the Local Government Autonomy, do you think that much will be achieved with the new policy?

A whole lot of developments will be recorded with the new policy, since it is not in contravention with the Nigeria Constitution. With the agitations notwithstanding, the policy will see the light of the day. It is the best thing that has happened to democracy in Nigeria. I have been an advocate of local government autonomy since 1999 when I was in the House of Assembly and till date as a party man. Part of the setbacks of our democracy and part of the reason of our underdevelopment, is the dependent of the local government on the state. The local government does not derive its fund from the state but the federation account; therefore, they ordinarily ought to be given the capacity and freedom to regulate their funds. Today, if a local government wants to grade a few kilometers of road, they pass through the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs. This is totally wrong. The policy will go a long way to reduce stress on the state governors, create job opportunities and bring competitive development in the local government areas.

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What do you make out of the policy sir?

The encumbrance the non autonomy has caused is that it has challenged the constitution, reducing it to a two tier of government. And we have not been told that the Nigeria constitution has been amended to abrogate the third tier of government. In that regard, anything that is done to consolidate, reinforce and legitimize the existence of the local government structure is a welcome development. The Local government should be allowed to appropriate and must have the capacity to spend and dispose their funds. If the autonomy must work then, there should not be any care taker committee in the local government. There should be continuity in governance, at the end of every tenure, there should be an election.

Would the granting of autonomy to the local governments, not open more avenues for corruption and misappropriation of funds, thereby dragging the state backwards? 

Has the autonomy of the state drag the Federation backward? The constitution is clear, we have a three tier of government, the Federal, State and Local government. The Local government should be a democratic practicing field; it should be a tutelage area where people graduate to the state level. Whether it will cause more misappropriation of funds, any human being can misappropriate fund, even the President of the world. It is only God that cannot misappropriate fund. People should not be afraid to make mistakes. Local government autonomy will create development, competitiveness among others. The ineffectiveness of the local government has taken away grassroot development. The failure system is the undermining of the local government. The local government can provide jobs for people in the locality, instead of everyone clustering at the state for jobs. Also, the local government should not be governed by military administrators but should operate a presidential system of government where there are councilors who will have power to checkmate the excesses of the chairman.

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Alright sir, is it actually in the best interest to stop state government interferences in the running of Local governments?

You cannot stop in entirety, the state government from interfering in the affairs of the local government because whatever affects the local government, relatively affect the state. The two are inseparable. What we are saying is that, the local government should be allowed for once to manage the funds that come to them, be given the opportunity to initiate projects, programmes, ideas and policies that affect them. They should be allowed to spend their funds within their basic interest. Every locality has its own peculiarity as every politics is local. The state government will still have interference in the local government but in a minimal rate. This is because the security of the local government falls on the state. The Commander in chief of the state is the state Governor, the chief security officer is the state Governor, while the Police chief is the chief police law enforcement officer. In that case, since the President is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, has it stopped the state from maintaining their security? Has it stopped the Federation from intervening when there are escalating security challenges in every state? The answer is No! The same will happen between the local government and state. When there are crisis in the local government, the state will interfere. The idea of putting the local government fund for the use of state undermines the third tier of government.

OK sir, what would you say briefly, has been the impact of the local government administration being an apron string of the state?

Thank you very much for that question. Literally, it has damaged the local government system. There is no tangible development at the local government. The local government has become more like a football field where people gather at the council headquarters to play football. The whole activity of the local government has been taken over by the state. There is an encroachment in the constitutional authority. For example, markets, motor parks as well as sanitary situation fall under the supervision of the local governments but today the reverse is the case. State governments have rendered local governments redundant, impotent and basically incompetent.

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Then, what is new on the latest policy? 

First of all, I want to commend President Muhammadu Buhari on this policy, The President is one man that respects the rule of law. He has allowed the state to operate full democracy unlike what happened during the regime of the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, where he intervened in states’ matters and even removed Governors. Such cannot happen in this regime because the President understands what democracy is about. He allows state Governors to initiate security policies being the chief security officers of their states with security votes. The President has gotten to the root of people’s expectation with the granting of financial autonomy to local governments. The local government for once would be given the impetus to perform. Those who cannot come to the state government house should be able to go to their local government headquarters and get empowered. The local government should know that they are not a conduit pipe for squandering and siphoning of National funds. If the state governments refuse the financial autonomy of the local governments, then let no fund come from the Federation account as allocation for the local government. The state should be funding the local governments from their own state allocation. Let me emphatically state here that, since the local government allocation is still coming from the Federal government, the local government should be responsible and accountable for it and be given the freedom to spend it.

Lastly sir, what is the roadmap for a better local government administration and of course a word for rural dwellers?

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Rural dwellers should start to rejoice because with effect from June 1, the man in the village can go to his local government headquarters to get job opportunities as well as contracts from their councils. This policy alone can help our local areas step up their financial base thereby boosting the economy as well as bringing about gross developments.


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