The National Union of Local Government Employees on Thursday backed the Federal Government’s stance that state governors were looting local government allocation.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had said the stunted development experienced at the local government level was caused by governors and local government officials who “pocket” public funds.
President Buhari flayed the governors over what he described as poor governance at the grassroots.
Buhari said this on Thursday at a parley with members of the Senior Executive Course No. 44 (2022) of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, held at the State House Banquet Hall, Abuja.
The President’s comments followed the Course 44 presentation themed, ‘Strengthening Local Governance in Nigeria: Challenges, Options and Opportunities.’
Buhari’s assertion came 24 hours after the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, said the governors had abandoned the critical demographic, preferring to spend state resources on the capital cities instead.
Agba, who noted that 72 per cent of the nation’s poor reside in rural communities, accused the governors of paying scant attention to the grassroots.
Citing a personal experience involving an unnamed governor, a baffled Buhari described as “terrible” how some state governors receive monies on behalf of local government councils in their states and remit half of it to the council chairman who pilfers the remnant, leaving nothing for developmental projects.
He said, ‘‘I found it necessary to digress after reading my speech and this digression is a result of my personal experience. What they did, this is my personal experience, if the money from the Federation Account to the state is about N100m, N50m will be sent to the chairman, but he will sign that he received N100m. The governor will pocket the balance and share it with whoever he wants to share it with.
‘‘And then the chairman of the local government must see how much he must pay in salaries and to hell with development. When he pays the salaries of the big man, the balance he will put in his pocket.
‘‘This is what’s happening. This is Nigeria. It’s a terrible thing; you cannot say the person who was doing this is not educated. He was a qualified lawyer, he was experienced, yet he participated in this type of corruption.”
Continuing, he added, “So, it’s a matter of conscience, whichever level we find ourselves. As a leader, you sit here, with all the sacrifices the country is making by putting you through institutions and getting you ready to lead. The fundamental thing is personal integrity. May God help us.”
The President also pledged that his government would “painstakingly” consider for implementation the recommendations contained in the paper presented by the SEC 44.
While claiming that his regime has done a lot to build trust between the government and the people, the President noted that the report would provide direction to deliver good governance to the people at the grassroots and ultimately win back their trust in the government.
‘‘It is obvious that the government cannot afford to pay lip service to the recommendations contained in this report.
‘‘I assure you that the report will be treated with the seriousness and urgency it deserves. The government will study the report with a view to implementing the carefully detailed recommendations,’’ he pledged.
He commended the quality of the report and the commitment and dedication that went into it, saying the National Institute can always be trusted to deliver on very critical and sensitive assignments of national importance.
‘‘The quality of the presentation, and the confidence with which they were made, strongly attests to the quality of training the participants received during the course. I congratulate you for justifying the confidence and trust reposed in each and every one of you by your respective nominations.
‘‘I am also happy with the knowledge and discipline you have all openly demonstrated. I have been briefed on the rigorous training process you all underwent at Kuru. Your graduation, therefore, is well deserved,’’ the President told the 89 participants of Senior Executive Course 44.
He challenged them to return to their various establishments, units, posts, beats, departments, directorates, ministries, parastatals, commissions, commands, and agencies to revitalise, reform and rejig their various platforms and spheres of influence, responsibility and leadership.
Responding to some demands from the NIPSS leadership, Buhari promised to look into some of the challenges facing the institute, adding that no government establishment exists without challenges.
He also assured them that his regime was poised to complete the review and passage of the NIPSS establishment Act and conditions of service before handing over in May 2023.
Therefore, the President directed the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation to take all necessary steps to get it done.
In his remarks, the Director-General of NIPSS, Prof Ayo Omotayo, revealed that the course participants undertook study tours of 14 states of the federation, six African countries and six countries outside Africa.
‘‘This enabled them to have both local and international perspectives on local governance, how to overcome challenges in achieving it, identify the available opportunities to strengthen it and develop workable options to be considered by the government in strengthening local governance,’’ he said.
Speaking after the parley, a directing staff of the NIPSS, Prof Tunji Olaopa, described governors as “the elephant in the room,” adding that grassroots governance is critical to restoring security and safety nationwide.
“The truth of the matter, as it came out in the report, was succinctly captured by the SGF. If the local community and the grassroots is not governed, you have no excuse to complain that bandits have taken over our communities because local governance, the community, and the grassroots is the foundation of a democratic process, that’s where the people belong, and because governance is not effective, people have devised self-help, survival-coping mechanism.
“While the government will take it on, NIPSS should also take up the advocacy dimension because really, from the conversation, you will see that the governors are the elephants in the room and of course, we also recognise that the governors are complaining because of over-centralisation of power in the exclusive functions,” he said.
NULGE backs Buhari
However, commenting on the alleged ruination of the LGA administration by governors, the President of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, Hakeem Ambali, said Buhari was merely stating the obvious.
He, however, urged the President to go beyond the statement and compel the governors under his party, the All Progressives Congress, to sign the local government autonomy bill into law.
“He should go beyond that statement. He is the leader of the party, he should ask them to sign the autonomy into law; he is the leader of the governors,’’ Ambali admonished Buhari, adding that the development would encourage other governors from other parties to emulate them.
The gesture, he added, would show that they are leading by examples.
He further stated, “Local government funds have been misapplied and misappropriated. We want the President to have the good courage to take the bull by the horn.
“If the problems of poverty, insecurity, hopelessness and threat to the country needed to be addressed then, local governments must be granted full autonomy; that is the way to go.”
Ambali disclosed that a decision has been taken to vote for only a presidential candidate that declared support for local government autonomy.
He noted, “We also want all the presidential candidates to be sincere with Nigerians and state their stance on local government autonomy. Keeping mum will not help them and we have directed all our members to vote for any presidential candidate who openly declares support for local government autonomy and unfortunately, none of them has spoken on local government autonomy.
“The President should lead by example, he should ask APC governors to support local government autonomy; that one can demonstrate that the APC is a progressive party.
“Autonomy is the mindset of Mr. President and all of them must respect that, but, unfortunately, even Lagos voted against autonomy. If you are opposing local government autonomy, definitely, you have something to hide,’’ he concluded.