Posted By Unini Chioma
Governors across the 36 states have asked President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit to reverse its directive that states should not tamper with funds meant for local government areas from the federation accounts.
The directive, according to the NFIU, takes effect on June 1 (today).
The NFIU had on May 6, 2019 issued the ‘Guidelines to Reduce Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawals from Local Government Funds throughout Nigeria’ which barred governors from tampering with funds meant for local government areas.
But the governors, under the aegis of the Nigerian Governors Forum, in a protest letter to the President on May 19, 2019, argued that nothing in the NFIU Act 2018 gives the agency the power to give such a directive.
In the letter, which was exclusively obtained by Saturday PUNCH on Friday, the governors called on the President to call the Director of the NFIU, Modibbo Hamman-Tukur, to order.
The letter was titled, ‘Re: NFIU enforcement and guidelines to reduce crime vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawal from local government funds throughout Nigeria, effective June 1, 2019’
The letter, signed by Abdulaziz Yari, the immediate past chairman of the forum, partly read, “The NGF wishes to express its dismay and angst at the attempt to ridicule our collective integrity and show total disregard to the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999) as amended.”
Citing Sections 7 (6) (a) and (b); sections 162 (6), (7) and (8), the NGF contended that the constitution expressly confers on only the National Assembly and the state Houses of Assembly the powers to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to the local councils in the federation.
“Section 162 (6), the constitution expressly provides for the creation of the State Joint Local Government Account into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the state from the federation account and from the government of the state,” it added.
“Nothing in the NFIU Act 2018 gives the NFIU the powers that it seeks to exercise in the recently released guidelines, and in doing this, the unit has acted in excess of its powers in complete disregard to the constitution of the country.”
They added, “Finally, Mr President may recall the role played by the governors in getting the country out of recession and our contributions in strengthening the democratic experience in Nigeria.
“The NGF identifies with Mr President’s efforts to combat corruption, money laundering and terrorism amongst other social ills and will use our best endeavours in ensuring that our financial system is preserved through our concerted and individual efforts at fighting these ills.
“However, due process and constitutionalism are major planks in our journey to sustainable democracy and we appeal to Mr President to direct that the said guidelines be disregarded in view of its unconstitutionality and total disregard for due process.”
Meanwhile, the NFIU has insisted that it will commence the enforcement of the directive today, while warning banks to ensure the full implementation of the guidelines with effect from June 1, 2019 or risk sanctions.
NFIU’s position was further bolstered on Friday when the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital, declined the request by the state government for an order to restrain the agency from enforcing the said guidelines.
Justice A. A. Okeke, presided over the suit with file number: FHC/UY/CS/88/2019, brought before him by the state government and all local government areas in the state, represented by the Attorney General of the state, Uwem Nwoko SAN.
After listening to submissions by the plaintiffs and the respondent, counsel for the NFIU, Arthur Obi-Okafor, SAN, challenged the plaintiffs’ locus standi and urged the court to ignore their prayers, describing the plaintiffs as nothing but “busy bodies.”
Obi-Okafor informed the court that the matter was of grave national security concern, nothing that the urgency raised by the plaintiffs was self-induced because NFIU guidelines were released on May 1, 2019.
The court therefore adjourned the matter to June 21, 2019 to hear all pending applications while declining to issue any restraining order.
A source privy to the decision of the agency told our Saturday PUNCH on the condition of anonymity that the NFIU would begin the enforcement as planned.
“What would have been a hurdle has been taken care of by the Federal High Court sitting in Uyo,” the source said