By Sunny Udeh in Calabar

Against the backdrop of the recent guidelines to reduce vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawals from local government funds throughout Nigeria issued by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) on May 6, 2019, former Senate Leader, Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba has called for consequential checks on Local Government administrators to ensure the realization of the benefits intended by the said guidelines.

Senator Ndoma-Egba was speaking during a routine interaction with members of the press in Calabar recently. The Senator reminded the media of their responsibility to continually advocate the sustainability and relevance of the Local Governments as the third tier of Government. He stated that the spirit and intention for which the Local Government system was created by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria have been under serious threat owing to the way and manner most State Governors have reduced the Local Governments as mere appendages of the State Governments; and funds meant for the Local Governments from the Federation Account tampered with indiscriminately.

While answering a question on Local Government autonomy and the recent NFIU guidelines, Ndoma-Egba reminded those present that the Local Government should be considered and treated as the most important tier of Government since it is the closest to the people at the grassroots. He reminisced about the years past when Local Governments embarked on projects and programmes that have direct impact on the daily lives of the people such as rural road rehabilitation, rural water supply, primary education, primary healthcare, development of markets, provision of certain basic infrastructure, etc. He decried the near collapse of the Local Government system due to the appropriation of their functions and finances by State Governments.

Senator Ndoma-Egba therefore declared his support for the NFIU and the released guidelines, a move he said is consistent with the provisions of the Constitution. However, he sounded a note of warning to the relevant authorities, as the NFIU guidelines which effectively check the excesses of State Governors as it concerns Local Government funds, come into effect on June 1, 2019. He advised that an effective mechanism to check any misuse of the funds available to Local Government administrators should be put in place and strengthened. He recalled the recklessness with which some Local Government Chairmen during the onset of the Fourth Republic managed their Council funds, fraught with corruption and high-handedness.

With the new guidelines, the joint account system currently in use by States and Local Governments now exists only for the receipt of allocations from the Federation Account but not for disbursement. The guidelines place a daily cash transaction limit of N500,000 for Local Governments, with any transaction in excess of that amount to be done through e-transfer channels. All these will be registered and monitored by the NFIU. These measures effectively wrest control of Local Government funds from the Governors and put same back in the hands of Local Government administrators. Expectedly, the Governors are opposing these new moves.

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