How Council Officials Sap the Treasury Dry

Hajiya Aisha Umar is a senior community health extension worker with a Primary Health Care unit in the headquarters of a local government area in Borno State. She has worked with the local government authority for close to ten years. She, like a lot of her colleagues in several Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the state, owns a ‘decent house’, performed pilgrimage three years ago, and sponsored that of her beloved mother during the last Hajj.

As the Aishas of the state live in affluence, a vast majority in this desert region have barely enough to eat. Poverty has wasted them, and they have no decent clothes to cover their haggard physique. They live in houses in which the Aishas of the land would not want to spend more than a few minutes should any unpleasant task make them go there. Yet, what makes the difference between the two is the public till, which is as much the property of one as it is of the other.
This is the story of life as much in other parts of the country as in Borno State.

Now, Aisha is saving to buy a pickup van for commercial purpose in her area. She hopes to achieve this, like everything else she has achieved, through the business venture termed contribution, known in local parlance as adashe. Though Hajia earns less than N15,000 monthly in her workplace, she began two years ago to contribute N100,000 every month with an elite adashe group.

Apparently, as head of her unit in the office, Hajia may be using ghost workers with the connivance of some accountants in the LGA. Interestingly, it is said that all her five children are on the payroll of the local government council, including a two-year-old daughter.

She is also believed to either have close ties with operators of medicine stores around the LGA or that she actually owns most of them. Allegedly, she stocks the shops with drugs mostly supplied by government and nongovernment organizations to improve the state of primary healthcare in the state.

Daily Trust investigations revealed that six out of 10 members of Aisha’s discrete adashe group are equally civil servants, although it is not clear whether or not they get their resources the way Aisha does.

Aisha is most likely only one case out of many at the local government level across the country that are nurturing entire immediate families with money that ought to have gone into qualitative education, health services, water and basic amenities for all.

Ibrahim Wamdeo, a retired civil servant and public commentator in Maiduguri, said of the corruption bug, “Nearly everyone is interested in his pocket, how much money he or she can steal before leaving office.”

Wamdeo worries that local government councils which are the closest to the people and should be there to benefit the people have become synonymous with graft.

Abigail Bolagi Aina, Project Manager of Maiduguri-based GTZ, an organization involved in development programs in the state, shares Wamdeo’s feelings. She offered that to curb corruption at the local government level and enthrone efficient governance at the grassroots, “There is need to encourage wider public participation in governance.”

The State Government, working through the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, has embarked on series of verification of members of staff, projects and other expenditures; and the Ministry, in carrying out its supervisory rule, has trained workers in various disciplines, including anti- corruption programs at the local government levels.

This was the disclosure of the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Kasim Shettima.

For Abigail, however, a lot remains to be done to educate people at the grassroots, not only to vote and ensure that those they voted for are allowed to lead them in their respective positions, but also to make the people know that they have a right to remove any representative that reneges on his pre-election promises.

Recently, the GTZ in Borno state, in collaboration with other organisations, was involved in strategic review and planning process for Gubio and Kaga Local Government areas in Borno State. The project has the objective of encouraging effective participation of local people in collaborative development processes to improve service delivery, reduce poverty, and cultivate prudence in resource utilization.

This is what GTZ and one of its partners GEARDI seek to achieve. A reporting trip to LGAs revealed that the program has been able to identify and analyze pertinent issues affecting the LGAs and set mechanism in motion to resolve them.

A development advocate, Mr David Okoror, whose interests cut across issues of corruption and poverty, says the two circumstances: corruption and poverty, invariably go together. Corruption, he said, is a major cause of poverty around the world. He added, “Corruption affects the poorest the most.”

Like Abigail, Okoror who heads an anti-corruption nongovernmental organisation, Africa Diaspora Initiative (ADi) as the director general, holds that the time has come when the masses must rise to challenge their leaders to utilise what belongs to all for the benefit of all.

Corruption at the local council level, he said, is so deep-seated that even if Federal Government or government agencies like the EFCC genuinely want to curb it, they do not have the resources to do so.

He told Daily Trust, “We should note the forces that go to play in how people are elected into offices in the local councils. A godfather handpicks a man, railroads him into power and waits for returns from the godson who is now morally indebted to him.. So, when the monthly allocations to these local councils come, the council chairman shares the money with his godfather, the youths who helped in their own way to get the chairman into office, and in many cases the traditional rulers in the council as well.”

The ‘sharing’ invariably excludes the poor. The officials take it all, widening in the process, the yawning gap between the few rich elite and the poor majority.

He insists that it is the masses that will liberate themselves: “People should develop the attitude of holding their council chairmen to account for what they raise their budget to do and whether they actually do those things. If they can’t do this individually, they can mass into market women unions, youth vanguards, corporative groups, and such like. You can’t continue to let your council chairman do what he will and get away with it. You can’t wait for the likes of EFCC to do these things for you because the EFCC has lots of challenges already at higher levels of society. You may call in the EFCC where it becomes absolutely necessary, but you must be active in your quest for development for your community.”

In other words, the corrupt acts of people like Hajia Aisha must be stopped, if not by higher authorities, then by the masses themselves.

The name Hajiya Aisha Umar used in this piece is fictitious, but the story is real.

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