How governors ground local government councils (I) | Dailytrust

How governors ground local government councils (I)

 Jos North Local Government Council Secretariat    Photo:  Ado Abubakar Musa
Jos North Local Government Council Secretariat Photo: Ado Abubakar Musa

Following partial financial and nonpolitical autonomy, many local government areas in the country are on the verge of collapse. There are indications that a lot of them still operate as appendages of state governors.  Consequently, local government areas are not only being grounded but also malfunctioning, leading to continued grassroots underdevelopment trend. Daily Trust on Sunday begins a series on some scenarios of anomalies in local government administration across the country, which border on governors’ failure to allow local government chairmen direct access to revenues for them to engender development in their respective council areas. Governors are also accused of failing to conduct local government elections for years in many states.   They also pay local government workers’ salaries based on percentage, while some of them reportedly use caretaker committees to siphon LG funds.

 

By Clement Adeyi, Abuja, Abubakar Akote (Minna), Ado Abubakar Musa (Jos), Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin) & Mohammed I. Yaba (Kaduna)

 

Kwara: Financial autonomy, but no elected chairmen

In Kwara State, it is said that local government councils enjoy financial autonomy, but the state government still exercises political control over their affairs. Before the present administration of Abdulrahman Abdulrazak, local government workers and their leaderships were constantly at loggerheads with the state government, leading to a frosty relationship. However, since 2019 when the new administration came on board, expectations had been high as workers hoped their backlog of salaries would be paid, which would eventually lead to the cancellation of joint project arrangements between both tiers of government.

But more than two years down the line, there seems to be little changes as the present government is yet to conduct local government elections, instead it sacked the entire structure of the elected council officials it inherited and replaced them with Transitional Implementation Committee (TIC) chairmen for the 16 councils in the state.

While the state government insists that a lot have changed and it has granted the local government full autonomy, many workers and officials punctured that argument, insisting that nothing has changed.

An official of Ilorin East Local Government Council who spoke with Daily Trust on Sunday on condition of anonymity said the council was still very much under the state government. “To say that we are autonomous is a big lie because the councils are not in control of how their allocations are shared. The autonomy thing is only a political statement,” the staff said. 

Another senior official told our correspondent that the councils could not stand on their own, adding that the only thing that has changed is an increase in the revenue coming to the state because of the increase in Value Added Tax (VAT) from the federal government.   

Ilorin West Local Government Council Secretariat in Kwara State. Photo: Mumini Abdulkarim

 

Dissatisfied with the situation, a civil rights group in the state, the Elites Network for Sustainable Development (ENETSUD), dragged the government to court and won. The group further released a financial status of local governments based on its appraisal of the report of the auditor-general. According to the ENETSUD, while the government does not tamper with the local government funds, the issue of taking money from one council to fund another is still in practice.

When Daily Trust on Sunday visited the secretariat of Ilorin West LGC, the TIC chairman, Abdulgafar Omotosho, was said to be in a meeting, and therefore, could not attend to our correspondent. A top ministry official, however, said the state government did not interfere with the funds of local governments, but does so politically.

“There is no governor that will allow the local government administration to auto-run because that is the power of the grassroots,” he said.

When contacted, the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in the state, Aliyu Saifudeen, an architect, said what was operational was the allocation meeting, not the one between the government and local governments.

“We have been saying that this governor does not temper with local government money. For those who chose to believe that there is no autonomy, that is their headache,” he added.  

An official of one of the local government councils in Ilorin Central who preferred anonymity, told our correspondent that the autonomy does not translate to financial independence because the state government still decides payment of staff’s salaries.

She added that there was a limit to the amount of money that could be approved by the councils for projects in the state.

“Government still pays the council staff’s salaries. After preparation of vouchers, we have to send them to the government for approval after which we are paid. So, the autonomy does not involve our financial obligations,” she said.

“However, the situation is better than what we had before. We can only urge government to complete the process for further development of the councils,” she added.

On the attitude of staff and atmosphere in the council Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that there is absenteeism on the part of some workers, who can not be sanctioned because the council is not in charge of their salaries.

