The National President of the National Union of Local Government Employees, Ibrahim Khaleel, said the state governments had come up with another means of taking money from the local governments’ accounts despite the financial guidelines issued by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit to them not to tamper with local governments’ funds again.
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The NFIU had said that in consonance with the 1999 Constitution, no debit would be allowed on any local government funds with effect from June 1, 2019 until the money was credited to the receiving local government.
In an exclusive interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Thursday, Khaleel accused the state governments across the country of forcing local governments to pay levies to them from the fund apportioned to the councils from the federation account.
Khaleel said local governments were being asked to contribute to the running of some projects in states which ordinarily were responsibilities of state governments.
He said, “The NFIU guidelines started operation on June 1, 2019 but it is being partially complied with by state governments. Banks are restricted by the guidelines that they should not make payment or approve expenditure from the joint accounts to any state governments’ agencies. Any bank that goes against the rule will pay a penalty of 100 per cent of the amount spent. Because of this, the money from the federation account is properly channelled to the local governments.
“But the major challenge we have observed in all the states is that after releasing the money to the councils, state governments are forcing the councils to return part of the money to state agencies in form of what they call government obligations’ fund.
“These obligations differ from state to state. It is in form of contributions to finance projects like the activities of local government and chieftaincy affairs ministry, road construction, maintenance of universities, hospital maintenance and so on. Ordinarily, these are responsibilities of the state government. It’s like giving money with the right hand and taking it back with the left hand.
“I am saying authoritatively that this is happening in all the 36 states of the federation. For the NFIU guidelines to achieve its purpose, local governments must be allowed to utilise their funds for the benefit of the people and not losing it to unnecessary levies by state governments.”
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The NULGE boss said the union had approached the NFIU and other anti-graft agencies with facts gathered from states, saying that if the issue was not properly addressed, it would be difficult for the government to tackle corruption and issues related to it in the country.
He added, “We have already drawn the attention of the NFIU and the anti-graft agencies to this development. This is another form of fraudulent activities coming from state governments and it has to be addressed if truly issues of money laundering, financing terrorism and so on must be addressed also.
“During our meeting with the leadership of the NFIU, we gave them facts and figures and they promised to follow up the issue. The truth is that the state governments have devised other means of taking back council funds after paying it to them.”
The NFIU spokesman, Sani Tukur, declined comment, saying the matter was in court.
But a source said the local government councils should report the state governments to the anti-graft agencies if the governors forced them to part with their allocations.
The official stated, ”Our guidelines is to ensure monies reach their destination. If they (councils) chose to give back to the governors willingly or unwillingly, I don’t know what they expect anyone to do.
“If they are forced, they know what to do: They should simply report to the anti-graft agencies for investigations. As far as our records show, banks, which are the target of the guidelines, are complying fully.”
Meanwhile, the governors are saying they have not done anything wrong with their actions.
While they also said the claim by the NULGE chairman might not apply to all the governors, they (the governors) however said some local governments had been supporting their state governors to execute what they called laudable projects.
One of the governors, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said they would not go contrary to the directives of the NFIU until the NGF was done with the case it instituted against the agency.
The governor said, “The claim by the NULGE chairman may be true and it can also be false. In some states, the local government councils have been granted full autonomy. Elected council officials are however free to contribute to developmental projects in the states and their councils through the state governments.
“You should also know that it is the same state and government. That is why the 36 state governors also contribute huge sums of money to the Federal Government to fight terror in the country.
“With this, there is nothing to worry about. Whatever the case, we are working together for the development of our states.”