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Editorial

Saving local governments from imminent extinction

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Most Nigerians have over time craved for change in the local government system as presently constituted in order to bring it to conform with present day realities as well as to make the councils live up to the expectations of the people who have continued to yearn for development at the grassroots.

The need for this change is occasioned by the failure of the nation’s 774 local government areas, which are supposed to be the closest tier of government to the people, to make positive impact in the lives of a majority of the country’s population, who live in rural areas.

While most analysts blame Nigeria’s faulty federal structure for the failure of the councils, the States/Local Governments’ Joint Accounts run by the respective 36 state government and their local governments are seen by many as the major reason for the inability of past and present administrations at the councils to meet the two primary objectives spelt out in the Local Governments’ reform of 1976, which are: To promote participatory democracy, and ensure rapid socio-economic development at the local level.

The Nigerian Constitution, in Section 7(1), guarantees a system of local government by democratically elected government councils, but the second component of the section makes the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of the local govern- ments dependent on state laws.

Besides the guarantee, the constitution inadvertently makes it possible for state governments to cripple the local governments financially by routing funds standing to their credit in the Federation Account through the Joint Accounts rather than directly to them.

Whereas it was argued then that the operation of the Joint Accounts was meant to bring even development to all parts of the country as well as to curb corruption, the arrangement has over time, adversely affected the financial viability of the councils as some state governments have continued to make inexplicable deductions from the accounts.

Section 162 (8) of the Constitution, which explains how the amount standing in the Joint Account should be distributed to the local governments in each state, states: “The amount standing to the credit of local government councils of a state shall be distributed among the local government councils of that state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the state.”

This constitutional provision, rather than ensure fiscal responsibility, has provided a window for state governments to hold them hostage and make them their appendages. In practice, the operation of the Joint Accounts has denied local governments of their financial autonomy.

Though the states have continually maintained that the federal and state governments are the federating units, while the local governments are mere administrative units of the states, it should be noted that the state governments were not meant to be beneficiaries of the Joint Accounts, but to serve as trustees.

They are required to maintain the accounts for the benefit of the local governments by ensuring that funds allocated for this third tier of government are equitably and fairly shared among the councils, adhering strictly to constitutionally stipulated criteria.

But, recent reports from across the country indicate that most state governments implement the Joint Accounts contrary to its intention. Instances abound where some governors hand out only wage bills to the various council chairmen in their respective states, who in most cases, are appointed rather than elected as required by the law.

The National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), the umbrella body of councils’ employees, confirmed the report during a recent visit to former President Olusegun Obasanjo to enlist his support in rescuing the local governments. The union’s president, Ibraheem Khaleel, told Obasanjo that “the states have rendered the local governments impotent.”

The former president accused state governments of incapacitating the councils.

“There is no exception to this bastardisation and encroachment by states. Both are supposed to be separate tiers of government, with each having its roles and functions, but that is not the case anymore,” he said.

As we join concerned stakeholders in the campaign to save the councils from imminent extinction, we insist on an amendment to the provisions of Sections 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which states that “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to Section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law, which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils,” in order to provide for financial autonomy for the councils.

To this end, the National Assembly should see the perilous state of the councils as a matter of urgent national concern, and accord priority to amendment of the local government extant law in the ongoing constitution amendment process.

The running of local governments through caretaker committees should be stopped.

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Editorial

Killings: Defence minister, IGP’s gaffes

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Since the beginning of this year, Benue State has been at the centre of controversies in the country. No thanks to the killings of 73 people on January 1, 2018 by suspected herdsmen in three local governments of the state. For a state visited by such orgy of violence in the beginning of the New Year, what the state deserved was pity and a treatment of the case as a national emergency.

 

The governor of Benue State, Dr. Samuel Ortom, who has battled all sorts of problems in the state since assumption of office in 2015 is exasperated by the humanitarian crisis dumped on his laps in the New Year.

 

Today, Nigerians are worried by the massive orgy of violence and bloodletting across the country. Yet, the killings have not stopped, even though not in the magnitude of the January 1st attacks.

 

Bad as it is that citizens of Nigeria were killed like ordinary animals, despite the vaunted security set up of the Federal Government, what baffles us is the posture of security chiefs on the carnage in Benue.

 

From the Defence Minister, Brig.-Gen. Mansur Dan-Ali (rtd) to the Inspector- General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, down to the spokesman for the Nigeria Police, CSP Jimoh Moshood, their comments have at best been saddening. Rather than face the security challenges that have hit the nation, they are more after criminalising Ortom, adducing reasons that seem to justify the killings.

 

Rather than being the victim, Ortom is today the aggressor in the eyes of security agents. Nothing could be more annoying than the careless remarks that seem to justify the mass murder by the very people charged with maintaining the security of the country.

 

Dan-Ali, in whose hands the defence of the country falls, above all security chiefs and just below President Muhammadu Buhari as the Commander- in-Chief of the Armed Forces, obviously needs to apologise for insisting that the killings were because of the enactment of the anti-grazing Bill and blocking of grazing routes in Benue.

