Association of Local Governments in Nigeria (ALGON) sought President Muhammadu Buhari’s help on two fronts today at a meeting in Abuja.
First to seek his support for the amendment of the constitution to give councils autonomy from the states.
The second was the refund of a judgment debt of $3.2 billion to the 774 local councils, being money illegally deducted from their accounts by the Obasanjo administration in 2005 to pay foreign debts.
President Muhammadu Buhari readily offered his administration’s support for a constitutional amendment to free local governments from the stranglehold of states and better the lot of Nigerians at the community level.
But he begged for understanding on the second request, saying the country is cash strapped and cannot make any refund at this time.
Buhari said a constitutional amendment was urgently required to clearly define the relationship among the three tiers of government.
He described the frosty relationship between states and local government as “a very serious constitutional problem”.
“The relationship between the three tiers of government is not a very nice one, especially that between the local governments and the states.
“The states feel like they own the local government, if they are of the same party. It is worse if they are not.
“This is a very serious constitutional problem and unless there is absolute clarity and transparency, the relationship will continue to be exploited against the interest of the ordinary people of the country,” the President said.
President Buhari advised the ALGON executives to hold consultations with their people and lawyers with a view to presenting a bill that will seek a constitutional amendment to free the councils from the stranglehold of the states.
“This will limit the damage they can do to you. The quicker you do this the better, so that you can help your people much more,” the President said.
The President acknowledged the request by ALGON for the release of $3.2 billion dollars wrongfully deducted by the Federal government for the final settlement of foreign debts in 2005.
Supported by Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, the Minister of Finance, President Buhari said the government recognized the judgment debt but the timing of the request for its repayment was wrong given the current economic situation in the country.
Acting ALGON National President Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmed Karaye expressed their full support to the President’s programmes on improving security, anti-corruption campaign and economic revival.