‘Another name for graft is State/LG joint account’

Ibrahim LamordeRenowned academic and Head, Department of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Professor Alex Gboyega on Tuesday urged state governments in Nigeria to recognize that it is good politics to encourage good local governance, saying central collection of funds or centralized funding has not only weakened the local councils but has also led to accumulation of debts.

The university don, who spoke at the media roundtable on how the Federal Government can prevent and combat corruption in the operations of the local government joint account organized in Lagos by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) expressed dismay at the high level of corruption in the State Joint Local Government Accounts (SJLGA).

According to him, state governments should resist the temptation of leveraging on local council’s funds to boost state performance at the expense of local development saying councils will be more political responsive once local people select their leaders.

He also urged state governors to recognize the autonomy of local councils in the exercise of local initiative and decision-making in the management of the functions assigned by the constitution to local councils.

Professor Gboyega who traced the history and reason for the state joint local council account to 1975 when the Murtala-Obasanjo Military Government took office and the local councils were comatose all over the country, called for a more regular and robust audit of accounts of local councils, which, he said should be circulated locally with severe sanctions for infractions of the financial regulations governing the management of public finances.

Lamenting that corruption in the management of the SJLGA occurs in central purchases on behalf of the LGCs as well as the spurious State-LG joint projects and central awards of contracts at inflated costs, the don called for a constitutional review to make the allocation from the federation account specific, instead of being general.

Other avenues which corruption arises, he said include non-statutory deductions for non-local functions or purposes, first ladies projects, funding of party supporters through sinecure appointments and sponsorship of spurious projects, training programmes, religious pilgrimages and foreign tours.

These, he said, have led to the erosion of financial capability and consequential lack of development and services at the local level, unequal burden on rural local councils and rural stagnation, weakening of democratic governance and accountability at the local level, promotion of state-centrism and mockery of anti-corruption laws/policies.

He said:  “Although, the state local council joint account has the advantages of predictability, regularity and stability as well as ability to enhance local initiative and decisional autonomy, it however leads to decline in local revenue effort, erosion of local accountability as well as enhances state interest in local finances and leadership contests.

To remedy the situation, he said“ “ Revenue Allocation Act should be amended to withhold allocations to un-elected local councils, while State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECS) should be made to conduct local elections under the supervision of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“Anti-corruption agencies should also be revamped to focus more urgently and effectively on corruption in the management of local councils as well as the establishment of departments within anti-corruption agencies to specialize on corruption in local councils.

“Anti-corruption agencies should publish reports on corruption cases investigated and outcomes annually so that citizens can appraise their efforts and assist with information, while there should be special divisions of the state and federal high courts to handle corruption cases”.

He noted. The university don further called on the media to be concerned about corruption in the management of local councils as they are with it in federal and state governments as well as being tenacious in reporting and revisiting corruption cases and not let them fall off public radar.   But Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole, a justice of the Court of Appeal said the designation of courts might not ensure quicker dispensation of cases if the entire justice system is not sufficiently reformed.

Justice Oyewole, who recalled his experiences at the Lagos High Court where he was designated as a judge handling Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) matters, said there is need to reform the judicial system in order to get the expected results.   He said: “‘if you designate a judge, you need to reform the judicial procedure.

If you allow frivolous applications nothing will be done. Until our judicial system is reformed so that lawyers do not determine the pace of the cases but as the law dictates it, not much will be achieved.

“NBA should prosecute undue interference by defence counsel and prosecutors. Public prosecutors must be monitored since they are paid by tax payers’ money”.  He however expressed gladness that enabling laws are now being provided to tackle corruption like the whistle blowers act.  Also the former Ejigbo local council boss, Kehinde Bamgbetan has expressed worries that the media did not have the capacity to report local government system because they are ill equipped to understand the local council system.

According to him, the media lacked capacity to report governance issues because it required forensic knowledge, hence the lull in reports on local council governance.

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