 

Speaking after a security meeting chaired by President Buhari at the State House, the minister said: “Look at this issue (killings in Benue and Taraba). What is the remote cause of this herdsmen/ farmers’ crisis? Since the nation’s Independence, we know there used to be a route which the cattle rearers take because they are all over the nation.

 

You go to Bayelsa, Ogun, you will see them. If those routes are blocked, what do you expect will happen?

 

Herdsmen are also Nigerians. “These people are Nigerians. It is just like one going  to block shoreline. Does that make sense to you? These are the remote causes of the crisis. But the immediate cause is the grazing law.” His position seemed to justify that of the IGP, who has insisted that the killings were a result of communal clashes in the state.

 

The IGP was also mandated by Buhari to relocate to Benue in the wake of the killings. He spent one day in Benue, apologised for his initial statement on communal clashes only to head to Nasarawa State and, again, blamed the crisis on communal clashes. Since then, it has been de ja vu.

 

 

One careless statement here, the other there! We note with deep regret that such gaffes by the Defence Minister and the IGP might have given fillip to the insult by the Police spokesperson, Moshood, who referred to a distressed governor as a ‘drowning man’.

 

We believe that such comments not only make the security agents culpable in the crisis, but actually should be enough reasons for them to resign, having failed woefully in their mandates. It is on record that killings have been going on in the Benue Valley and other parts of the country for long in the hands of the herdsmen. Were the killings after promulgation of the grazing law the first?

 

Have Enugu, Delta, Imo and other states where killings took place enacted grazing laws?

 

What of Plateau, Adamawa and Nasarawa states where killings have taken place? Rather than engage in shadow chasing and unnecessary hair splitting over the killings, we demand in unequivocal terms that the defence minister, IGP and other security agencies rise to the challenge and see the killings as a security challenge that requires the highest attention from security agencies.

 

Resorting to blaming the governor over the anti-grazing law is akin to playing the Ostrich, hiding the head when battle calls. We also believe that President Buhari has a major role to play in all these.

 

He visited Nasarawa State last week. Did he visit Benue? No! Whatever he went to do in Nasarawa could have been left for a more pressing issue of Benue to commiserate with the government and people of the state. Rather, Benue has become a state where opposition governors have gone to make political capital over the death of innocent citizens.

 

We hold very strongly that the security chiefs have danced on the graves of innocent people of Benue with their utterances. It does not in any way make them innocent of allegations of culpability.

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Editorial

LMC too soft on unruly Sunshine Stars

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Nigerian football has come of age. With three Africa Cup of Nations trophies through the Super Eagles and two CAF Champions League titles courtesy of Enyimba of Aba, the country’s profile in the round leather received major boost. Between 1994 and 2014, six FIFA World Cup competitions took place in different continents. Nigeria featured in five of the competitions and these shot the country’s name to international limelight.

 

The country’s footballers who move from the domestic league abroad also made impact especially in the late 90s and early 2000s.

 

Some Nigerian administrators rose to become executive members of the Confederation of Africa Football (CAF) and the Federation of International Football Association (FIFA). Dr. Amos Adamu was a former member of CAF and FIFA executive bodies while the President of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF), Amaju Pinnick, is currently an executive member of CAF and head of the organizing committee for the Africa Nations Cup. Many other Nigerians have served in various capacities at continental and global stage while some are still doing so actively.

 

The implication of the little profile is to show that there is no hiding place for anyone in the country to pretend about the country’s pedigree in football. We believe it is crucial for the administrators and all the stakeholders in the game to behave in accordance with the world’s best practices in football. All over the world, football hooliganism is one of the major acts of football fans that FIFA frowns at.

The world body always preach fair play at all levels of the game both on and off the pitch. It is expected that fans of opposing sides should tolerate one another and be mature to accept match results that come their way.

 

The referees are expected to also make the right calls and avoid corruption or any act that could make them shun objectivity in officiating. Last week, it came as a rude shock that referees that handled the Match Day Eight of Nigeria Professional League Encounter in Akure were molested after the game between Sunshine Stars and Kano Pillars which ended in a draw.

 

Damian Akure was the centre referee with Emmanuel Apine and Lewis Gwantana as his assistant referees while Kenneth Onyiro was the fourth official. Gwantana was the most hit among the officials as a sharp object thrown at him gave him a cut on the forehead. The photographs of the injury sustained went viral on social media.

 

 

It took the League Man- agement Company (LMC) one week to arrive at a decision on the matter because all the officials did not indicate in their report that anything happened after the match.

 

We condemn the unruly act of the fans and also frown at the compromising disposition of the officials who failed to tell the truth in their report to help the home team avoid LMC’s hammer. Only on Friday, the LMC slammed a three-point deduction and a fine of N1.5 million on Sunshine Stars Football Club following the attacks and the body also called for the withdrawal of the three match officials who posted injury pictures on social media, but failed to reflect it in their official report.

 

The most annoying aspect of this incident is the fact that Akure is fast becoming a venue for crowd incidents.

