By; BALA B. BITRUS, Minna
The recent financial autonomy granted the 774 local government councils in the country is long overdue and a welcome developnent as it would fast track growth and development of the grassroots, Chairman, Niger State chapter of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, (NULGE) comrade Idris Abdulkareem Lafeni has said.
Clamour for financial autonomy of the third tier of government has been a long fought battle in Nigeria even as state governments held on tightly for years insisting on operating a joint account with all council areas in their states, a development which hugely impacted on the financial wherewithal of council areas to a large extent.
Idris AbdulKareem Lafeni spoke to newsmen in Minna on the recent directives by the National Financial Intelligence Unit, (NFIU) which declared that begining from June this year, local councils in the country would commence management of their own finances.
The new development followed federal government’s approval that local government areas are to henceforth enjoy a direct financial allocation where the council areas would however be limited to highest daily cash withdrawal of half a million naira, (N500,000) only.
The caveat in this rule is that any cash transaction by any council area above the N500,000 amount would have to be via cheques or electronic transfers to against misappropriation.
Lafeni argued that the financial autonomy granted local government areas would speed up developments of the grassroots and make governance better without constraints.
He said the third tier, (local government) was the closest arm of government to citizens at the grassroots but lamented that over the years, the third tier had been arm twisted and hamstrung to discharge it’s own role of developments.
The Niger state chieftain of NULGE said the outlawed joint account hoisted by state governors on their local government councils was the beginning of corruption and misappropriation of resources meant for local government development.
He argued that joint account was a misnomer which reduced the third tier to a mere appendage of states. “State governments were at liberty to play with local government funds at will under the so called joint account system” he said.
Comrade Lafeni argued that under the new autonomy granted local government areas by the National Financial Intelligence Unit of the federal government, embezzlement and corruption would be checkmated as monitoring and supervision are laid as check lines.
The Niger NULGE Chairman noted that with the era of joint account now, rested local government administration in the country would witness expected impact especially in healthcare delivery, primary education, provision of portable water sources, construction of feeder roads, and other infrastructure such as culverts, river crossing, drainages and as well curb rural to urban drifts.
He allayed the fear that political heads of local government areas could rubbished the new autonomy granted through mismanagement. He said the limits of thresholds allowed and other checks put in place were enough caution signs to wade off pilferings by political heads.
Lafeni commanded the bold step by the federal government even as he pleaded with all local government employees to allow the new financial system work.