“Some workers are absent from work from time to time, but payment of salaries being handled by the state government has really made it difficult to sanction absentees.

“If the workers’ salaries were being handled by the local government directly, then they could be properly monitored, fished out and sanctioned. But now, they receive their salaries irrespective of whether they come to work or the number of times they come. Those that are not even in Ilorin still receive their salaries,” she added.

When our correspondent visited the secretariat of Ilorin West Local Government Council, there were only a few staff around, while most of the offices were empty.

Niger’s  partial autonomy, but under political control

Despite the financial autonomy granted to local government councils in Niger State, the 25 chairmen still operate at the mercy of the state executive, which decide how allocations from the federation account is spent.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that after the statutory deductions to the Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida University, Lapai, Niger State Environmental Protection Agency (NISEPA), State Cabinet, among others, most local government councils are left with little to pay salaries and almost nothing to execute projects.

Although some local government chairmen contacted to speak on the matter kept sealed lips, lawmakers expressed displeasure over the joint accounts being operated in the state, saying that local government areas could not execute projects due to paucity of funds caused by statutory deductions from their allocations.

One of the councillors who spoke in confidence called for the abolition of the joint account and a review of the local government system. 

“The system of local government administration and autonomy needs to be reconsidered. The law on local government joint accounts needs to be abolished,” he said.

Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that in the last six months, 13 local government councils have been unable to pay full salaries due to low internally generated revenue and lack of access to full allocation from the federation.

Another councillor who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “We are in the sixth month now, and most local governments are paying salaries in percentages. That is a burden to the financial autonomy.

“Even the salary that is supposed to be the first responsibility of the local government is not being paid in full. Most of the time, local government chairmen had to augment the internally generated revenue in order to pay in percentages.”

Similarly, a legislator who didn’t want his name in print said: “We are still operating a joint account in Niger State. The state government wanted to give us what they called partial autonomy, but most local governments cannot even pay salaries in full without talking about other developments.

“If what comes to local governments from the Federation Account is given as it comes, we will be able to pay full salaries and do other projects. Due to statutory deductions, we will not be able to even pay full salaries because the joint account is not being operated as it is supposed to be. If statutory deductions are made and local governments see that the balance would not pay salaries, they go for overdraft to augment the money so that each local government would be able to pay in full and add the running cost to it to be able to execute one or two projects.”

Another councillor maintained that the joint account has led to poor performance in local government administration, adding, “With a joint account we are not able to do anything because even running costs are no longer there. We are left with our salaries. And we can’t execute projects unless we want to sacrifice salaries.”

Efforts to get the state government to respond were not successful as the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Emmanuel Umar’s number was not connecting, and a visit to his office did not yield any positive outcome as he was not there.

Visits by our correspondent to local government secretariats in the state confirmed dull atmospheres due to poor attitude to work by elected officials as well as the staff.

We also gathered that only few chairmen were regular at work as most of them stay in the state capital which is very far from their local government headquarters. 

Only watchmen and staff of the Local Education Authorities and health departments were regular at work.

Another resident said: “The poor attitude to work by local government officials and their staff has serious implications on grassroots development. Local government officials in Gbako don’t relate with the electorate once they are elected. You won’t see them going to work and most of them stay in Minna, the state capital. Even those who had lived in their villages before they were elected have relocated to stay with the governor. The reason some of them give is that people are disturbing them.”

Daily Trust on Sunday also gathered that the chairmen of the banditry infested local government areas are not always in their offices due to security threats.

Plateau has financial autonomy

On November 4, 2019, workers from the 17 local government areas in Plateau State embarked on a strike action over what they described as the “non-implementation of financial autonomy” and refusal of the state government to implement the N18,000-minimum wage. 

The workers, under the umbrella of Tripartite Workers Union (TWU), had during the protest, barricaded all local government secretariats across the state to stop their chairmen and other top government officials from accessing their offices. 

