Local Government Councils in the South East are yet to enjoy financial autonomy in spite of the directive by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, a survey by News Agency of Nigeria has revealed.
Stakeholders interviewed by NAN across the zone said no local government council in the area had enjoyed financial autonomy.
In Abia State, Dick Nwosu, Chairman, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees in Umuahia North Local Government Council, said there was no council in the state that had a separate bank account.
According to him, this development gives the State Government control over councils’ funds, contrary to the expectations of the Federal Government.
Nwosu said the Joint Account Allocation Committee set up for both tiers of government placed constraints on local government councils as well as slowed down the pace of rural development in the state.
He said: “In the past, councils used to have direct access to their funds, which enabled them to undertake projects such as renovation of schools, grading of rural roads, agricultural businesses, among others.
“Today, the state government only releases funds for payment of workers’ salaries, but the project fund meant for development of the area is still being controlled by the state government.”
Nwosu said that in principle, Nigeria was running a system of government that encouraged healthy co-existence among the federal, state and local governments, but regretted that the system was far-fetched in practice.
Nwosu said local government administration in Abia State was greatly encumbered by the lack of financial autonomy, which ought to boost socio-economic growth at the grassroots.
He expressed concern that there was nothing to show that the implementation of local government financial autonomy was in sight.
He said: “We, as a union, are only hopeful that one day the councils will be free from the stranglehold of the state government.”
Osita Obi, Coordinator and Convener of Recover Nigeria Project, a Civil Society Organisation in Anambra State, said there was no local government financial autonomy in the state.
Obi said this was because there were no duly elected council governments in the state.
He said all funds accruing to local government councils were paid into a state joint account managed by the state government and those in charge in the councils were appointees of the governor.
He said: “There is nothing like financial autonomy for local governments in Anambra; what we have here is a joint account office where federal allocations accruing to the councils are paid.
“You cannot have financial autonomy without elected executive council; those heading the councils are appointees of the governor, so before you can have fiscal autonomy there must be election.
“As a matter of fact, we have agitated over time that the Federal Government should stop releasing council money to states without elected executive council.”
Also speaking, an official of NULGE in Anambra State corroborated Obi’s position, saying there was no council in the state that received federal allocation directly.
The official, who pleaded anonymity, said all local government councils’ funds were paid into a joint account managed by the state government.
Ogechukwu Enwelum, Executive Director, Divine Era Development and Social Rights Initiative, an Enugu-based Non-Governmental Organisation, said there was nothing to show that local government councils in the state were financially autonomous.
Enwelum said the impacts of the local government councils were not being felt by the society.
She said: “We had a recent programme and town hall meeting with local government chairmen through the representatives of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria in the South East.
She said: “The feelers we got are that they are autonomous in terms of financial control and management of funds.
“Our worry is that we do not see the imprints of such financial autonomy in grassroots development.”
Also, an Enugu-based lawyer and activist, Chukwunonso Ogbe, said it was ridiculous to say that the local councils were in control of their finances.
Ogbe said infrastructure in the local government areas were deplorable, while salaries are owed to workers.
He said the local government chairmen needed to convince the people that they were really financially autonomous.
A serving councillor in Ebonyi State debunked the claim by the state NULGE that the state government granted financial autonomy to the 13 local government areas.
The councillor, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the policy was far from achieving the intended objective.
He noted that no council boss in the state had powers to spend his council’s fund without first obtaining approval from the state government.
He said: “You, as an elected chairman, cannot spend kobo of your council without first writing to explain why you want to make such withdrawal and wait for approval.
“If any chairman makes an unauthorised withdrawal and expenditure, the person will incur the anger of government.
“The policy is a charade and exists only in principle and not in practice.
“The local governments are not allowed to award and execute infrastructural projects under the purview of the local government administration unless with approval by state governor.
“The method of selection or election of council chairmen always makes it difficult for them to do things that are not approved by the governor even when such infringes on their rights as elected chairmen.”
Meanwhile, the NULGE in Ebonyi and Anambra State said their governments granted financial autonomy to local governments in their states.
Leonard Nkah, NULGE Chairman in Ebonyi State, stressed the implementation was in line with the directive from the NFIU.
Nkah noted that state government commenced implementation of the policy in June 2019.
He said: “Ebonyi is among the first states that commenced implementation.
“Every LG operates a separate bank account through which it receives it monthly statutory federation allocation.
“Councils pay their staff direct and projects are done by the chairmen though with inputs from stakeholders of the various LGs.
“A number of checks and balances are in place to guide financial recklessness and imprudent spending by chairmen.
“If the policy is sustained and punishment meted to council chairmen who connive with state officials to commit financial graft, the local government system will be sanitised and lost glory restored.”
Nkah said NULGE had developed a mechanism to track inflow and outflow of funds in the 13 councils in the state and pledged that funds would be closely monitored to guide against misappropriation.
His Enugu State counterpart, Kenneth Ugwueze, says local government councils in the state are financially autonomous as the 17 local councils had opened three accounts as stipulated by the directive.
“As we speak, all of them have opened the project, salary and single revenue accounts and the move has paid off,” Ugwueze said.