Nothing among the proposed amendments to Nigeria constitution has generated argument more than the issue of local government autonomy. Apart from the local governments, the proposed amendments intend to grant autonomy to the state judiciaries as well as the state houses of assembly. Yet, those protesting against the proposed council autonomy (The Nigeria Union of Teachers and The Nigeria Governors Forum) either remain silent or seems to be in concurrence with the other two proposed autonomies.
What the national assembly intends to grant to the councils, state judiciaries and the state legislature is financial autonomy which will enhance their performances, independence and relatively isolate them from the executive arm of government. Without financial freedom from the executive arm of government, there is no way the other two arms of government (legislature and judiciary) can function effectively.
Without having this independence and financial freedom, there is no way we can have clear separation of power between the three arms of government as expected in a democratic setting, as stated in Nigeria constitution and African Charter of Freedom. In Nigeria, the executive arms of government abuses its control over the public purse by coercing and arm-twisting other arms of government to toe its line.
In Nigeria, we have had a situation where judges at Election Petition Tribunals have been coerced and denied basic rights like official cars and repair of official quarters for holding on to justices, fairness and equity. If the judiciary controls its own budget and finances, this will abate and lead to clear separation of powers. Apart from this, they will be able to discharge their duties which are interpretation of law and adjudication on all matters in the land.
While speaking with Nigeria Vanguard (December 4th, 2014), Prof. Fidelis Oditah, SAN, QC opined that “I do fear that some judges have surrendered their independence to politicians. Some for monetary reasons, some in order to further their judicial ambition”. Speaking further on Nigeria judges, Prof Oditah stated that “Some of them even go to beg for money to go on holidays, then lobbying to help them seek promotion, and we know some of them who lobby to be put on Election Tribunals”. This sums up our judicial predicaments in Nigeria.
Just like the judiciary, state legislators have had it rough with the executive when laws are made against the wish of the seating governor. It has become the order of the day in some states for the lawmakers to receive Ghana –must- go before executive bills or even state budgets are passed. Once the honorable control their finances, the hallow chambers will be isolated from the executive and they will be able to discharge their duties without any fear or favor. The lack of financial independence of the legislative houses has been the “banana peel” that led to the impeachment of many speakers and caused crisis and destabilization in the houses of assembly. Apart from this, it has been the major cause of problems between the executive and the legislative body at the state level.
The main reason and justification for the proposed autonomy at the local government level is not different from those of the other arms of government. It will make the local government free from the state. Apart from this, the councils will be more efficient and more effective. Then, why is the protest and rejection by the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) and the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT)? My first article on this subject addressed the rationale behind the rejection by the NUT. In this article, I move to the risky area of addressing the governor’s rejection.
Since the last election of NGF in May 2013 where parallel executive emerged, the two factions have never agreed on any issue but the rejection of the proposed autonomy for the local governments. There has not been a single serving governor who has spoken in support of the council’s autonomy.
Speaking on behalf of the group he leads, Govr Rotimi Amechi of Rivers state in the Nigerian Vanguard of October 24th, 2014 says “The NGF does not support autonomy for local government”. Speaking further he says “There is no country in the world where there are three federating units, there are only two all over the world”
In the same Vanguard, Mr Earl Osaro Iniawu who is the secretary of Govr Jonah Jang’s faction stated that “The NGF under the leadership of Governor Jonah Jang of Plateau state has differed with the NASS over the move to amend the constitution and grant local government’s full administrative and financial autonomy”.
None of the governor has spoken out their mind more than the Chairman Northern Governor’s Forum and the Niger State Governor, Alhaji Muazu Babangida Aliyu. In Nigeria Vanguard of December 2nd, 2014. He says the governors have agreed to the autonomy of the legislature “We have agreed to the autonomy of the legislative arm of government” Speaking further he supported the autonomy of the judiciary in full saying “it will improve the standard of the courts and make adjudication of justice faster and unbiased”.
If the governor and his fellow governors agree that the autonomy in the judiciary and the legislature will make them more efficient and time efficient in the discharge of their constitutional duties, why then do they disagree with the autonomy at the local government level? What is their interest in the local government? And do they want the local governments to be inefficient?
Dr Muazu Babangida Aliyu provided the answer to why the NGF is rejecting the council’s autonomy. According to him, they are using the allocation of some viable local governments to pay other local governments that are not financially buoyant. Using his state as an example, he stated that if autonomy is granted to the local governments, only 3 out of the 25 councils are viable. They are using the money of the three to sustain the rest. This is robbing Peter to Pay Paul. He says “I disagree with the autonomy of local governments. There is a misconception about the joint accounts. Some LGAs are more buoyant than the others”. The point is that why should we have local governments that are not financially stable?
I will like to start by answering Governor Rotimi Amechi that there are many federations with three tiers of government in the world. India started with two federating units but included her third tier of government when it started having problems similar to what Nigeria is having with the state governors now. Brazil used to be a two tier federation but her 1988 constitution provide for the third tier which is in use till today.
The NUT has always been saying local government chairmen will be ineffective and inefficient in the payment of their salaries (Please see my first article, referred to above for my reaction to this).
The actual fact about the problem is what the Governor of Niger state mentioned. The governors are diverting the money of some local governments to feed some other local governments illegally. While some local governments are paying more salaries than the amount the teachers in their local government earned, others are paying less. The rural councils are at the receiving ends on this problem. They employ only few teachers and they pay more through the joint account to cater for the teachers in the urban centers. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is fraud.
If each of the local governments is made to pay her teacher’s salaries, this problem will abate instantly. Only the autonomy of local government can guarantee this.
Perhaps the only NUT leader who has made a clarified and acceptable remark among the teachers is Comrade Hassan Jubril, the Chairman Abuja branch of NUT. Speaking during a teacher’s protest in Abuja on Wednesday December 10th, 2014, he says “teachers are not opposed to local government autonomy, but the salaries of primary school teachers should be transferred to state governments before the autonomy is granted”. Although request is unconstitutional because payment of their salaries is within the legitimate purview of the councils. Yet, it seems rational and practicable.
The teachers and our governors should see local government autonomy as a friendly and pragmatic solution to financial accountability problems at the grassroots level. If the teachers insist on receiving their salaries from the state, it will amount to an unconstitutional act. What may remain legitimate and practicable is for the local governments to receive their total allocation direct from the federation account and then transfer the council’s teacher’s salary to the state for monthly disbursement.