Senate Minority Leader, Abba Moro, said reverting to direct statutory allocations to local governments will stop unnecessary interference by state governors in the affairs of local councils in Nigeria.
Moro said this concerning the recent dissolution of 23 Local Government Councils in Benue by the state government, according to the News Agency of Nigeria.
Moro said there is a need to further amend the 1999 Constitution and relevant laws guiding the operations of local government system.
According to him, this would help to avoid further emasculation and the illegal setting up of caretaker committee members at local government councils by state governments.
He said the government of Benue had recently sacked the 23 elected council chairmen and their vice, 276 councillors, supervisory councillors, and secretaries, saying that the act was unconstitutional.
“From all standards of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, this is alien and illegal, and by all standards, is an aberration.
“The constitution does not provide for the dissolution of the elected councils in Benue State or any part of Nigeria.
“There is no power in the constitution that arrogates to state houses of assembly to recommend the dissolution or suspension of local governments.
“And so, I felt that I should bring it to the attention of the National Assembly, especially the Senate because all my efforts to persuade the governor, government, and Benue House of Assembly to rescind the decision fell on deaf ears.
“And I believe that as a Senator representing the very good people of Benue South, which has nine local governments and 102 council wards, I have a responsibility to let the world know that this is what has happened to my consistency.”
He said the government’s decision was wrong, adding that he was an advocate for the financial and administrative autonomy of local governments.
“As a one-time chairman of a local government, I feel a comparing need to make the senate know and intervene in this matter because it is unconstitutional.
“This is an affront to the constitution and unfortunately perpetrated by people who have sworn to uphold and protect the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; that is the most worrying situation,” Moro said.
He said the Senate recently passed a motion mandating the Ministry of Finance to withhold funds appropriated for any caretaker local government committee, saying that the senate committee on legislative compliance was alive to its responsibilities to ensure compliance.
He stated, “I want to believe that the Senate is taking appropriate steps to ensure that its resolutions, especially this very national issue, are addressed because everyone is concerned.”
He said the courts had ruled, yet the state governors were not obeying, adding that nothing appeared to be happening in states where caretaker committees had been illegally instituted.
He alleged that state governors had so far arm-twisted their houses of assembly that, when they committed impeachable offences, the assemblies could not act in line with their status.
Moro asserted, “Since the National Assembly has power under Section 7(6) of the Constitution to provide for the allocation of funds to local governments, by logical extension, they equally have the power to know how the money appropriated is being used and by whom.
“As far as I am concerned, the Senate is concerned; the caretaker committee put in place by the Benue Government and other state governments are illegal contractions, and it will be illegal for these people to have access to funds appropriated by the National Assembly.
“To give it more bite, there is no harm in combining the court action with executive action from the federal government within the ambit of the law.”
Moro expressed worry that the act of dissolving and setting up caretaker committees in local governments was an erosion of democracy.
“I feel that if we continue like this soon, virtually all the states in the federation will be operating the caretaker system across the country, and that is a violent violation of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I feel that state governments and governors see local governments as cash cows for their various states, because some of them have this feeling that statutory allocation will not be enough for them to use, and so they descend on the local governments.
“One of the ways we can stop this unnecessary interference in the system is to revert to the old system of direct allocation from the Federation Account to the local governments.
“It will solve this problem of state governors and the state government’s unnecessary interference in the local government system,” the senator said.