INTRICACIES OF ABSOLUTE FINANCIAL AUTONOMY TO LOCAL GOVERNMENTS AND THE POSITION OF ORGANIZED LABOUR, NIGER STATE COUNCIL
The Organized Labour, Niger State Council is constrained by prevailing circumstances, to issue press statement on the debacle surrounding local governments financial autonomy in Niger State and its consequences on payment of local governments salary.
As we may be aware, financial autonomy for local governments is a complex puzzle, to the extent that, in one breath, the constitution recognizes only States as federating units, while in another breath, local governments are recognized as third tier of government.
Whichever argument we tend to align with, *section 162(6) of the 1999 constitution as amended provides that; “Each state shall maintain a special account to be “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the local government councils of the state from the Federation Account and from the Government of the state”.* In view of section 162(6) of the constitution as amended, precedence on local governments financial realities since 1999 have been such of redisbursement from FAAC by State Ministry for Local Government, Community Development and Chieftaincy Affairs via Joint Account Allocation Committee “JAAC” to local governments to meet the yearnings and aspirations of the people.
Further to the above, *section 162(8) provides that; “The amount standing to the credit of local government councils of a state shall be distributed among the local government of that state on such terms and in such manner as May be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State “.* In Niger State, such laws could also reflect on salary-related obligations on local governments finances just as obtainable in how monthly pension, IBB University Lapai, NISEPA and Traditional councils are funded.
The 25 local governments in Niger State are in financial distress for over two (2) years. The distress is such that only 15 out of the 25 local governments in Niger State could pay salaries if absolute autonomy is to take effect.
For purpose of cohesion and equity, and in furtherance to entrenching the rationale behind the creation of joint account, which among others, is to ensure financial solvency for all the 25 local governments in Niger State, Ministry for Local Government, Community Development and Chieftancy Affairs has via mandate from the 25 local government councils taken series of loans and overdrafts on behalf of the councils to augment salary and salary-related obligations.
The 25 local governments are jointly indebted to the following:
(a) Term loans and overdrafts from commercial banks.
(b) October, 2020 full salary arrears.
(c) April, 2021 salary arrears of 30%.
(d) May, 2021 salary arrears of 20%.
(e) Third party monetary loan from “ENDWELL” of some affiliate Labour Unions.
(f) Loan taken from 2.5% national housing fund.
(g) Withheld/Borrowed check off dues from affiliate Labour Unions.
(h) Loan from 10% contributory pension fund.
On the premise of absolute financial autonomy or otherwise for local governments, it is imperative that local government legislators, government officials, stakeholders and the general public get abreast and ponder on the following:
(a) Why does FAAC send local governments allocation directly to state for redistribution?
(b) Previous administrations operated joint account, what was the rationale behind such decision?
(c) If there exist absolute autonomy for local governments, would same demand still surface in the ongoing constitution review?
(d) If absolute autonomy is granted to the 25 local governments in Niger State, who defray existing loans and overdrafts?
For the avoidance of doubt, the Organized Labour is on the driver seat for review of constitution that will ensure absolute fiancial autonomy for local governments in Nigeria, while the process is ongoing and considering the position of *twelve (12) local governments legislative arm,* Organized Labour appeals to the conscience of the legislators, government officials and stakeholders to have a rethink and dissociate from any act that will truncate the principle of equity, as current disposition of *twelve (12) local governments legislative arm* will foist needless and avoidable hardship on many local government workforce and by extension Nigerlites.
The Organized Labour is partner in progress and will continue to advance measures aimed at protecting the rights and privileges of the workforce. *The Organized Labour is strongly averse to the position of twelve (12) local governments legislative arm for absolute autonomy at this material time, as the hurried arrangement will certainly result in non-payment of June salary for thousands of local government workforce, thereby resulting in untold hardship.* The need to entrench the current order that guarantees equity is therefore imperative, moreso that the 25 local governments are jointly indebted to series of loans and overdrafts.
Local Government legislators should be humane and rescind their decision to disallow borrowing to augment for June salary, as many bread winners are on the brink of perpetual penury. Going forward, the government may outline modalities to defray existing loans and overdrafts in a bid to ensure hitch-free financial autonomy, as anything on the contrary will certainly result in crisis.
*The Organized Labour wishes to dispel any insinuation suggestive of the State Governor and the Commissioner for Local Government, Community Development and Chieftancy Affairs being tacitly responsible for the action of twelve (12) local governments legislative arm, particularly those from Zone C, on the call for absolute autonomy for local governments.* If anything, the State Governor and Commissioner for Local Government, Community Development and Chieftancy Affairs have been instrumental in the arrangement that guarantees equity thus far, and they are genuinely committed to any measure that will entrench amicable resolution of contending issues.
With few months to the end of their tenure, may Organized Labour reminds local government legislators of the need to leave behind a legacy of honor and empathy, as they will be remembered for every hardship the people pass through as a consequence of their decision.
*For the umpteenth time, Organized Labour is not averse to absolute financial autonomy for local governments,* but same should have human face without drenching the already impoverished local government workforce with further penury. Such arrangement should not be antithetical to security and welfare of the people.
The Organized Labour will as always, continue to protect the rights and privileges of the workforce.
Aluta continua, victoria acerta.
Comr. Yakubu Garba,
Nigeria Labour Congress,
Niger State Council.
Comr. Arc. Ibrahim Gana,
Trade Union Congress,
Niger State Council.