The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), has described the opposition of the governors of the 36 states of the federation to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit’s regulation on local governments’ financial autonomy as a breach of the provisions of the Nigerian Constitution.
Malami also described the governors’ opposition to the NFIU regulation as a promotion of illegality, urging the Federal High Court in Abuja, where they filed their suit to challenge the regulation, not to submit itself to them to be used as vehicle to breach the constitution.
This is contained in the preliminary objection filed by the AGF against the suit instituted by the governors together with the Nigeria Governors’ Forum asking for an order to invalidate the regulation.
The NFIU regulation which came to effect on June 1, 2019 abolished the states’ local governments joint accounts through which governors exercised absolute control over local governments’ funds in the country.
The regulation, officially referred to as ‘NFIU Enforcement and Guidelines to Reduce Crime Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawal From Local Government Funds Throughout Nigeria Effective June 1, 2019’ seeks to ensure that funds meant for the local governments are paid directly to them.
Our correspondent on Saturday obtained the court document filed by the AGF urging the judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, to dismiss the suit for being a breach of the provision of the Nigerian Constitution.
Malami argued in part, “The plaintiffs (the 36 state governors and the NGF), by this suit, seek to breach the provisions of the constitution as it relates to the doctrine of federalism establishing financial autonomy of the Nigerian local government system. “The plaintiffs by this suit seek to promote illegality and a breach of the constitution and as such make this suit incompetent.
“This court cannot be used as a vehicle to breach the provisions of the constitution.”
The court documents filed on behalf of Malami by the Solicitor General of the Federation, Mr Dayo Apata (SAN), challenged the court’s jurisdiction of the court to hear the govenors’ suit.
Apata who doubles as the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Justice, argued as part of the AGF’s objection to the suit that “the subject matter of this suit relates to the power of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit to issue guideline on the need to adhere to strict payment of funds to local government council in line with the provisions of the constitution.”
He argued that the regulation, designed to take effect from June 1, 2019 “relates to the enforcement of the provisions of section 162 (6), (7) & (8) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).”
He argued that the regulation being in line with constitutional provision, there was no dispute between the governors’ and the NFIU with the AGF.
He added, “The subject matter of this suit directly affects the local government councils in Nigeria and not the plaintiffs in this suit.
“By the doctrine of federalism, local government councils are independent and have financial autonomy from the respective plaintiffs in this suit.”
He argued that the court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the suit.