COLUMN: Gov. AbdulRazaq and LGs’ Decrepitude in Kwara State, By Suraju A. Aminu, PhD

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COLUMN: Gov. AbdulRazaq and LGs’ Decrepitude in Kwara State, By Suraju A. Aminu, PhD

In the recent interview the ‘reticent’ Governor of Kwara State, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, granted THISDAY dated October 18, 2021, one of the issues he reacted to was how “Local Government system is on the verge of collapse”

In responding to the above, GAA painted a gloomy picture of the state of local government areas (LGAs) in Kwara State and Nigeria, at large.

As a stakeholder in Kwara State, I’m more concerned about the maladministration in the LGAs in my poor and backward state.

GAA, sounding helpless, acknowledged a cesspool of corruption in the staff nominal rolls in all the 16 LGAs of the state.

He lamented that “People create secondary slots in the civil service so that they will be able to earn 100 instead of 50. That expands the base of the salary to the extent that in local governments today, by the time you pay salary there is nothing left again from what is sent from Abuja.”

He said further, claiming “Salary is a first line charge. There’s nothing left after that to do any meaningful work. The local government system in Nigeria is on the verge of collapse because all we’re doing is paying salaries.”

AbdulRazaq concluded that LG chairmen took to “loading the salaries” of their councils to join the thieving governors in the looting spree of LG treasuries.

The dire consequences, according to the governor, are ‘over’ bloated LGAs and a dearth of funds for capital projects that could positively touch the lives of our suffering people across all the LGAs in the state.

Sadly, GAA appears to be satisfied with the condition of opacity in the LGAs because he didn’t give an indication of what he would do to help salvage the plunging third tier of government.

If Kwara 001 was really concerned about the inefficiencies across the LGAs, he should be more inclined to providing solutions to the prevalent incapacitation of governments at the grassroots. After all, his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), promised to “change” misgovernance in Nigeria and take governance to the “next level,” going forward.

As a matter of fact, the governor admitted he does not interfere in the affairs of the LGAs. He took it overboard when he was asked whether he takes local government money in Kwara. He retorted, “Not at all. I’ve never met them or sat with them in a meeting. I’ve never.”

This is very disappointing coming from the CEO of Kwara ‘PLC’, who we expect to work with his stooges in all the LGAs of the state to transform the deteriorating living conditions of our people in the LGAs.

Is it not laughable that the governor that handpicked the chairmen of illegal contraptions, Transition Implementation Committees (TICs), could turn around to hoodwink us that “I’ve never met them or sat with them in a meeting. I’ve never”?

GAA’s reply portrays him as standoffish, lacking in interpersonal skill expected of a ‘CEO’ occupying an exalted office of governor of our state.

As phlegmatic as PMB is, I cannot imagine him saying he ‘has not met’ any of the 36 state governors. Even though Nigeria is a federation of three level governments, the 1999 Constitution anticipates that the leaderships of these layers of government should relate to one another for the greater benefits of Nigerians.

Surprisingly, the governor prefers to “deal with the party structure”, party men and women who have nothing to do with governance which as far as governance is concerned, the politicians in the LGAs are more important than the politicians managing the party affairs in the local governments, whose main activities are politicking for the purpose of winning elections and forming governments.

Again, I cannot imagine PMB preferring to deal with the party hierarchies in the states controlled by the APC, ignoring the state governors.

I beseech the governor to become more spirited and sociable in relating to the LG chairmen, whether illegally handpicked or legitimately elected. Communication is an important function of leadership in all human endeavors.

To my mind, all of elected persons from the same party, irrespective of their tiers of government, should contribute to the realisation of the party’s manifesto in the areas of education, health, potable water, security, infrastructure and others.

Sadly, GAA tried to dwarf the importance of his party’s 2019 manifesto in the celebrated interview when he said “What they were saying was not what was on ground. We were not allowed into schools and hospitals to campaign or see what was going on, so we really didn’t know the depth of the challenges. It was when we now got in that we found out that the manifesto is useless.”

Some of us have criticised him for this fruitless effort; the party’s success in the 2019 gubernatorial election in Kwara state was, largely, due to its manifestos. Many kwarans that voted for GAA and his party believed they would do things differently.

No matter how meritorious GAA’s performance may be at the state level, the lackluster performance of LG chairmen will remain a drag on the performance of the party in the state. The LG chairmen should complement the giant strides of the GAA administration at the grassroots in all the areas of governance.

We have been reading about the giant strides of the administration in social media, but we haven’t seen much capital projects undertaken by many of the 16 LGAs. On the contrary, many LGAs are lacking good road networks, functional primary health care centers, potable water and other social amenities that are required for a decent living in the rural and suburban areas of the state.

According to GAA, “And why is there cholera? The primary health care is with the local government, motor parks are with the local government, markets are with local government, the Water Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programme is primarily with the local government. Once they pay salaries, there’s no money to take care of anything else.”

This is proof that majority of people living in villages across the state don’t feel the impacts of the LGs administration despite huge annual FAAC and internally generated revenues (IGRs) accruable to each of the LGAs in the state.

GAA explained the reasons why the LGAs have brazenly abdicated their developmental responsibilities. He said, “Salary is a first line charge. There’s nothing left after that to do any meaningful work. The local government system in Nigeria is on the verge of collapse because all we’re doing is paying salaries.” This means that there is no money left for developmental projects after payment of salaries.

There will be no money for developmental projects as long as a whopping 90% of revenues goes into payment of ‘over’ bloated workers. In GAA’s words, “Today we find ourselves at 90%. All over Nigeria.”

It’s unacceptable that a whopping 90% of LG revenues is spent on recurrent expenditure and overhead, leaving a trashy sum of money for developmental projects.

