The Akwa Ibom State Government under the watch of Governor Udom Emmanuel of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has made a dramatic u-turn on their earlier stout opposition to the move by President Muhammadu Buhari’s All Progressives Congress (APC) administration to grant financial autonomy to local government councils in the country.
The state’s immediate past Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimoh Nwoko, says the Udom administration is not challenging the proposed local government autonomy or opposed to it.
According to him, the power to superintend over the affairs of local government areas lie solely with the Legislature, and not the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).
Nwoko who made the disclosure in Uyo, the state capital, said he has filed a case against the agency in Suit Number FHC/UY/CS/88/2019 in a Federal High Court in Uyo, pointing out that their decision to challenge NFIU guideline which is seeking to take over the control of local government areas was borne out of constitutional concerns and its implication.
Continuing, he said, ‘’what we are pursuing has nothing to do with the financial autonomy of local government; it’s an issue that will be resolved in a totally different perspective. All we are saying is that the NFIU lacks the power, be it in statute, constitutional or conventional in a Federal structure to come to seek, by mere guidelines, to take over control and regulate the affairs of LGAs, particularly in terms of finance.’’
He maintained that local government was created for people in local communities, stating that the attempt by the NFIU to place a limit on amount withdrawn by local government in a day amounts to impeding the growth of local government areas.
‘’Now, local government caters for village heads, market women, town criers and those who need direct impact from the local government. 99.9% of these people don’t have bank accounts. So, when you now tell the local government that you cannot withdraw more than N500,000 in a day, what you have done is that you have tied down the growth of the local government area’’, he said.
Nwoko condemned the move by NFIU to control finances of local government areas, arguing that ‘’if we allow this inordinate ambition of NFIU to stand, there is a security angle that is very frightening and we’ve put this in our affidavit in court.’’
He questioned the rationale behind moves by NFIU to assume control of local government funds, noting that such move, if it makes headway, will not be healthy for governance at the local level given what he said is the peculiar nature of running local government areas in the country.
‘’Let’s assume that something happens now and the local government needs to immediately raise an alarm across, say 70 – 80 villages, and it needs to call a meeting of the village heads immediately and the village head needs to mobilize their town criers to raise alarm, and the village head needs to be mobilized with N3000 each so that they can give their town crier N2000 to fuel their motorcycle and move around, so you will now have to ask village heads to bring their account numbers so that you can transfer money to them, then they will now ask their town criers to bring their account numbers so that money can be forwarded to their account; what if there is no bank in that local government?’’ he queried.
Nwoko described the action of NFIU as unconstitutional, noting that they are only interested in having certain powers and create territories that have no backing in law.
According to him, ‘’I believe this is an attempt to tactically push us to the situation of Zamfara and Katsina. I think what the NFIU is trying to do is the scramble for Nigeria; they want to create territories and control so that people can start visiting their office. Their action is unconstitutional, it does not have any backing of the law and that is the simple argument that we are putting up in court.’’