Governors are getting set for a showdown with the NFIU, which has stopped them from tampering with the monthly allocations of the local government areas in their states, SUNDAY PUNCH has learnt.
SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that the governors, under the aegis of Nigeria Governors’ Forum, had forwarded a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari to intervene in the matter.
This came just as the speakers of some state Houses of Assembly have advised their governors to seek legal redress to stop the NFIU from meddling in matters considered to be under the purview of the state government.
On the other hand, the National Union of Local Government Employees has demanded that the directive by the NFIU must be carried out.
NULGE stated that the guideline had neither tampered with the provision of the constitution nor with the relevant law governing the operations of states/local government joint accounts.
The Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party Speakers’ Forum, Mr John Gaul-Lebo, in an exclusive interview with SUNDAY PUNCH, described the NFIU as “meddlesome interlopers”, adding that the federal agency was going into an area it had no jurisdiction over.
Gaul-Lebo, who said the constitution did not give such powers to the NFIU to give guideline and deadlines for compliance, noted the governors might have to seek legal redress on the matter.
He said, “They are meddlesome interlopers. They are going into an area they have no jurisdiction over and my advice is that the Federal Government and the National Assembly should focus more on creating a true constitutional autonomy for local government areas.
“Under the constitution, enactment of laws for local governments is under the purview of the state government via the House of Assembly. On the June 1 deadline, I believe the governors will challenge this in court and declare it illegal.
“First, NFIU is not the National Assembly and, therefore, cannot make laws. They cannot give deadline on such matter because the constitution does not recognise NFIU for that. They can only give deadlines if there is a delegated power or guidelines that are provided under a national Act.
“What they (NFIU) are doing is just advisory and it is persuasive; but they are coming with a punitive strategy. If they find anybody guilty of committing an offence, they can investigate for prosecution but they cannot give guidelines and direct how states/local government accounts should be controlled.
“I believe that the governors’ forum should go to court to challenge and set it aside. That is what I think the Nigeria Governors’ Forum should do and also the Speakers of Assembly Forum.”
Equally, the position of the governors is not different as the Director-General of NGF, Mr Asishana Okauru, told SUNDAY PUNCH that the governors had forwarded a petition to the president on the matter.
But Okauru was fast to point out that seeking legal redress was not an option for now as the governor had enjoyed good relationship with the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
He, however, noted that the position of the speakers referring to the NFIU as an interloper was not out of place as the agency was delving into an area it had no jurisdiction on.
The DG added, “I can tell you on good authority that the governors are not going to approach the court. The governors, under the platform of the NGF, have had a wonderful and superb relationship with the Federal Government and this is a federal agency.
“This whole package of guidelines is strange but they studied it and came out with a position on it. They have written a formal letter to the President by way of petition and the relevant stakeholders have been copied. I can avail you that at some point.
“This is an issue of concern to all the governors and the best thing to do is to approach the President; they have access to him. The petition has stated what they feel.
“If the speakers are saying the NFIU has delved into an area it does not have authority on, we do not think that they are wrong.”
In contrast, however, the National President, National Union of Local Government Employees, Mr Ibrahim Khaleel, said the guideline and the June 1 deadline given by NFIU were in order.
Khaleel alleged that any governor that challenged the position of the NFIU was guilty of looting LG funds.
He also accused governors of using local government allocations to fund political campaigns, adding that the misappropriation of LG funds by state governor over the years as alleged by the NFIU was true.
He stated, “This controversy surrounding this guideline is a matter of interest, and on the other hand, it is a matter of the interpretation of the laws of the land. This guideline has not tampered with the provision of the constitution neither does it tamper with edict enacted by any state House of Assembly governing the operations of states/local government joint accounts unless there is a conflict between what the agency is saying and any edict enacted in the state..
“The provision of section 162 of the constitution that provides for the establishment of the states/local government joint accounts describes that account as an account for only two functions —to collect and to disburse. Anything done from the states/local government joint accounts, other than collection and disbursement to LGAs, is contrary to the provision of the law, null and void, and illegal.
“If any state government is not comfortable with this guideline, it means the state government is tampering with funds meant for the LGAs because if it is not so, it will not have any reason to go against what the guideline is talking about.
“The guideline issued by NFIU is to protect funds that are allocated from the federation account for the development of LGAs from unnecessary diversion and siphoning by governments of the state.
“If these funds meant for LGAs are allowed to get to the LGAs without being tampered with, I can tell you that the security challenges we are facing as a country will not be so. Today, you cannot drive safely from Abuja to Kaduna. How many LGAs do we have along the routes?”
Efforts to speak with the National President of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, Mr Alabi David, for his comment were unsuccessful as his phone number could not be reached and a text message to the phone had not been responded to as of the time of filing this report on Saturday night.