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ILLEGAL DEDUCTIONS OF COUNCIL FUNDS: THE OGUN EXAMPLE

By NBF News
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I could not help but laugh out my heart when I saw a two-page advertorial in the Nigerian Compass of Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at pages 5 and 50 and and repeated in The Guardian of Thursday, April 15, 2010, at pages 52 and 53, by the Ogun State chapter of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) - the umbrella body of the chairmen of local governments in the Country.

In the unsigned advert, the supposed authors laboured, albeit unconvincingly, to disabuse the mind of the discerning members of the public from the allegation of illegal deductions of council funds against Governor Gbenga Daniel of Ogun State.

For the uninitiated, here is a brief recap. Between December 2009 and January, this year, a group known as the Voice of Reason published advertorials in some national dailies in which it faulted Governor Daniel's homily on integrity. It wondered why the governor would direct the local councils to pay N12.4 million of their allocations for a workshop to be organized by a magazine, allegedly owned by him and another N12.5 million to be paid to his Conference Hotel, Ijebu-Ode, for the same purpose.

The group claimed the payment of the money was a condition precedent for the council chairmen to collecting their October, 2009 Federal Allocation cheques.

It alleged that all the 20 local governments in the state paid the money, but the workshop was neither held nor was the money refunded. The group also frowned at what it described as the illegal deductions of council funds by the governor. It said it had information that all the council chairmen in the state rejected their October 2009 allocation cheques because of the alleged illegal deductions.

Sometimes last month, rights activist and suspended Chairman of Ijebu-East Local Government, Comrade Tunde Oladunjoye, who has been having a running battle with the governor on related issues, blew the lid open.

He petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the alleged illegal deductions of council funds by the governor.

He said the act has continued in spite of protestations and grumblings by some council chairmen. Oladunjoye said that in June 2009, many local government chairmen wrote to the Governor, asking him to pay the exact amount of their respective primary school teachers' salaries instead of the illegal deductions on the pretext of teachers' salaries.

He attached copies of the protest letters by Ijebu-East Local Government and Remo North council area. The council boss also said the Governor has devised an ingenious formula of giving equal allocations to all the local government councils since November 2009, even when the allocations from the Federal Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) are not the same.

On the strength of the petition, the EFCC reportedly summoned some of the state officials. Besides, the Ogun State House of Assembly Joint Committees on Local and Chieftaincy Matter, and Justice and Public Petitions, invited Oladunjoye and the state government officials to make presentations.

After listening to them, the lawmakers ordered the governor to stop the illegal deductions from the council funds. Like I stated in the introduction, I would not have bothered addressing issues raised by the advertorial on two grounds. First, although it was purportedly crafted by the state ALGON, it was not signed. Besides, the arguments marshaled in defence of the governor are, to say the least, puerile. Perhaps, it was in realization of this fact that it said it would no longer join issues with Oladunjoye over the extant matter.

But it is imperative to point out some of the missing links so that some people do not think that they have successfully pulled the wool over the eyes of the discerning members of the public. For instance, in its account of what led to the rejection of the allocation cheques for October 2009, it (let's say ALGON) said: 'Sometimes in 2009, our allocations started dwindling to the extent that those of us subsiding other local governments on their teachers' salaries could hardly meet up with our salary bills.'

In a sense, Oladunjoye and ALGON are on the same page even though it took the latter over five months before it could do a response to the allegation. While Oladunjoye said it was the illegal deductions by the governor that made councils not to be able to meet their obligations, ALGON said it was simply dwindling allocations.

However, it (ALGON) did not say if the dwindling allocations were from the Federal Government or the state government. Also, going by its own tabulation of the receipts from the FAAC the least allocation the local governments got was N1.3 billion, and that was in March, 2010.

The ALGON went on: 'Agitation for the review of the Allocation Formula became inevitable by many of us subsidizing the teachers' salaries of others when we realized that the subsidized local governments were receiving a Net Allocation much more than ours when it should have been the other way round. It was this agitation and NOT any illegal deduction that led to the rejection of the November, 2009 Allocation at the JAAC meeting of 4th December, 2009.'

We were not told by what mathematical wizardry would the Net Allocation of the subsidized local governments became more than the subsidizing local governments. Even if it is true, how come the beneficiaries (the subsidised councils) and their supposed benefactors (the subsidising councils), rejected their allocation cheques? The umbrella body of the local government chairmen said it was as a result of the rejection that a committee was set up to look into the Allocation Distribution Formula and make recommendations.

The committee, it said, came up with two options. One, that the Allocation of Revenue Law 2001 of Ogun State be adopted and each Local Government Council be allowed to pay its Primary School Teachers. Two, that all First Line Charges (Primary School Teachers Salaries inclusive) and the Net Allocation be shared on equality basis. The ALGON noted that based on the committee's report, its members at a special Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC) meeting held on 10th December, 2009, agreed via a signed resolution to adopt the second option.

Besides not being told the factors that led to the decision of our honourable chairmen to opt for the second option, I was reliably informed that as at the said date, Oladunjoye was in detention at the Force CID, Abuja, allegedly the behest of the governor over the unfortunate incident of December 5, 2009 in Ijebu-Ife.

But the issues are: even if all the First Line Charges are to be deducted by the state government, were the constitutionally-stipulated indices followed? If yes, then by what mathematical wizardry would all the councils get the same amount of allocation? Yes, council chairmen signed a resolution, but do they have such powers to determine how to share the resources of the people that they hold in trust?

The ALGON said the seminar for councillors is yet to be held because six unnamed local governments are yet to pay. One wonders why it did not name the councils. Could it have a deliberate strategy to avoid a war of attrition, claims and counter-claims among its fold? Indeed, we have had a handful (read a mouthful).

Although, the Ogun State House of Assembly has waded into the matter and ordered a stop of the illegal deductions, the governor and his officials would not let go. They are still kicking. What they have done, through the advertorial, is to covertly fault the Assembly's directive and justify the illegal deductions. Perhaps, the EFCC may need expedite action in unraveling this phase of corruption in public finance to establish the veracity or otherwise of these claims and counter-claims.

*Matanmi writes from Makun, Sagamu, Ogun State.