Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF)

The governors of the 36 states, acting under the aegis of the Nigeria Governors Forum, have rejected the financial autonomy recently granted the 774 local government areas in the country.

The autonomy is being guaranteed by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit.

The 36 governors also approached President Muhammadu Buhari on the actions taken by the NFIU, which they accused of dabbling into a matter that was “beyond its mandate.”

The Chairman of the NGF, who is also the outgoing Governor of Zamfara State, Abdulaziz Yari, was said to have signed a letter to the President on behalf of his colleagues.

In the letter, the governors expressed dismay and angst at the NFIU’s “brazen attempt to ridicule” their collective integrity and “show total disregard for the constitution of the Federal republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.”

Head, Media and Public Affairs of NGF, Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo, in a statement in Abuja on Sunday, said the governors, via the letter, also accused the NFIU of usurping their powers.

Recall that the NFIU, which was excised from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, set June 1, 2019, as the take-off date of the new order, making it compulsory for all LGA allocations to go straight to their respective bank accounts.

The decision is contained in the guidelines released by the NFIU after a lengthy meeting with officials of commercial banks in Abuja.

The NFIU, in its guideline, also pegged the total amount of cash that could be withdrawn from any LGA in a day at N500, 000.

But the NGF, in its letter to President Buhari, titled, Re: NFIU Enforcement and Guidelines to Reduce Crime Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawal from Local Government Funds throughout Nigeria Effective June 1st, 2019, condemned the directive.

Copies of the letter, which is dated May 15, 2019, were sent to the Attorney- General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN); the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu; the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele; the Director-General of the Department of State Services, Mr. Yusufi Bichi, and all the other 35 governors.

The governors drew the attention of the President to section (6) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, which confers on the states and the National Assembly the powers to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to the local government councils in the Federation and within the states, respectively.

Also, the governors added, Section 162 (6) expressly provides for the creation of the States Joint Local Government Account 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 letter read in part, “The attention of the NGF has been called to certain guidelines to the above subject recently released by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit and purportedly set to become operational, effective June 1, 2019.

“The NGF wishes to express its dismay and angst al the attempt to ridicule our collective integrity and to show total disregard to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.

“We kindly invite Mr President to note S.7(6) (a) and (b) of the Constitution, which confers on the National Assembly and the State House of Assembly, the powers to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to the local councils in the Federation and within the state respectively. “

The NGF Chairman argued that nothing in the NFIU Act 2018 gave the body the powers that it tried to exercise in the guidelines that it released. He said the unit was acting in excess of its powers and in doing so, it showed complete disregard for the constitution.

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

The NGF said that local government councils were not financial institutions, but creations of the constitution. The governors added that they are not reporting entities and therefore, not under the NFIU in the manner contemplated by the the latter’s so-called guidelines.

The statement added, “In principle, the NFIU should concentrate on its core mandate of anti-money laundering activities and combating financing terrorism as prescribed in the Act establishing it. It should desist from encroaching on or even breaching constitutional provisions.

“The NFIU is the Nigerian arm of the Global Financial Intelligence Units. It was once domiciled within the EFCC, but now, for the purpose of institutional location, it is domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria.”

The governors, according to the statement, further told President Buhari that the NFIU was 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 governors, therefore, contended that the NFIU should 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.”

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