Local Government Councils in Benue, Taraba and Nasarawa states are still operating Joint Accounts in spite of the financial autonomy granted them by the Federal Government.
A survey conducted by News Agency of Nigeria(NAN) in these states revealed that the local governments still draw their funds from their respective states’ joint accounts.
The Benue chapter of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) said in spite of the signing into law the Local Government Autonomy Bill by President Muhammadu Buhari, local governments in the state were still receiving their monthly allocations from the state joint account.
The President of the union, Mr Terungwa Igbe, said that though individual councils ” now pay salaries to their workers, such salaries were remitted from the state joint account.”
Igbe said joint account meetings were still being held between the Bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and the Council Chairmen.
He said the meetings were solely for the purpose of transferring funds to individual council accounts.
He regretted that the federal government had yet to commence direct remittances into local government accounts for salary payment, but explained that such joint account meetings were avenues for the transfer of council funds to their individual accounts.
“The Bureau for Local Government And Chieftaincy Affairs no longer pays our salaries, it only transfers the monthly allocations paid into the joint account to our individual council accounts at the meetings.
“Our salaries are now paid by individual local government councils and not the bureau for Local Government again.
” It is individual councils that are paying salaries but what they are doing is that they will do joint account meeting, then transfer all the money from the joint account to local government accounts.
“The monies still come into bureau for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs joint account from the Federation Account.
The president said for now they were okay with the development since council funds were given to the councils unlike before that the bureau was handling it.
In Taraba, an official of the state chapter of the Association of Local Government Of Nigeria (ALGON), said the State Government was still operating joint account with the Local Governments.
“You know the local government councils in the state are still being run by caretaker committees; so everyone is afraid to demand compliance with the directives to stop joint allocation in the state,” the official who pleaded anonymity, said.
He, however, expressed hope that the situation might change after the state’s local government elections slated for May 16, when executive chairmen and councilors would emerge.
On his part, Mr Mohammed Kwanti, leader of the Taraba Advocacy for Accountability and Social Justice, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) based in Jalingo, decried the delay in separation of function between local councils and states especially the joint allocation.
Kwanti said the fusion of financial control mechanism had further widened the poverty gap among Nigerian citizens.
He recalled how dividends of democracy had impacted positively on the local people until the review of the local government autonomy act that destabilised the efficient governance mechanism at the grass roots level.
“Now that financial control of local councils is with states, the grassroot is therefore, completely alienated from dividends of democracy.
“The hitherto execution of projects that had immediate impact on the locals is completely eroded.
“We are, therefore, calling on all the stakeholders to rise to the occasion and insist that the financial autonomy for local councils is reinstated,’’ he said.
Mr Aminu Maifata, Chairman of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Nasarawa State chapter, said the joint account was still in existence in the state, but that allocations were being distributed to every local government the way they came from the federation account.
Maifata, who is also the Chairman of Lafia Local Government Council, commended Gov.Abdullahi Sule for the development.
He said that unlike in the past, local governments in the state could now executive projects that had bearing on the lives of their people provided they had the funds.
He, therefore, appealed for the amendment of the Constitution to make local government councils the third tier of government.
Meanwhile, the Kogi chapter of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) has called for a full autonomy for all the 774 local government councils in the country to save them from total collapse.
The President of the union, Mr Tade Adeyemi, who made the call, decried the state of affairs in the local governments in the country, saying that granting them full political and financial autonomy would put them back on track.
Adeyemi said that the partial financial autonomy granted the councils sometime by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit had not been working due to the refusal of states to comply.
” State governments and the local governents are still maintaining joint account which simply means that the autonomy is not yet there,”he said.
According to him, Nigerians are still waiting for the outcome of the committee set up by President Muhammadu Buhari to enforce local government autonomy in all states.
He said that local government councils in the state had become weak financially, as they were finding it difficult to pay workers’ salaries
“The autonomy was not just there for the councils to perform. They have been crippled , granting them political and financial autonomy will change the situation for the better,” the chairman said.
He appealed to the National Assembly to speed up amendment of the 1999 Constitution, urging them to give priority to local government autonomy in the course of the amendment.
An activist, Mr Danasabe Umar , said that local government councils would not be able to discharge their statutory responsibilities unless they were granted autonomy.
Umar, who is the Chief Executive of a Lokoja-based Non Governmental Organisation, Hands Across Africa Development Initiative, appealed to state governors to see the local governments as another tiers of government constitutionally put in place to render services to the people at the grassroots.
He said that the local government system in Nigeria may become a thing of the past very soon unless all stakeholders came together to rescue it.
Umar also called on President Muhammadu Buhari to use his good offices to save the system from collapse by restoring the full autonomy to local government councils in the country.