Leadership (Abuja)

4 January 2010

Nigeria: Taraba Local Councils Reform - Matters Arising

Retirees of Local Governments in Taraba State received some respite recently.

Whenn Ali Sani Kona was relieved of his elective position as the Chairman of Jalingo Local Government in Taraba State to serve as the Special Adviser on local government and chieftaincy administration to Governor Danbaba Suntai some few months ago, the governor said the appointment was purely based on credible achievements within a short period as the chairman of the state capital. He made it clear that he gave Ali Sani a new responsibility to help him coordinate and monitor activities at the third tier of government. But watchers of political events in the state doubted the reasons advanced by his Excellency. They rather viewed the appointment as a political strategy to use Ali's office as an avenue of mobilizing funds for the re-election project of Suntai come 2011 considering his closeness with the governor. There were strong feelings that his office will be turned to a conduit pipe of siphoning money from the local governments' treasury.

But few weeks on assumption of office, Ali Sani proved skeptics wrong. He was determined to transform the local government system against all odds and challenges.

He told journalists few weeks on his assumption that he was fully prepared to do things the right way by addressing some abnormalities within the system.

According to him, the governor is concerned about development at all levels, and that gone are the days when people will fold their arms and wait for local government monthly subvention to share. "The old party is over, the music tune has changed and we are ready for transformation that's why we changed the tune of the music and only those that are ready to adapt to the new dancing steps will join the party," he assured. And true to his words, to a great extent he succeeded in instilling discipline and sense of dedication to duty within the local government system.

One area that he recorded tremendous achievements and is seen as one of the people oriented programmes achieved by the governor Danbaba Suntai administration is the reforms and changes embarked upon at the local government pension board.

Ali Sani recently told LEADERSHIP that there are a lot of challenges co-ordinating activities at the local government sector considering the fact that some individuals have built a cartel looting millions of naira from public funds within the system. He said one area that the problem was so glaring was the pension board and he was determined to change the situation.

According to him, he was confronted with numerous problems at the board so pathetic that he cannot ignore. Very glaring among others is the case of neglect of pensioners. He noted that despite funds being released by government on a monthly basis, the performance at the board was below expectation. "I received complaints and allegations of financial recklessness rocking the board," he disclosed.

He said after listening and receiving all the complaints, he quickly moved on to identify areas where the problems lied, with a view to tackling them by setting up an investigative committee to review the true situation at the board.

He said after the investigation, a lot of shady deals and revelations were unraveled. According to him, some of the loopholes identified included the use of fake names and documents to defraud government by some staff members of the board.

This is evident from the fact that the cost on the pension table dropped from N33million to N22 million saving the state N13million monthly. So it is based on this and other shady developments that he effected some changes at the board.

He disclosed further that already they have the sum of N300million which he intends to start disbursing as gratuity to all beneficiaries, and pleaded with all those concerned to shun rumour mongering as they are carefully scrutinising all documentation before disbursement to ensure that only the right people benefit. "We intend paying everybody his full entitlements based on first come first served basis," he assured.

Speaking on the challenges he faced while embarking on the reform exercise, Ali Sani said "I did not for a moment believed or assumed that I would go unchallenged, so I was prepared for the challenges to ensure the right thing was done."

He said what he never envisaged was the amount of acrimony, heat and rumour the changes had generated, "I was even accused by some people of fighting a particular tribe." He however said, he was not disturbed by such stories and chose not to look back "I took such rumours and blackmail as a challenge and I have positioned myself to fight all sorts of corrupt tendencies, and thank God, we have a God-fearing governor who is not interested in deducting a dime from local government funds and he is backing what we are doing."

He maintained that he will do everything possible to ensure that things are done properly. "No individual or group of persons would constitute unto itself the authority which it does not have to intimidate us with the aim of siphoning public funds," he asserted.

Some of the pensioners that spoke to LEADERSHIP commended the reforms and hoped it will be sustained. Mallam Gidado Mudi, said it is unfortunate that retirement has become synonymous with suffering, stressing that pensioners are often forgotten hoping that with the new reorganization things will change. "We thank Governor Danbaba Suntai for releasing such a huge amount to bring smiles to our faces, we hope the gesture will be sustained," he appealed.

Solomon Musa said the reforms at the board are a welcome development and is one area if sustained, will enhance the credibility of this government.

Clearing air on the allegation that funds are deducted illegally from various local government accounts, the S.A said "ask who ever told you this, for whom are these funds deducted, is it for my personal pocket or for whom?"

He explained that it is unfortunate that those raising such allegations do not know how the local government system operates. "We have three arms that benefit within the system, the universal basic education, chieftaincy affairs and the pension board, monies are deducted from the monthly subvention to service these areas."

He went on that the essence of holding joint account meetings with all the 16 local government chairmen as members is to look at areas where there are shortfalls with a view to addressing them and no doubt they have witnessed a situation whereby monies meant for some local governments are being used to service local governments with shortfalls to enable them keep the system moving and that everything is done with transparency with the agreement of members of the joint account team.

Speaking on some complementary measures embarked upon by the local governments in the state to add to funds released at the federal level, Ali Sani said they are working on a number of revenue generating sources in order to complement whatever fund they are getting from the federation account and the effort is yielding results in some of the local governments. He however linked the problem of poor revenue generation to the corruption bedeviling local government administration.

Considering the achievements of this youthful and dynamic administrator in the past few months, it is enough to conclude that the aims of the state government to cater for retirees had been absolutely abused in the past by some individuals who saw the system as an avenue for acquiring ill gotten wealth.

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