Gumel (APC-Jigawa), who made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, said the move would help to put state governors, particularly those who used local government funds as ”slush money” in check.
He was reacting to the directive by Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), banning governors, banks, financial institutions, public officers and other stakeholders from tampering with statutory allocations of local governments.
The agency imposed a daily N500, 000 cash transaction limit on all the 774 local governments among other guidelines, to take effect from June 1, with sanctions.
Gumel said the directive, having been applauded by Nigerians, was a step in the right direction, particularly in view of allegations of state governors subverting local government funds.
“If the funds of the local government are given to them to carry out their activities there will be more development at the grassroots.
“State governors see local government funds as slush money and they do whatever they want without budgetary processes.
“If we can stop that, a lot of corruption will drastically reduce.
“If local governments have their own funds, the number and quality of staffing will drastically improve, because there are redundant staff at the state and federal level that can be engaged there.
“If the local government is properly funded, people will go back there to be employed. This move will make those at the grassroots to enjoy the dividends of democracy,” he said.
On concerns that the directive by the NFIU needed legal backing to be enforceable, the lawmaker said it was not an outright autonomy for local governments.
According to him, the directive is to the effect that state governors are abusing their privileges by using state and local government joint accounts as “slush accounts”.
He stressed that the directive was to ensure that local government funds were spent in a manner that there would be accountability.
He commended the NFIU for bringing up the conversation again, noting that ”it has been crucial to Nigerians all these years.”
He, however said in order not to have lose ends in the move to free local governments from governors’ “pangs” the senate had moved to sit with relevant stakeholders for find a way of actualising the move without legal concerns.
The chairman further called on state houses of assembly to expedite action in signing the Constitution Amendment currently before them, particularly local government autonomy, before expiration of the 8th National Assembly.
He pointed that so far, only nine states had signed the bill.
He assured that President Muhammadu Buhari would sign the bill into law as as soon as it was translated to him.
He urged state assemblies that were yet to sign the bill, probably because of their state governors’ interference, to summon courage to do that now that they have financial autonomy.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has the will power to ensure full autonomy for local governments.
“I remember his statement during the 2015 inauguration when he promised that he would not allow local government funds to become slush funds for the state governments.
“I interfaced with the president on different occasions on the issue of local government autonomy and he showed readiness to append his signature to moving local governments out of the bondage.
“This is so that they can operate as third tiers of government and not appendage of state governments.
“I am very optimistic that this is going to be implemented.This is a decision that all Nigerians are happy about and we have to see it to the end,” he said.
The lawmaker further said, “Nigerians are excited about this development and I know it will encourage state assemblies now that they are autonomous and free from the bondage of state governments, to operate as independent legislatures on this matter.
“The former governors now in the senate especially the ones in my committee are in the forefront of wanting the bondage of local governments to be lifted.
“They are passionate about it and when this happens, they can stand their ground and insist that INEC conducts their elections instead of SIEC as presently constituted.”
On fears that local government autonomy would give room to corruption at the grassroots, Gumel said there would be measures to check such.
According to him, it is not enough reason to deny local governments their right of place.
He added that there were lots of attractions that would make the tier of government well structured to check any form of criminality.
“There are so many attractions to local governments being autonomous. For instance, federal permanent secretaries and directors that spent most of their time working for the country.
“At the twilight of their lives, they go back and head those local governments so that they can execute projects for their immediate communities.
“So, there will be quality leadership and there will be bureaucracy that will endure that they are accountable to the people.
“Someone who has once been a permanent secretary or director at the federal level should not allow anybody to soil his reputation.”
The National Assembly had in 2017, voted to guarantee local government autonomy by ensuring the Independent National Electoral Commission(INEC), conducts its elections instead of “State Independent Electoral Commissions(SIEC) as currently empowered by the Constitution.
The move also sought to alter Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution, to abrogate State-Local Government Joint Account while empowering the local governments to operate their own accounts, where money would be paid directly from the Federation Account.
Also, the approval covered review of the constitution to make democratic composition of local councils statutory,meaning, any local government without elected officials would not get federal funding.
Since the approval of local government autonomy by the national assembly in 2017, and its transmission to state legislatures for approval, nothing has been heard in that regard.
Constitutional amendment requires approval of two/thirds of state legislatures.
This means that the proposed amendment was sent to the 36 state houses of assembly for consideration, before transmission to the president for assent.
Similar effort was made in the 7th National Assembly but it died within the live of that assembly because it was not approved by the state legislatures.
It is hopeful that it scales through within the lifespan of the 8th assembly.