By FRIDAY JARIKRE
It is factually unarguable that Nigeria’s underdevelopment is consequential by the foundational defects and the wishy washy behavioural tendency of the successive leadership of the Nigerian State.
Nigeria’s inability to fulfill its potentials 54 years after its emergence as an independent nation despite its stupendous human and natural resources depicts a Nation of unexplainable retardation and underachievement, yet its leaders’ actions/inactions make them look untroubled by the woes of the Nation.
From an historic perspective, local government in Nigeria started during the colonial era when it was vested in the traditional Institutions and operated in a very undemocratic manner, and then it was christened “The Native Authority”. Local government has undergone several reforms and constitutional reviews. The 1976 reform was the one that heralded the beginning of reforming the reforms. Unlike other reforms which were highly restricted in scope and range, the 1976 reform conceptualized local government as the third tier of government operating within a common institutional framework with defined functions and responsibilities.
Section 7 of the 1979 constitution provided for a democratically elected local government council for the country. Suffice it to say that Alhaji Shehu Shagari, President of Nigeria (1979-1983) neglected these constitutional provisions and opted to appoint sole Administrators to administer the Local government councils.
General Ibrahim Babangida instituted certain reforms aimed at ensuring local government’s autonomy. The reforms included:
Abolition of Ministries of Local Government
Establishment of executives and legislative arms in the local government councils and direct allocation without passing through the state.
Local government councils flourished under Babangida’s regime, attributable to the above reforms. A similar reform and constitutional review of Babangida’s regime could come in handy to emancipating the councils from its present shackles and make it viable for national development.
The existence of the Local government as the third tier of government has suffered serious threat of extinction because of its non performance occasioned by the strangulation by the state government for selfish and political aggrandizement.
The local government is the most vilified of the three tiers of government in Nigeria; it has come under very serious obloquy for adducible reasons vis- a- vis not meeting up with its responsibilities as enshrined in the fourth schedule of the 1999 constitution.
Admittedly, majority of the local government councils have not actually given Nigerians the cause to appreciate its nearness to the people and to bridge the gap between the governed and the other tiers of Government.
The clamour for autonomy for the local government has been in the front burner of our polity and diverse opinions have been canvassed in that regard.
The local government as the third tier of government should operate independently without external control from the state.
Majority of the state governors in collusion with the Houses of Assembly have remained unswerving in the pursuit of a surreptitious agendum to continually armpit the local government as a pun on their chess board. These governors have exploited the noticeable blank gap in the 1999 constitution. They have consciously and covertly converted the local government councils to one of their parastatals, departments or agencies because of the lacuna created in sections 7 and 162 of the 1999 Nigeria’s Constitution. The councils’ umbilical cord have been tied to the State Government’s who confers a nomenclature of an appendage or field office on it and leaves the councils at the beggarly existence of the state. The captivity of the local government councils by the state government is a cankerworm that has undermined the functionality of the councils.
A synergetic alignment between the civil society groups, human right groups, the Nigeria Union Of Local Government Employees and all other major stakeholders of local government for a radical review of 1999 Constitution with an unadulterated intent and purpose to confer absolute autonomy on the local government which will enable it respond positively to the ever increasing demands of teeming Nigerians at the grassroots will be an ideal step in the right direction.
Corruption is a metaphor and has to be deinstitutionalized and tackled headlong, successive administration has paid lip service to the fight against corruption. Even Dr. Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has not fared better despite its pre-election slogan of “Breath of Fresh Air’’ .It is a quixotic.
The anti graft agencies have to be strengthened to tackle the cankerworm called corruption if Nigeria must make progress as a nation because it is the greatest malady that has retarded its growth.
The state governors flagrantly violate constitution dictates by circumventing its provisions. Most of the local government councils in Nigeria are administered by care taker committees who are at the beck and call of their benefactors, and this is done with impunity. The deliberate undemocratization of the local government councils by the state governments owing to their refusal to conduct local government elections is treachery to the concept and ideals of democracy. The premeditated imposition of political jobbers herein referred to as care taker committee by some state governors to administer the local government councils is an aberrant action and the greatest rape on democracy; this ugly trend must be stopped either through constitutional review or by seeking Supreme Court’s interpretation.
Section 7(1) of The 1999 Constitution is unambiguous on the democratization of Local Government system. This section provides thus:
“The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall, subject to section 8 of this constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils”
A few states that have complied with the letters and words of this provision have done so without compliance with the basics and fundamental electoral dictates, In other words, the State Independent Electoral Commission in connivance with the governors calculatively manipulated the electoral process in favour of their respective party. It is a charade. One of the ways to nip this ugly trend in the bud is to proscribe all the States Independent Electoral Commissions through the amendment of the Constitution and transfer its responsibilities to the Independent National Electoral Commission.
The Constitution should define in definite terms the time and tenure of local government Political office holders. Emphasis should also be placed on the uniformity of the tenure of office as applicable to other office holders in the other tiers of government.
Without prejudice, the call for local government autonomy should be viewed as a well thought out initiative into our federal system of government rather than the call for its proscription.
