Ifere Paul needs to introduction in Cross River State’s politics. He is an intelligent and relentless critic of the Cross River State government headed by Senator Benedict Ayade. But in case you have never heard of him, ask google.
Ifere Paul has sued the Minister of Finance, the Accountant General of the Federation, Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, Attorney General of Cross River State, the Accountant General of Cross River State, and the 18 Local Government councils of Cross River State.
Mr Ifere is asking the court to declare that the Joint Local Government Account Allocation Committee of Cross River State is improperly constituted in the absence of two representatives of the office of the Accountant General of the Federation; that it is unconstitutional for the Government of Cross River State to seize or tamper with Local Government allocations from the Federation Accountant. These are two of the eight reliefs Ifere Paul is seeking from the court. I consider these two the main reliefs, others are ancillary to these two.
Since Ifere went public with his intention to sue the Cross River State government and being that he contracted our law firm Obono, Obono & Associates to represent him, I have been flooded with requests as to the meat of the reason why Ifere is suing the Cross River State Government. Two days ago we filed this matter in the Federal High Court Abuja and by next week the matter will be assigned and hearing will commence. The best time to talk about this issue is now. When hearing begins, and as one of the lawyers representing Ifere Paul, the only place you will hear me talk about it in such a length will be in the courtroom.
Now this is the thing. Love Ifere, hate Ifere, the facts will not change and the interpretation of our extant laws will not fluctuate in accordance with your like or dislike of the plaintiff. We cannot prosper in a democracy without once in a while stepping back from the heavy weather of party politics and appraising matters the way they really are. I believe in the case of Ifere Paul, it’s obvious, that is why I’m one of his lawyers. I’m not inviting you to believe in it because I do; I’m inviting you to look at the facts objectively.
It is simply black and white. The fact that it is a black man bringing up the white fact will not change the colour of the fact. Look at the facts not the perceived colour of the man bringing it. Is the Joint Local Government Account Allocation Committee of Cross River State improperly constituted? Is the State Government tampering with the Local Government Allocations from the Federation Accounts? Is it against the law?
Section 7 of the Allocation of Revenue (Federation Account, etc) Act states that “There is hereby established for each State in the Federation, a body to be known as the State Joint Local Government Account Allocation Committee which shall comprise the following members, that is to say (a) the Commissioner charged with the responsibility for Local Government in the State to be the chairman thereof; (b) the Chairman of each Local Government Council in the State; (c) two persons to be appointed by the Governor of the State; (d) two representatives of the Accountant-General of the Federation; and (e) the Accountant-General of the State.” The Joint Local Government Account Allocation Committee of Cross River State as presently constituted has no representative of the Accountant General of the Federation, in clear contravention of Section 7 (d) supra.
Subsection (3) of section 7 above states that “The functions of the Committee shall be to ensure that allocations made to the Local Government Councils in the State from the Federation Account and from the State concerned are promptly paid into the State Joint Local Government Account and distributed to Local Government Councils in accordance with the provisions of any law made in that behalf by the House of Assembly of the State.”
I think the law enacted by the Cross River State House of Assembly empowering the State government to deduct local government allocations under the guise for deduction for sports commissions, social welfare fund etc. erroneously derives its nebulous inspiration from this section of the Allocation of Revenue Act.
Let me show you the error. Looking at the definitions of the words “Payment” and “Distribute” will help us understand the topic under review. The Black’s Law Dictionary defines “Payment” as “Performance of an obligation by the delivery of money or some other valuable thing accepted in partial or full discharge of the obligation”. The word “Distribute” is defined by the same dictionary as “To apportion; to divide among several.” Infact the same dictionary defines a “Distributee” as “A beneficiary entitled to payment”. Do keep the meanings of these words in mind, it will help us appreciate the sections of the laws we are talking about.
So is the government of the State empowered to make laws to pay or distribute local government allocation from the Federation Account? Section 162 (5) of the 1999 Constitution as amended states that “The amount standing to the credit of local government councils in the Federation Account shall also be allocated to the State for the benefit of their local government councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly”.
So has the National Assembly prescribed the way and manner these Local Government Allocation will be distributed to them by the State Government? The terms of distribution refers to the amount accruable to local governments and this has been settled by the National Assembly.
Section 1 of the Allocation of Revenue Act states that “The amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account, less the sum equivalent to 13 per cent of the revenue accruing to the Federation Account directly from any natural resources as a first line charge for distribution to the beneficiaries of the derivation funds in accordance with the Constitution shall, be distributed among the Federal and State Governments and the Local Government Councils in each State of the Federation on the
following basis, that is to say-
A the Federal Government 56.00 per cent
B the State Governments 24.00 per cent
C the Local Government Councils 20.00 per cent
[1992 No.106. S.I.9 of 2002.]”
Section 3 states that “Subject to the provisions of this Act, the amount standing to the credit of local government councils in the Federation Account shall be distributed among the States of the Federation for the benefit of their local government councils using the same factors specified in this Act.”
So you can see that what each Local Government is entitled to has been settled by the National Assembly in enacting the Allocation of Revenue Act and there are the ones empowered to so do. The State Houses of Assembly has powers to make laws only regarding how to distribute what the Local Government are entitled to. In other words, they may make laws saying we will distribute your entitlements by paying same into a bank account or you can come collect it cash. Any so called law empowering the State Government to withhold or deduct is ultra vires, unconstitutional, null and void.
We should stop playing politics with governmental impunity. If we don’t stand up to defend our laws today, those who break it will use the same impunity against us tomorrow. That Local Government workers are not being paid their salaries is a fact that goes beyond party loyalty, that our chairmen and councilors are now glorified houseboys is a fact that is beyond a matter of mere criticism, that our villages and local government urban areas are undeveloped is no longer just a secondary school debate topic.
Let us demand for local government funds to be released to them completely in obedience to our laws. When tomorrow comes I want to be remembered on the side of this demand… what about you?
First Baba Isa (FBI) is a Legal Practitioner and writes from Abuja