Shortly after the celebrated interview, Elites Network for Sustainable Development (ENetSUD) shared and circulated narratives and info graphics on LG finances in Kwara state based on data from the state Auditor General. These data completely controvert GAA’s position on the humongous 90% of the LG revenues purportedly spent on payment of salaries. According to the data, not less than nine LGAs significantly spent far less than 90% on salaries and overheads in 2020.

The analyses of the funds the nine LGAs ‘lent’ to fellow seven LGAs is confounding and depressing, to say the least. This amounted to N3, 514, 916, 791.90 in one year.

The details of the breakdown are provided in the table below, courtesy of ENetSuD.

Kwara LGs Financial Table
Kwara LGs Financial Table

While recurrent expenditure and overhead took the lion share of expenditures in all the LGAs, one strange item that is common in the audited finances is spurious expenditure purportedly to be “money spent on other LGAs.”

In Baruten LGA, the sum of N806, 149,308.08k was illegally diverted to some less liquid LGAs in the state. This illegal diversion represents 22.93% of the LGA’s total revenue in 2020.

In Kaiama LGA, another hugely sum of N803, 261,765.13k was reportedly spent on a bizzare item of “money spent on other LGAs.” This accounts for 22.85% of the LG’s total revenue. Curiously, less than one percent, 0.8%, was spent on capital projects in the LGA in 2020.

Further, in Patigi LGA, the sum of N615, 642,021.23k was fraudulently diverted to some LGAs. This accounts for 17.51% of the total revenue.

In Ekiti LGA, the fraudulent item, “money spent on other LGAs” was over N308,436,450.24k, which is about 8.78% of income the LGA generated in 2020. Again, this questionable expense is considerably more than over N15 million spent on capital project, which is also one percent of accrued revenue to the LGA in 2020.

Finally, this phoney item was N246, 249,243.83 in Oke-Ero LGA, accounting for 7% of total revenue. This is significantly more than a miserably N14 million spent on capital projects in the LGA and constitutes paltry one percent of income accrued to the LGA.

From the foregoing, the statement by GAA that “It is the same situation that over 90% of local government revenue is spent on salary” is sophistry!

If judiciously used and not looted by the politicians, the sum of N3, 514, 916, 791.90, illegally diverted to less buoyant LGAs, could have been used to provide roads, health care and boreholes, and dispose waste among other social services expected of functional and benevolent LGAs. In four years, these investments will significantly transform the conditions of the populace in these LGAs.

More funds can still be freed from each of these nine and other LGAs from loaded salaries. GAA lamented that “Because when the local government now saw how Oga governor is taking everything, when they employ local government workers or teachers, the local chief will bring three names, the local government chairman’s wife will bring three names, the local government chairman will bring two names; so they too started loading the salaries, rather than allow the governor to take everything, so they were loading the salaries.”

GAA and all stakeholders should do everything, including inviting the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), to investigate and prosecute the vultures indicted in the lingering payroll frauds in Kwara.

GAA should please stop lamenting paucity of funds to provide developmental projects in our benighted LGAs. If he could use the limited funds available to his government to provide various public goods in the state, the LG chairmen have no excuse for not providing basic public goods in their domains.

According to data from the state Auditor General, virtually all of the LGAs spend beggarly amounts of total revenues in 2020, one percent or less, on capital projects in their domains. This is worrisome, to say the least!

The pertinent question is: Who authorized the fraudulent deductions of money from one LGA and payment to another LGA in the state?

ENetSuD has done well to expose this fraudulent practice, it needs to do more by petitioning the governor to investigate this aberration and sanction anybody found culpable.

Going forward, further illegal deductions should be stopped forthwith to allow resilient LGAs with surplus funds to use these funds to provide developmental projects and programs for their people.

With about N900 million excess funds of Baruten and Kaiama LGAs, these two LGAs can provide health care, water sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) program and few other things for the good people of the LGAs.

There is no reason why Baruten, Kaiama and some buoyant LGAs in Kwara state should be afflicted with cholera or any other infectious diseases if the GAA administration allows their monies to remain and be spent in the respective LGAs.

Though LGAs are independent of the state government, according to the 1999 Constitution, all the 36 state governors meddle in the affairs of LGAs in the country. Kwara is not an exception, no matter how GAA tries to conceal this.

For example, a report by the Good Governance Index (GGI) affirms this, believing: “It must be stated that the role of state government as a tier of government in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. It has been increasingly noted that the various state governments have been notorious in rendering local government areas in the states ineffective and mostly underfunded. It has also been stated in numerous forums that state governors are in the habit of depriving the bulk of the people in the local government areas the dividends of democracy, and this is somewhat responsible for the spate of agitations at the local government levels which gave rise to all sort of anomalies at the grassroots levels.”

GAA’s illegal actions of removing the elected officials of LGAs and replacing them with his puppets and illegal dissolution of KWASIEC portrays him as an interloper. GAA should allow the LGAs to function independently and this does not stop the state government from providing financial and moral support to them. After all, the 36 state governments are independent of the FG, yet the ‘big brother’ provides them with financial and moral support, if necessary. Governors have audience with PMB every now and then, requesting for one favor or the other.

Because GAA ‘cherry-picked’ the TIC chairmen running the affairs of the LGAs in Kwara state, he holds all the aces in making them accountable for the ways they are managing our common patrimony at the grassroots. He should cause a holistic staff audit to hold in all the LGAs to purge them of ghost workers that have led to loaded salaries and stunted growth and development in the LGAs. This is not rocket science!

GAA should also put in place a machinery for election of LG chairmen and councilors and confer legitimacy on illegal LG chiefs. He cannot forever hide under the veil of ongoing legal actions, brought against his government by ENetSuD and former officials of disbanded KWASIEC, to obstruct democracy at the grassroots.

A stitch in time saves nine!

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