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BREAKING: Supreme Court Grants Local Government Financial Autonomy, Bars Governors from Joint Account

Apples Bite Magazine reports that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of local government financial autonomy in a landmark case brought by the Federal Government against the 36 state governors. The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), argued for full autonomy and direct fund allocation to the 774 local governments across Nigeria. He invoked sections 1, 4, 5, 7, and 14 of the constitution, asserting that governors and state houses of assembly must ensure democratically elected systems at the local government level.

In a decisive lead judgment delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the Supreme Court declared that it is unconstitutional for governors to withhold funds meant for local government administrations. Justice Agim highlighted that state governments’ refusal to grant financial autonomy to local governments has persisted for over two decades. He pointed out that local governments have been deprived of the funds intended for them by state governors who have been managing these funds instead. The court dismissed the preliminary objections raised by the state governors.

Justice Agim affirmed that the Attorney General of the Federation has the right to initiate the suit to protect the constitution. Consequently, the Supreme Court has ordered that local government allocations from the Federation Account be paid directly to them from now on.

The significance of this ruling cannot be overstated. For years, local governments in Nigeria have struggled with insufficient funding, which has severely hampered their ability to provide essential services and carry out developmental projects. The Supreme Court’s decision is expected to bring about a significant shift in how local governments operate and manage their resources. By ensuring direct allocation of funds, the ruling aims to empower local governments to independently manage their financial affairs, thus promoting greater transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the use of public funds.

The case brought by the Attorney General of the Federation highlights the ongoing struggle for local government autonomy in Nigeria. Historically, state governors have exerted considerable control over local government finances through the joint account system, where funds meant for local governments are channeled through state governments. This system has often led to delays and mismanagement of funds, with local governments receiving less than their fair share. The Supreme Court’s decision to bar governors from holding onto these funds marks a pivotal moment in the quest for decentralization and improved governance at the grassroots level.

Reactions to the ruling have been swift and varied. Many local government officials have welcomed the decision, expressing optimism that it will lead to better service delivery and infrastructure development in their communities. They argue that direct access to funds will enable them to address local needs more effectively and efficiently. Civil society organizations and advocates for good governance have also praised the ruling, viewing it as a step toward strengthening democratic processes and enhancing local participation in governance.

On the other hand, some state governors have expressed concerns about the ruling, arguing that it could create challenges in coordinating development projects across states. They contend that the joint account system was designed to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources and to facilitate collaborative efforts between state and local governments. However, critics argue that the system has often been misused, leading to corruption and a lack of accountability.

The Supreme Court’s directive for local government allocations to be paid directly to them is expected to usher in a new era of financial independence for local governments. This change will likely require adjustments in the existing administrative and financial structures at both the state and local government levels. To ensure a smooth transition, the federal government may need to provide guidance and support to local governments as they adapt to this new system of direct fund allocation.

The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling granting financial autonomy to local governments represents a significant step forward in the ongoing efforts to strengthen democratic governance and promote local development in Nigeria. By removing the control of funds from state governors and ensuring direct allocation to local governments, the ruling aims to enhance the capacity of local governments to address the needs of their communities effectively. As local governments prepare to manage their finances independently, it will be crucial for all stakeholders to work together to ensure that this newfound autonomy translates into tangible improvements in service delivery and development outcomes across the country.

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