The M M Hassan Interview: Lagos Operates Transparent Fund Disbursement For Local Govts

Auditor-General for Local Governments, Lagos State, Mr. Mubashiru Mohammed Hassan, speaks on the relationship between states and local governments in the area of Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC), the agitation for local government autonomy, among others, in this interview with journalists among whom was’s JUMU’AH ABIODUN DAWUD. Excerpts:

THE usual agitation is that local government administrations are not free, there is lack of autonomy as a result of which they are unable to serve the interest of people at the grassroots. What is your view on this?

Local governments are doing their jobs. Doing your jobs is a function of what is at your disposal as resources. If you now compare what you are doing with the resources at your disposal, you will be able to know whether you have justified the confidence people have in you or not.

People make such comment based on allocations published in newspapers by the Federal Government that so much has gone to local governments; so much has gone to state governments, etc.

But the Federal Government fails to educate the public that it is gross that is allocated from the Federation Account. How much is the net that is given to local governments when measured with their performance? From the gross that comes to the local governments, we deduct salaries of primary school teachers, salaries of local government staff and pension; these are statutory deductions. We also deduct training funds and other statutory deductions.

By the time we deduct all these, what gets to local governments can now be used in assessing their performances. But the public is not in the know of all these deductions.

There is the Joint Allocations Account Committee (JAAC) where the state government has much influence in controlling and spending money on behalf of local governments. How do you see the complaint of some chairmen over this?

Not in Lagos; in some states, we can have a situation where JAAC meetings are not held; where the governors have domineering influence over JAAC. But in Lagos, the JAAC meetings hold every month and what comes to each local government goes to the accounts. It is at these meetings that all deductions would be regularised. The table will come from the Federal Government showing all deductions and then, the deductions will still be ratified at the JAAC meeting. If there will be anything still to be deducted, it will be with the consent of council chairmen by pooling resources.

For instance, in the past, if councils in Lagos were buying 20 vehicles for the police, that would be one per local government. Now that we have 57, that means more vehicles and they are not equally funded. It depends on the axis you are coming from, because in JAAC, we don’t share equally, but they pool resources for common purposes.

Look at the Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and patrol vehicles given to the police; resources were pooled on behalf of all the 57 council areas in Lagos.

So, JAAC, as it operates in Lagos, cannot be queried; it is functional, organised and, in fact, if anybody is in doubt, the records are there. I do attend it; the governor hardly interferes in what goes on there.

What do you say about people calling for abolition of JAAC and autonomy for local government?

Nigerians easily forget issues. In the 80s, Ibrahim Babangida tried the approach where allocations were going directly to local governments and we had crisis where primary school teachers’ salaries and allowances were not paid for several months. The local government staff were also affected as they were not paid their salaries and allowances for several months. Also, essential duties that were supposed to be performed by local governments were left undone because of this autonomy you are talking about. The money went to them directly. They now regarded payment of salaries as non-priority, saying that when they had time, they would pay.

They focused on other issues. The situation continued until the intervention of the Federal Government came, through the establishment of National Primary Education Board to take care of primary school teachers’ salaries through direct deduction, which is then remitted through State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB) in every state.

If we don’t to go back to the old method where salaries were owed for months, autonomy is not good. But if we want to sustain what we have now where salaries are paid as and when due, we should forget autonomy. That is what I have against local governments going solo.

But if we look at local government as a tier of government where leadership can be groomed, the authorities can move towards that direction; that is granting of autonomy to local governments. From the local government, you can now rise to become a commissioner. We have seen former local government chairmen becoming governors or even ministers. I remember former governor of Plateau State, Damishi Sango, and Elder Wole Oyelese from Oyo State. We have former chairmen becoming commissioners and advisers in various states.

If that is the case, it is good to let local governments operate on their own.

What were the challenges you encountered on the way to this position?

There are very many challenges because I started as clerical assistant when I finished my secondary school education in 1980 awaiting result and when the result was released, I passed and I was upgraded to level 04. It was when I was preparing to write my exams that my father died. And the second day, I started my OND programme in Accountancy at Yaba College of Technology. That was when my mother died. So, I became a certified orphan in 1980.

That would tell you what I must have gone through to get to this stage, doing OND programme with nothing, no backing, struggling. In fact, I sold firewood to raise money; continued my mother’s business, selling palm oil and then did many menial jobs to raise money to fund my education and finish my OND programme.

So, by the time I returned for my HND programme, I was given study leave with pay. I have to give glory to God because I was told then that there was no more study leave with pay. Of all applications for study leave with pay, only mine was approved. Well, I don’t know what I have done for God to merit that, but I thank God for giving me that opportunity.

As usual, if you go for study leave with pay, you have to sign a bond with the state government that after your course, you have to come back and serve the government. So, I returned to the state and continued my service and thereafter, I wrote the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria (ICAN) examination. You will wonder where I got the money to write the exam. The car loan then was N4,800 and I used it to enter for the exams and I am grateful to God that I passed and since then, I have been giving glory to the Almighty.

Did you ever imagine that you could make it to the top of your career? And who was your mentor after the death of your parents?

Yes, when I joined the service, I believed that things would change. The man that gave me the opportunity to serve Lagos State Government was the then Commissioner for Employment and Civil Service Matters, Mr Richard Afolabi Ege. He gave me that privilege of serving the state and I see him as somebody who I can look up to.

But when I joined the service, I saw others; you know, you have senior executive officers, directors and permanent secretaries. I said I could be one of them one day.

With that, I was determined. I went through the brochure of service and saw what was required to get to those positions and I worked towards the requirements. I thank God; I was not the only one that did that, but God crowned my own efforts.

When you entered the service, was it lucrative?

To whom much is given, much is expected because I had no sponsor; no father no mother. The state government sponsored my programmes up to ICAN level. So, what do you expect? It is payback time. Others left; they went to the private sector. But I refused when my bond expired. I remained and continued to serve, believing that one day, I would get there and I am there.

When we joined the service in 1980, my salary per annum was N1,284 as a Grade Level 03 clerk. I have the letter here. That was N107 per month and today, I am on Grade Level 30; that is from 03 to 30. It calls for celebration to go through the whole process without jumping the level, from level 03 to 04, 05, 06 up to when I was appointed as auditor-general for local governments.

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