Benue: Alia, where is the local government autonomy?
By Peter Awunah, PhD
In my over four decades of actively watching the Benue State political landscape, I have not seen an elected Governor display so much disregard for the Constitution and democratic values like the current Governor of the state, Hyacinth Alia.
When he was campaigning, one of his popular slogans was “I will grant full autonomy for the local governments. I will not touch their money”. Surprisingly, Governor Alia was the first among his counterparts in other states to directly take possession of local government funds.
Let me first say that the federal allocations to local governments have now increased astronomically since President Bola Tinubu removed fuel subsidies. If local governments in Benue State were receiving a total of N3 billion in the past, now they are receiving three times more, meaning that what gets to the state now for the 23 councils every month is about N9 billion.
To demonstrate that he would be aggressive with local government funds, Alia first suspended legally elected local government councils and asked the civil servants known as DGSAs to take charge and be reporting directly to him. My sources in Makurdi said the governor initially delegated one Daniel Gbabo who is his cousin to be his macho man at the Bureau for Local Governments. Gbabo was the sole administrator of the bureau and he took over the duties of the permanent secretary of the bureau and those of all other senior staff. He was operating the bureau’s transactions on his personal laptop and only he and Governor Alia knew what was coming in and going out.
Gbabo’s reign ran unchallenged until Alia later appointed Special Advisers and assigned his kinsman and former Chairman of Vandeikya Dennis Akura to oversee the local government bureau. My findings indicate that since the coming of Akura, Governor Alia’s grip on local government funds has become tighter. No one knows what is happening there and no one dares ask questions.
In a political landscape where promises are often made to win the hearts of the people, it is disheartening to see those promises left unfulfilled. Governor Alia’s pledge to grant full autonomy for local governments in the state was met with enthusiasm and hope from the people, who saw it as a significant step toward empowering local communities. However, as the months have passed, the governor is yet to fulfill this crucial promise, raising questions about the sincerity of his administration and its commitment to good governance.
Granting full autonomy to local governments is not merely a political slogan; it is a fundamental principle that holds the potential to transform grassroots governance and empower local leaders to cater to the specific needs of their communities. Governor Alia’s failure to follow through on this promise raises concerns about his administration’s dedication to transparency, accountability, and true democratic governance.
The governor must address concerns about the utilization of funds meant for local governments, as transparency and accountability are the cornerstones of good governance.
The people of Benue State placed their trust in him when they elected him, believing in his promises for positive change. It is now time for the governor to demonstrate his commitment to the welfare of the people and the advancement of grassroots governance by fulfilling his promises. Anything short of this would cast a shadow of doubt on the sincerity of his administration and its ability to uphold the principles of good governance.
As citizens, it is our responsibility to hold our leaders accountable and demand the transparency and accountability we deserve. Governor Alia must not only fulfill his promise but also ensure that the funds meant for local governments are used judiciously for the benefit of the people. The time for action is now, and the people of Benue State eagerly await the fulfillment of the promises made by the Governor.
Dr Awunah writes from Durumi, Abuja.