19th July 2024

States Lose Case With FG Over Hold Of ‘Local Governments’ Funds

Governments of the 36 states and the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) have lost in their fight against Federal Government’s efforts to monitor state governments’ handling of Local Governments’ funds.

The Court of Appeal, Abuja division, in a judgment yesterday, affirmed the May 23, 2022 judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja which declared lawful the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Guidelines, which came into effect on June 1, 2019.

The NFIU 2019 guidelines required among others,  that the States/Local Governments Joint Accounts should be used only for receiving funds and subsequently transferring them to Local Governments’ accounts only.

The NFIU claimed that the guidelines, which also limit daily cash withdrawal from the State/LG joint account to N500,000 are intended  to reduce “crime vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawal from local government funds throughout Nigeria effective from June 1, 2019.”

Delivery a unanimous judgment of a three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, Justice Hamman Barka held that the appeal by the 36 states, filed  through their Attorneys General and the NGF was unmeritorious.

Justice Barka proceeded to dismiss the appeal marked: CA/ABJ/CV/822/2022.

Listed as respondents in the appeal are the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), the NFIU and the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE).

The appeal was against the May 23, 2022 judgment by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja in the suit, marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/563/2019 filed by the 36 states and the NGF.

They had among others, challenged the legality of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Guidelines, which came into effect on June 1, 2019.

The states and the NGF argued among others, that  the NFIU guidelines: known as “the  NFIU Enforcement and Guidelines to Reduce Crime Vulnerabilities Crafted by Cash Withdrawal from Local Government Funds throughout Nigeria,” was unlawful.

They particularly contended that provisions 1 to 6  of the NFIU Guidelines and the penalties prescribed  are ultra vires the power of the NFIU under Sections 3 (1) and 23(2) (a) of the Nigerian Financial Intelligent Unit Act, 2018 and therefore unconstitutional.

Justice Ekwo had, in his judgment dismissed the suit by the states and the NGF on the grounds that it was unmeritorious.

The judge held that he was unable to see where the NFIU Guidelines contradict the provisions of sections 7(1), (6) (a) and (b) of the Constitution.

He added that the guidelines also did not conflict with the provision of Section 162(6) of the Constitution, which creates the State Joint Local Government Account,  into which allocations to the Local Government Councils of the state from the Federation Account and from the government of the state are paid.

The judge held that the guidelines did not contradict Section 162(8) of the constitution which prescribed that the amount standing to the credit of the local government council of the state shall be distributed among the local government councils of that state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the state.

Justice Ekwo added that the provisions of the NFIU guidelines also do not contradict the provisions of the 4th Schedule to the 1999 Constitution which prescribes the functions of a Local Government Council.

He noted that the duty of the court is limited to expounding the law and not expanding it.”

Justice Ekwo added: “On the whole, I see the provisions of the guidelines of the 2nd defendant as seeking to direct the monitoring of accounts, transfers and any other means of payment or transfer of funds of local government councils as provided for in Section 3 (1) (r) of the Act of the NFIU.

“It only limits cash withdrawal made from any Local Government Account anywhere in the country to amount not exceeding N500,000.00 (Five Hundred Thousand Naira) per day.

“Any amount higher than that can be done using other methods of banking transaction save cash.

“Unless it can be shown that there is any provision of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which these provisions of the 2nd defendant’s guidelines have contradicted or conflicted directly and practically, then the issue of unconstitutionality cannot be said to arise.”

Justice Ekwo said he found that there was no provision in the NFIU’s guidelines that has contravened the provisions of Sections 7(1), (6) (a) and (b), 162 (6), (7) and (8), and the 4th Schedule to the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“I also find that the case of the plaintiffs has not been established and I so hold.

“I find, in the end, that the case of the plaintiffs lacks merit and ought to be dismissed and it is hereby dismissed,” the judge said.

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