Late Major General Shehu Yar Adua, Chief of Staff, Supreme headquarters under Murtala/Obasanjo regime justified the 1976 Local Government Reform when he remarked thus:
“The local government suffered continuous whittling down of their powers. The state governments have continued to encroach upon what would normally have been the exclusive preserves of local government, lack of adequate funds and appropriate institution have continued to make local governments ineffective and ineffectual’’
Section 162(6) & (8) of the 1999 constitution also provides thus:
“Each state shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account’’ into which shall be paid all allocations to the local government councils of the State from the federation account and from the government of the state’’
“The amount standing to the credit of local government councils of a 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.”
These two provisions have rendered the local government powerless while the state is powerful. The far reaching implication of these sections is that the local government becomes a junior partner in running the joint account and has little or no say as far as its operation is concerned; it is more of a master-servant relationship.
A total abrogation of section 162 of the 1999 constitution could be an icing for national transformation. Councils should get their allocations directly and be made to plan within its budgetary provisions and regulations.
Financial autonomy does not translate to looting autonomy; the respective institutions should be strengthened to act as checks and balances to the managers of the resources at the local government.
The Constitution should be reviewed to give backing and recognition to the local government Service Commission as stipulated in the 1979 and 1989 constitutions. This move will empower the Local Government Service Commission to handle staff matters: training and retraining of staff, promotion of staff and discipline of staff. This could enhance the competency and expertise required for effective service delivery at the grass root level.
The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) completely reject the position of the State Governors on Local Government autonomy. We consider the position of the Governor’s Forum, an association unknown under Nigerian laws, to subvert the constitution review process, by sabotaging efforts to strengthen the performance of Local Government Councils within the Federation to be undemocratic, anti-development and autocratic.
We are shocked that individuals elected to represent the Nigerian people for the purpose of promoting their interests and enhancing their welfare through people-oriented development policies and programmes can conspire to oppose a constitutional arrangement that will affect the lives of the people, if properly implemented.
It is an established fact that majority of Nigerians reside in the rural areas, it is also on record that the vast majority of our rural population are hardly ever affected by state government initiatives. We therefore find it worrisome that the state Governors can adopt such a retrogressive position.
CISLAC and CDD are taken aback by the reasons advanced by the Governors related to the operation of federations as involving only two units internationally thereby precluding the introduction of a third tier government in Nigeria. Is this shallow argument suggesting Nigeria is a Unitary state or how about international best practices from Australia, South Africa, United States etc. We consider reasons adduced as myopic and self-serving, amounting to the usual practice of Nigerian politicians to latch on to international practices when they have to protect their personal interests.
We wonder if indices that show a country losing about 1 million children under five years annually and close to 52,000 women in maternal deaths under preventable circumstances, having an average life expectancy is about 45 years and where approximately 42% of children are malnourished also conforms with international standards.
CISLAC and CDD also ask to know if it is international best practice to manipulate electoral processes, rig elections, arm thugs to intimidate opposition, refuse to conduct elections into local governments as provided for under the constitution , divert or out-rightly embezzle local government councils funds paid into the Joint State and Local Government Accounts.
Is it also international practice of federations for elected governors to amass wealth at the expense of citizens, acquire private properties in choice areas with public funds and leave state treasuries empty? We find this sudden aspiration for international practice by the governors curious and unacceptable for the purpose of the discourse on Local Government in the Nigerian Federation, as the call for it represents an indictment of the governors and an indication of their failure to meet the yearnings of the people.
We concede that the levels of corruption at the local governments as presently constituted leaves much to be desired but the essence of the constitutional amendment is not only to provide for their autonomy but also provide mechanisms for transparency and empower the local populations to hold the leadership accountable, thereby making them more responsible and responsive.
CISLAC and CDD view the Governors’ position as double-talk, demanding devolution of powers and additional resources on the one hand while rejecting local government autonomy on the other. We are doubtful that promoting development is the underlying motive for their aspirations. We also consider their resolution to resist or even block this aspect of the constitutional amendment irrespective of what the aspirations of majority of Nigerians as expressed during the public hearings are, as an affront and disservice to the electorate that voted them into office and an indelible stain on their democratic credentials.
We are alarmed, concerned and disappointed that state governors with erstwhile progressive credentials and purportedly people oriented, who have previously supported local government autonomy publicly, are retracting their statements and joining the bandwagon to resist the move. This display of unprincipled leadership is condemnable and unbecoming of elected public officer in civilized societies.
CISLAC and CDD wish to commend courageous members of the National Assembly who have remained steadfast on this issue. They should collate the wishes of the Nigerian people and effect the amendment to reflect citizens’ aspiration and do what is right by bequeathing on the Nation a people’s constitution.
We also call on the members of the State Houses of Assembly to take sides with the Nigerian people and posterity by refusing to be intimidated and manipulated by the state governors when this issue comes before them.
We call on Civil society organizations, the media and all Nigerian citizens to effectively mobilize and adopt all lawful means to ensure that it is the aspiration of the majority and not a few vested interest that prevail and is reflected in the Constitution when amended.
We must track and identify politicians who promote individual and group interests above citizens’ aspirations and commence mobilization to ensure they are projected for whom they are-unfit to earn the trust and mandate of the people and occupy elective public offices.