Recently, a team led by the Ogun State Chairman of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, Babatunde Emilola-Gazal, apologised to Governor Dapo Abiodun on your behalf for accusing him (the governor) of diverting LG funds. Do you think that was necessary?
Not on my behalf, it’s on behalf of themselves. If there were fallacies in the letter I wrote to Chief (Olusegun) Osoba, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, then one can apologise, but if those things are factual, then what is the basis for the apologies? If some people went ahead to apologise, then their constituents in their local government (areas) should ask them why they have not been executing projects. Why is it that they have not been carrying out their constitutional responsibilities? Where is the money? If they were paid, let them give an account of how much they have collected and spent. If they apologised, that means they have been collecting money.
So, what is all the noise about local governments not getting money? Tell people what you have been doing with the money and if there are leftovers, tell the people where they are. I think that is the question we should be asking. If you are apologising, that is an admission of guilt for collecting money.
What is the standard regarding funding for local governments?
There is a standard way of doing things at the local government and state levels. When funds come from Abuja, they come into a joint account between the state and local governments. There should be a monthly meeting, and there are indices through which you determine how much each local government should get because it is not the same amount that every LG gets. The same thing applies to the states; there are indices used to share with states. Once those indices are met, there will be a motion for adoption; the money will be shared accordingly with each LG. It is the LG that should disburse the money for any purpose, be it salary or any other expenses. But in this one (in Ogun), everything has been done at the state level. We are not allowed to do anything, including the payment of salaries.
Are you saying local governments should be responsible for the payment of LG staff members’ salaries?
Why can’t the local governments pay their workers salary? It is paid by the state. That was not the intention of those who drafted the Constitution. Each level of government should handle its matter, but by the time they (the state government) have spent all the money, you will now tell us that there is zero account and that you have lent us money. Who knows how you concocted those figures? You are paying workers in my local government but I, as the chairman of a local government area, don’t even know how many workers I have. You just send workers down and delegate what they will do in the local government area. Do you know how many workers I need? I am the one on the ground; I know how many people can work in my local government area. I know the ones I need. So, someone should not decide that for me.
Do you think Governor Abiodun’s administration has incapacitated the local government system in the state?
He has done that completely. Some people don’t understand and that is why they are not worried because, after all, they (the Abiodun administration) are paying salaries. One thing a lot of people don’t understand is that the federal allocation is not for payment of salary alone. If we are going to base it on that, that means nothing, and absolutely no project will be done by the local governments. Even in the Constitution, it is stated that 10 per cent of the internally generated revenue of the state should be given back to the local governments. That has never happened since we got on board.
Apart from that, before the end of the (Muhammadu) Buhari administration, the man (Buhari) did well. He knew that the economy was not so good, so he intervened four times for the 774 local government areas in Nigeria, but no dime got to all the local government areas in Ogun State. So, that should not continue. If they (LG chairmen) are apologising, they should explain to their constituents where the money went to. I’m a Yoruba man; certain aspects of our culture are good. Others are not so good. People do things naively sometimes. I think they (council chairmen) were deceived.
Were you at the meeting?
I was there and I was very careful in my aspect and when it comes to talk of retraction, I won’t retract anything. That’s the fact. However, it was the Secretary to the State Government who first apologised to the LG chairmen because, on the money I told you that Buhari sent and the one President Bola Tinubu just sent, the state government released a statement that they had sent money to local governments, but it was a lie. So, he (SSG) apologised that they released that statement, but that was not part of the story they showed to everybody.
His apology was not shown to anybody; it’s just the aspect of the local government apologising, but my question is, apologising for what? You don’t need to apologise. If I want to greet an elder in Yoruba, yes, I can prostrate myself, but official work does not require that at all. I have no business prostrating myself to anybody in official matters. So, it is wrong.
In the petition you wrote, you mentioned that the local governments had not received a dime since Governor Abiodun came on board. How true is that?
We have the Joint Account Allocation Committee and we always meet monthly. But as I told them two days ago, we must go back to the (Olusegun) Osoba and OGD (Gbenga Daniel) era. During that time, as soon as the money came, there was a meeting to consider indices like population, the land mass, the geography of the local government areas, and how much IGR the local government generated in the last one or two years, etc, were used to determine how much the local governments got. This is because anyone who generates a lot of IGR gets a lot of allocation from the Federal Government and those that do not generate much did not get much because all the IGRs were reported to the Federal Government.
There are other indices but these are some and from there, money will be distributed to the local governments to pay the traditional rulers, teachers, pension, and several others. But that is not happening now; they are being handled by Mr Governor from Abeokuta. What then are we doing as chairmen? As I said earlier, allocation is not meant for paying salaries alone. After payment of salaries, there is no way there won’t be leftovers and with those, you have to do projects and other things. My question is: Where are the leftovers? They do not allow us to do our jobs and each month they tell us that we owe the state government.
How much did the state government say the councils owe?