The state government had, during the protest explained that the Governor Simon Bako Lalong administration had been supportive of financial autonomy and the N18,000-minimum wage.

Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the governor has conducted local government election twice and severally announced that the 17 local governments had been enjoying financial autonomy, saying he allowed them to decide what to do with whatever money that accrues to them from the Federation Account.

When our correspondent contacted some of the chairmen of the councils on whether or not the governor’s claim was true, one of them said there was local government autonomy in the state as government does not interfere with whatever accrues to them from the Federation Account.

But another chairman said the issue of financial autonomy at the local government level was only on paper and not practical.

He said, “As far as financial autonomy is concerned, there is no such thing in the local government councils. But for political reason, one will tell you that there is financial autonomy.”

Also speaking, an ex-councillor told our correspondent that some parts of the allocation for their local government, which comes from the Federation Account, are sometimes contributed to help the state embark on projects.

“We contributed whatever we decided on our own to the state government. The governor doesn’t deduct the money himself,” he said.  

When contacted, the State Commissioner for Information and Communication, Mr Dan Manjang, told our correspondent that there is financial autonomy for local governments in the state, saying those who dispute the claim were being economical with the truth.

“Before now we collapsed the money in what we called joint account, but when there was clamour for autonomy, as a law-abiding government, we gave them,” he said.

Our correspondent visited some local government areas to observe the ambience at the places.

 In Jos North Local Government Secretariat, many people were seen moving around, but in some LGAs, especially those that  are far from the state capital, only fee workers go to the offices.

For example, in Kanke LGA, only few people were seen at the secretariat  as  Mondays and Fridays are like holidays for the workers.

A staffer in Shendam LGA told our correspondent that the number of workers that come to the office has dropped because they are being owed salaries.

He said: “You can’t continue to come to work without being paid because you always pay for transportation before you can come to the office. For that reason, some people decide to stay at home,” he said 

Consultants hinder direct access to revenue in Kaduna

In Kaduna State, the newly elected chairmen of the 23 local government councils were sworn into office a weeks ago; hence none of them was willing to speak on the matter, claiming they were new in office.

But Daily Trust on Sunday was able to speak to one of the immediate past local government chairmen who confirmed that the state is faring better than most others in terms of financial autonomy.

He, however, said the state operated a joint account, adding that without it the chairmen will perform better in fulfilling their campaign promises to the electorate.

He explained that local government chairmen were denied direct access to their revenues as the state employs the services of agents or consultants, who collect the revenues on their behalf and later shared.

“We enjoyed free hand at the beginning of this administration, but later, we witnessed changes as we stopped getting our revenues regularly. This is because we don’t collect the revenues directly, agents or consultants were engaged to collect it on our behalf,” he said. 

Another immediate past chairman said that for two years while they were in office, they were not getting their revenues directly and their allocation was not enough to pay workers’ salaries and execute projects.

“As you know, the state still operates a joint account. Without the joint account local government councils will perform better because the chairmen and their council members will sit and decide how to use their allocation to better the lives of their people,” he said.

Our correspondent reached out to the Commissioner for Local Government Affairs, Dr Usman Mohammed Shehu, but he did not respond to calls and a text message. His orderly later answered the call and said he was at a burial and would call back. But he did not call at the time of filing this report.   

When Daily Trust on Sunday visited Kaduna North Local Government Area, workers were seeing at their offices discharging their duties.

A Kaduna South LGA staffer who identified himself as Kabir, said most LGA workers in the state  were not enjoying the job due to poor staff welfare.

“We are only managing to go to work because it has not been easy. The working conditions for most LGA workers are not encouraging in the state,” he said.

He, however, added that they came to work regularly, except on Fridays because of the four-day working week policy introduced in the state by government.

Musa, a former staffer of Kaduna South Local Government Area of the state, however, said that local government workers were not finding things easy, especially teachers.

“My wife is a primary school teacher, which means  she is under local government payroll. But they get monthly salary after 50 days. How will you expect them to concentrate on work when they know that  at the end of the month, their salaries will not be paid,” he said.

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