Local Government Funds: Governors rise against NFIU, write Buhari

FILE: President Buhari, and his deputy, VP, Yemi Osinbajo in audience with APC Governor's Forum led by Rochas Okorocha, Chairman APC Governors Forum at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. 3rd April 2018. Photos: NOVO ISIORO

Nigeria’s 36 governors have risen against new financial regulations which seek to end their control of local government finances.

PREMIUM TIMES reported how the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) announced a ban on transactions on state and local governments joint accounts, arguing that such accounts are only transitional accounts from where funds should go directly o the accounts of local governments.

The NFIU also placed a limit on cash withdrawals from local governments accounts to a maximum of N500,000 per day. It warned banks to ensure strict compliance.

Governors, under the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), however, said they were angered by the new directive which they described as unconstitutional.

In a statement by NGF’s head of media, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, on Sunday, the governors said the agency is going beyond its brief.

The statement said the governors have sent a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, seeking his intervention.

The Chairman of the NGF and Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, signed off the letter in which governors expressed “dismay and angst at this brazen attempt by the NFIU to ridicule our collective integrity and show total disregard for the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.”

The NFIU, which was excised from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), set June 1, 2019, as the takeoff date of the new order. The order makes it compulsory for local government allocations to go straight to their respective bank accounts. The decision is contained in a guideline released by the NFIU after a lengthy meeting with officials of commercial banks in Abuja.

The NGF Letter was titled Re: NFIU Enforcement and Guidelines to Reduce Crime Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawal from Local Government Funds Throughout Nigeria Effective June 1st, 2019, and dated May 15th, 2019.

The governors said they extracted “copiously from the constitution” to draw the attention of the president to section (6) (a) and (b) “which confers on the States and National Assemblies the powers to make provisions for statutory allocation of Public revenue to the Local Councils in the Federation and within the states respectively.”

Similarly, the governors added, Section 162 (6) expressly “provides for the creation of the States Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA) into which shall be paid all allocations to the LGAs of the State from the Federation Account and from the government of the state.”

The NGF chairman said that nothing in the NFIU Act 2018 gives the body the powers that it seeks to exercise in the guidelines that it released. The governors, therefore, argued that the NFIU was acting in excess of its powers and with complete disregard of the constitution of Nigeria.

The governors accused the NFIU of “stoking mischief and also deliberately seeking to cause disaffection, chaos and overheat the polity.”

The NGF contends that local government councils are a creation of the constitution and are not financial institutions.

According to the governors, local governments are not reporting entities and are therefore not under the NFIU in the manner contemplated by the NFIU so-called guidelines.

“In principle, the NFIU should concentrate on its core mandate of Anti-money laundering AML activities and Combatting financing Terrorism CTF as prescribed in the Act establishing it and should desist from encroaching on or even breaching constitutional provisions,” the statement quoted the governors as saying.

“The Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) is the Nigerian arm of the global financial intelligence Units (FIUs) once domiciled within the EFCC but now for the purpose of institutional location domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria.

“This means the NFIU is only mandated to trace or track laundered money that finds its way into terrorism financing and report such to the nation’s security agencies. The NFIU should seek to comply with those standards on combating Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism and its proliferation as stipulated and not dabble into matters that are both constitutional and beyond NFIU purview,” the governors said.

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