 

The LMC on its website said: “In an unprecedented application of the NPFL Framework and Rules, the LMC reviewed a series of past breaches of the rule by the club (Sunshine) dating back to the 2014/2015 season for which varying sanctions, including monetary fines, playing without fans, ban of use of home ground and an order to identify for prosecution, supporters cited for acts of breach of security and or interference with match officials.”

Last year, Sunshine were banished to Ijebu-Ode, fined N1 million and the goalie received 12-match ban following crowd incident.

 

Twice in 2016, Sunshine were sanctioned and ordered to pay N2.5 million in September for an incident after a match with Heartland and in March, the team was asked to pay N5 million following an incident after a match with Shooting Stars. In November 2015, Sunshine were banished to play in Lagos following a crowd incident in the encounter against Lobi Stars.

 

After evaluating several incidents involving this team, we make bold to say the punishment meted at Sunshine by the LMC was too soft. Teams and referees will be in fear anytime they go to Akure for matches and this is very bad for the game and the league.

 

We recommend that the LMC should revisit the case and take NPFL matches away from Akure for not less than one year. The punishment given to the team is not enough to teach lessons since the same unruly fans will still come to the same stadium to watch matches. We also urge the officials of Sunshine and the government of Ondo State to educate fans to always be calm while security should be improved at the stadium to prevent recurrence.

 

Nigerians should be encouraged to take their families to stadia and this can only be done if fans are peaceful.

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Editorial

NHIS: Another blunder from Buhari’s men

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The sounds of discordant tunes from men within the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari appear endless. While the country was still to come to grips with the recall of the sacked Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, the recall of the suspended Executive Secretary of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS), Prof Usman Yusuf, surfaced.

 

Yusuf was, some months ago, suspended by the Minister of Heath, Prof. Isaac Adewole, over allegations bordering on corruption, insubordination and sundry issues. He was accused of spending about N860 million without approval.

 

Usman was appointed in July 2016 by President Muhammadu Buhari. He took over from Mr. Olufemi Akingbade, who acted for almost two years after the former Executive Secretary, Dr. Femi Thomas, was removed a day to the exit of former President Goodluck Jonathan.

 

The case was so serious that both the Senate and the House of Representatives set up committees to investigate the matter with a mandate to report back. Nigerians have waited for the reports, which have not been released, but Yusuf was restored to his position by the Presidency without the consent of the minister who suspended him in the first place.

 

Rather than keep quiet on the matter or at best not insult Nigerians, the Federal Government, through the Minister of Information, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, came up with the lame excuse that Yusuf’s recall would not stop any investigation into his case by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

 

The Presidency had, in a letter it released, reinstated Yusuf without the consent of Adewole. Rather, Adewole was summoned a day after the controversial move, where he was told to work with the man he suspended.

 

The letter marked SH/COS/10/6/A/29 and signed by the Chief of Staff to the President, Mallam Abba Kyari, informed the minister of health of Yusuf’s recall. According to the letter, he (Yusuf) had been “admonished to work harmoniously with the minister.”

 

Ordinarily, the position of the Federal Government could have been glossed over, if not that the idea of recalling men, who have been accused of corruption, is gradually becoming a dark spot for this present government. We recall that Yusuf failed to appear before the panel set up to investigate his involvement in the alleged corruption cases against him. We also recall that Maina was recalled controversially, forcing Buhari to set up an investigation into his recall. Till date, nothing has been heard of the outcome of the report submitted by the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita.

 

There was also the case of a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, who was suspended and a panel set up by Buhari to investigate his alleged involvement in corruption allegations. Although he was relieved of his appointment reluctantly, nothing has come out of that investigation, except the mere invitation by the EFCC and his administrative bail two days after.

 

We note with sadness that the implications of these cases might be interpreted to mean a Presidency that protects its own. For a government whose one major policy plank is anti-corruption, the recall of the NHIS boss and the other cases mentioned clearly rubbishes whatever gains that have been made in the fight against graft. Rather, it arms the opposition and critics of government in the argument that the anti-corruption fight is just one of those strategies designed for the enemies of this government.

 

We accept the fact that corruption has, over time, dealt a major blow to the Nigerian system. We also accept the fact that one of the selling points of Buhari as a person is his perceived non-corrupt nature. But we submit that a situation where some people become sacred cows when allegations are levelled against them negates the spirit and letter of the anti-corruption fight.

 

One of the reasons adduced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in his now famed letter to Buhari in January this year against the president was his feeling that the Presidency is shielding its own from corruption charges. Does the reinstatement of Yusuf not give credence to that assertion? Can those who re-instated Yusuf argue in good conscience that his recall was the most pressing decision in the Presidency? How do they convince Nigerians that the issue of anti-corruption is broad based and not targeted at the opposition? These are serious questions that need answers from the Presidency.

 

By the same token, how would Yusuf be working with his boss, Adewole, when he knows that he is not accountable to him?

 

In saner climes, Adewole ought to have resigned in protest by now. But being Nigeria, we do not expect him to resign, even though he has been told boldly that Yusuf, his subordinate, is his boss. We expect that the presidency should stop being disruptive of itself. Men within the Presidency should also stop undermining the administration through unnecessary favouritism. That way, they would not end up rubbishing the little legacies being left by Buhari, if any.

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