The Bureau Of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs in Benue State came into existence when it metamorphosed from the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs sometime during the past administration. It is headed by a Special Adviser and responsible for the monitoring and supervision of the 23 Local Government Councils in the state as well as chieftaincy matters, such as to ensure good governance, spread of dividends of democracy to people at the grassroots and elevation of the status of our traditional institutions.

In addition to these functions and very importantly, the bureau serves as the secretariat for the State/Local Government Joint Account Allocation Committee and has the responsibility of ensuring that allocations sent from the Federal Government are forwarded to the Local Government Councils.

This idea of having a joint account for states and their local governments was founded by section 162 sub-section 6 of the 1999 constitution. It also empowers the state to spend and allocate at its will to the local governments and this is where the problem is. Politicians have used this gap in legislation to loot public funds over the years.

In Benue state, the bureau has impregnated the system with ghost workers which has created a falsely inflated wagebill of close to 4 billion monthly, besides pensions and salaries of traditional rulers, through which public funds are pilfered away with reckless abandon.

According to information from the bureau, these are the number of workers on their payroll across the 23 councils in the state, those of local government staff and school teachers in bracket: Ado 720 (775), Agatu 1,070 (1,276), Apa 785 (1,080), Buruku 960 (884), Gboko 1,397 (1,526), Guma 1,096 (983), Gwer East 831 (937), Gwer West 1,156 (690), Katsina-Ala 1,412 (1,389), Konshisha 1,154 (797), Kwande 1,239 (1,720), Logo 1,118 (554), Makurdi 1,268 (1,798), Obi 601 (581), Ogbadibo 799 (754), Ohimini 675 (477), Oju 949 (1,246), Okpokwu 423 (667), Otukpo 739 (1,049), Tarka 1,036 (504), Ukum 1,204 (971), Ushongo 1,141 (952) and Vandeikya 728 (1,076). This makes it a total of 19,917 local government workers and 22,686 teachers.

In actual fact, only about half of these really exist. Reliable inside information has it that there are no less than 11,000 ghost workers spread across the existing system which also has about 100 ghost schools. This ensures an output of over N1 billion of looted funds monthly, easily making it the most lucrative business in Benue, a state whose population are majorly peasant farmers.

So if you ever wondered why the government cannot pay salaries. Answer: The business.

This business had always been booming in the background, masked by the huge financial windfall from crude oil over the years but now that oil prices have plummeted worldwide with the consequent shortfall in the Federal revenue allocation to states, it has been exposed. This administration however, just as the one before it and the one before the one before it, has refuse to let go of the business thereby compromising the welfare of workers. This has resulted in several months of unpaid salaries in the state with 8-9 months being owed at the local government level.

Ever wondered why the local government workers and teachers are owed this much and they still haven’t embarked on any industrial action? Answer: The business.

Leaders of trade unions who ordinarily should be fighting for the welfare of their members are neck-deep as partners of the government in this business. Increased ghost workers also mean increased remittance from the government to them as union dues. Out of the bailout funds received, more than N700 million was given to labour unions as workers dues; more than enough to keep quiet.

Ever wondered why the wagebill in Benue State is very high? Answer: The business.

The sum of the wagebill of the 23 local governments in Benue State is one of the highest in the entire country, towers above that of Kano state have more than twice our population with 44 local governments. Despite several attempts to reduce it by past and present governments, has remained high. In fact, more money has been spent on reducing the wage than it has actually been reduced. For now, the pretence of intervention continues while the business booms. Call it “Business as usual” if you like!

Ever wondered why we are underdeveloped? Answer: The business.

There’s no enough money to fund the wagebill. In fact, government has to borrow to finance payment of salaries with the business incoperated, how much more to carry out projects. What that means is that the government must borrow if it wants to embark on any projects and that’s what has characterised the operation of this administration since coming on board. The business has consumed monies from every viable source of income; federal allocation, budget support, bailout, debt refunds and IGR. Everything done in the last two years down to purchase of office stationaries has been down to either borrowed funds or those from special federal interventions and donor agencies.

Ever wondered why political office is very attractive? Ever wondered why some political appointments are termed juicy? Ever wondered what funds stakeholders, what oils the wheels of party machinery? Ever wondered why our politics is do or die? The business explains it all.

Suffice to state that this ugly situation is not limited to the present administration or Benue State alone. The legislative gap in the operations of local governments have left it vulnerable to exploitation from Governor who are irresponsible and immune from being held responsible while in office. Going forward, I therefore submit thus:

First, that I support wholeheartedly and join others to advocate for complete decentralization of government which entails Federal and State governments allowing the local government clear mandate as contained in the Local Government Reforms of 1976 which essentially gave financial and political independence to local governments.

Sections under which the state governors hide to divert the resources of the local government should be expunged from the 1999 constitution while a provision with stiff penalties be prescribed for diversion of public funds with no exceptions on account of immunity. The current arrangement where governors are prosecuted after leaving the office amounts to medicine after death as the damage would have already been done. We in Benue are all familiar with this.

Secondly, that when a national constitutional ammendment is difficult as it has proven concerning autonomy of local governments in Nigeria, states’ Houses of Assembly should legislate arrangements that will at least guarantee that funds meant for local governments actually reach their destinations wholely. Kaduna State is a good example where the Governor scrapped the Joint Allocation Account by allowing local governments direct access to their statutory allocation.

Thirdly, the laws that empower State Independent Electoral Commission to conduct elections at the local government level must be ammended and the function transferred to Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to make council elections credible as found in the developed systems across the world. This will minimize Governor’s imposition of political operatives as umpires in the elections in order to elect non-credible leaders who will steal loot local government funds back to them. This too, we are familiar with in Benue State.

Lastly, as we enter the second half of the tenure of this administration, the Government and it’s head, the Governor have a choice to make between their shitty shady business and the welfare of the people/development of the state, else the people will have a choice to make when the time comes.
Credit. Usha Anenga.

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