Right now, all the local governments in Ogun State are said to owe Ogun State N17bn and I told the SSG and the governor that in my local government, Ijebu-East, we don’t owe a dime. Maybe that was why they did the kangaroo suspension. If you want to lend me money, I must be interested in it and I must know what the money is for. Was there any agreement? When did I borrow the money? What was the money used for? You can’t just wake up and impose it on me that I have borrowed money when I didn’t apply or have any agreement with you to that effect.
Why will you say I borrowed money I didn’t even see? You just deep your hand into my account, spend all the money, and tell me that the money that you spent is not enough and that I still owe you? This is something I don’t know anything about. Who does that? That is not my business. It’s their business and that’s why they are angry. For a lot of our colleagues, background matters in some of these things that we are doing. We came from different backgrounds. They can prostrate themselves, they can ‘dobale,’ that is their problem. I came from a different background, and I know what I’m doing.
What was your reaction when your colleagues prostrated themselves before the governor?
That is precisely what I am telling you; the one we had two days ago, the SSG said it was triumphant, and that “you can see now, it is 19 against one”. He said the majority had their way, but I said the majority would have their way but the minority would have their say. I insist and I stand by what has been written (in the letter). Let them form their majority, that’s their problem. If they don’t have a problem in their local government areas, I have.
Was there any pressure on you to retract the publication?
Yes, that is exactly what is happening. It was after I refused that they started all this kangaroo suspension. There is no way I’m retracting it.
Do you plan to go to court to challenge your suspension?
Yes, I’m challenging them in court next week over the suspension. The councillors have no such power either in the state laws or in the Constitution to do that. What you have is the removal of the chairman and once you don’t impeach, you don’t have power of suspension and there was no due process before that was done. At least they should have set up a committee and called me to come and defend myself against the allegation. Nobody invited me for questioning. You can’t just sit down and pass judgment without hearing from the other side. I’m sure that is why they came with policemen yesterday (Thursday). More than 100 policemen came to my local government area. Everybody was just running helter-skelter. If I had been there, I know that I would have been rough-handled or arrested. I just avoided the place.
You also said that the governor was after your life. Why did you say so or was there a confrontation?
As politicians, there is no way the people we work with most of the time won’t tell you things, especially if they like you. So, they told me that they had contracted someone to kill me. I told them to collect the money, but anyone who comes to my house targeting me will not return home. I told the SSG two days ago that anybody who comes after me, I will go after that person and his family to the last man. I told him that the person who contracted them to kill me would not escape. Even if they use the Department of State Services and the police to protect themselves, that won’t stop me. If they are not successful in killing me, I will go after them and their family. I am sending a letter to the Director General of the DSS about the threat to my life.
What was Chief Olusegun Osoba’s response to your letter?
There was no formal response from him, but the responses I have been getting are informal. For me, as a member of the All Progressives Congress, the party has been destroyed by Mr Governor because when people who are elected into office in the local government areas are not able to do what they are supposed to do for the people, how can we win elections? The last election was terrible. The Peoples Democratic Party won in my local government area and that should not have happened. Some time ago, there was going to be a riot in my local government area over a simple thing as small as a transformer. We couldn’t provide a transformer for over three months and the opposition bought a transformer for the residents and when we later brought ours, the people said they didn’t want it. What had we been doing for three months that they didn’t have light? This was the primary reason why we lost so badly in the last election because the local government had not been funded.
With the current situation, do you think the governor should be investigated?
Of course, I have not withdrawn my letter. They should do their job. There is no way they will investigate and not come to my local government area, and I’m ready to answer any question. I don’t think any local government area in Ogun State has done so much. All of them are complaining. They complain privately; they are just afraid to speak up publicly. If you talk to them off-record, they will give you more than what I am saying. They are doing that (prostrating themselves before) the governor because they are afraid of losing their jobs, and I don’t blame them. We are different individuals and as I said, backgrounds are different.
With the paucity of funds, how have the local governments in Ogun been operating?
People come to the office, and do whatever they have to do. From whatever money we can get from our IGR, we do whatever we think is necessary with it.
How much do you realise as IGR every month?
We don’t make up to N10m as IGR in my local government area.
How bad is the level of decadence at the local government level?
Come and see for yourself. Go and see the health centres. Check the primary schools, check the inner roads. There are places where people still drink water from the streams because there is no potable water. What does it cost to sink a borehole for each street? We can’t do it because there is no money. It’s terrible.
Are the salaries of council workers paid regularly?
We don’t have salary issues. So, far, we are paying.
What do you think the President can do to improve the local government administrations?
It is not a question of local government autonomy per se. Whatever the President does, if the local governments are not working, everything will amount to zero. Is it the President that will come and solve the problem in my local government? No. His is to formulate policies and whatever he is doing has to be done through the states and the local governments. They are the closest to the grassroots. But if the LGs are in a state of coma then all those policies from Abuja will amount to zero, and nothing will happen.