By Akanimo Sampson
Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State and Chairmen of local government councils in the state are locked in a tug-of-war over the control of the funds flowing to the councils from the Federal Government.
The governor is busy arm-twisting the council chairmen in a seeming desperate bid to have his way. On Thursday, he met with the Heads of Local Government Administration (HOLGAs) before jetting out to Abuja to perfect his strategy of wrestling them to the ground this week.
He is billed to meet with them again this Tuesday to compel them to do his bidding despite the HOLGAs’ insistence that the move is against the directive of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).
The NFIU had directed that with effect from June 1, 2019, governors should desist from tampering with local government funds. Consequently, the June allocation for local governments in the state was not paid into the usual Joint Allocation Accounts (JAAC) which has been operated by the state government for over a decade.
To enable Governor Ayade have his way, HOLGAs, which is currently playing the roles of council chairmen since the state government has not conducted Local Government elections in four years, wants the governor to get the Directors of Financial Services at the local government level involved in his subversive bid.
Insiders say Governor Ayade was pushing HOLGAs to initiate memos requesting the state government to continue paying the consolidated salaries for the State Universal Education Board SUBEB and the state Primary Health Care Development Agency CRSPHDA as loan, then the councils will repay the loans at 30 per cent interest rate from their monthly allocations which are now being paid directly to their accounts.
To cement the cash deal, this Tuesday meeting with HOLGAs will also have the financial chiefs of the 18 local government areas in attendance to ratify their decision of raising memos requesting the governor to continue paying salaries for the local governments on loan.
Local sources say the governor earlier last June had called a meeting of HOLGAs, pleading with them to allow the state pay previous local government staff who were deployed to SUBEB and CRSPHCDA and the local government councils will pay back the loan at 30 percent interest rate.
It was also gathered that the Ayade administration came up with an attempt to update the nominal rolls of local governments despite a staff verification exercise done by the Board and the Agency in 2017.
Guarded whispers in Calabar, the state capital, have it that the idea of paying staff with a loan at 30 percent interest rate without an initial consent of the councils was just a ploy to rip-off the third-tier of governance.
With the cash deal, it is feared that the state is not likely to conduct local government elections, and not likely to release the nominal rolls of staff to the local governments as the figures could be inflated to the revenue advantage of the state government.
The suspicion in the state is that after milking the councils for at least two years, the state might then conduct local government polls in a bid to recoup the funds since the new council chairmen and councillors could be coerced to pay back the ‘’loans.’’