Senate probes governors’ misuse of LG funds, alleged autonomy infractions

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The Senate on Wednesday beamed its searchlight on infractions of local government autonomy by state governors across the country.

Individual lawmakers who contributed to a motion seeking autonomy for local government sponsored by Senator Suleiman AbdulRahman Kawu accused most state governors of misappropriating funds meant for local government areas.

The Senate equally demanded that the conduct of all local government elections by the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) be abolished and added to the functions of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

The Red Chamber at plenary asked President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to convene a national discourse with relevant stakeholders towards securing the independence of local government in the firm grip of state governors.

In his contribution, Deputy President of the Senate, Jibrin Barau, who presided at plenary on Wednesday, dismissed the conduct of local government elections as a mere charade, stripped of transparency, as he noted that the electoral bodies in states are biassed umpires.

Senator Barau also declared that “some governors are misappropriating LG funds.

He said, “During the Military and early part of the 4th Republic, the local government areas had their autonomy and there was a full sense of security prevailing there. The economies of all these local governments were booming.

“Rural-urban migration was very small. Even councillors were awarding contracts; the money was there and they were doing very well. Even some local governments were doing very well because they had internally generated revenue.

“Why did that happen? First of all, all of you have forgotten who conducted that local government election that brought those people to power. It was the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“It was not State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs). People went on their own, and contested elections; they weren’t errand boys for anybody.

“They won their elections. These are people with credibility who knew what they were doing. That is why you have that scenario the way it was.”

The deputy senate president further added, “Now there are no elections; they are just called elections. Some were even sworn in in shrines, churches, and mosques, saying that if you put my name in them, I will always be loyal to you.

“So, what do you expect from those people? After the grant has been given to local governments, they will give them blank checks to sign, and that money will be removed in line with the wills and caprices of the state governors.

“We know this. You will see paperwork, everything is being done properly, but that is what you could see on mere paper; the real thing is done according to the whelms and caprices of the state governors.

Aligning himself with the prayers canvassed by Senator Kawu, the Deputy Senate President noted that
“As it is being said, the president is a true, progressive Democrat.

“He believes in the autonomy of the local government. But in this process, he will only lead, then we in the National Assembly will follow, and then he will convince the governors.

“We are operating in a democracy; the governors control the state assemblies. I’m sorry to say this, but it is a fact. Let them understand that, just like before, we will have normalcy in our local governments.

“Now, all these billions of federal government funds to provide boreholes and build health centres in all our local governments, after you have done that, those projects remain unattended to; nobody maintains them.

“They rot away because the local governments that are supposed to maintain them, just because of N5,000 to buy a small nut to fix a borehole, will remain like that because the councillor or chairman who should provide the money doesn’t have the funds.”

The Senate also resolved that further allocations of funds to caretaker committee-led local government areas be stopped.

The Red Chamber urged President Tinubu to “champion the cause of full autonomy for local governments in our nation,” adding that “the challenges we face in the forms of persistent security threats, rural-urban migration, decaying infrastructure, and widespread unemployment demand bold action.”

“And we believe that empowering local governments holds the key to unlocking a brighter future for all Nigerians.”

On the need for a national discussion on autonomy for local government areas, the Senate said it believes that “convening a national dialogue involving governors, state legislators, local government officials, civil society organisations, and community leaders to discuss the roadmap towards achieving full local government autonomy would be useful in solving the country’s teething problems.

“The president should use his leadership and influence to persuade the federating units and all critical stakeholders in the constitutional alteration processes and administrative bottlenecks to embrace the vision of full local government autonomy in such a way that will grant them control over their resources, decision-making authority, and the power to chart their development paths.”