Fellow Nigerians, there can be no better time to express the supremacy and sovereignty of the people than now. Also, there can be no better time for Nigerians to effectively participate in decision making processes that fundamentally affect their lives than now. Yes, the election fever and bug is all over the air and this is the time that Nigerians can set the agenda for future governance, ask questions and draw boundaries for the men and women seeking elective office. It is time to declare the things that we will prefer that our men of power do for us and also to express our dislikes. But if we miss this opportunity, we shall somehow need to remain relatively quiet for the next four years. Permit me to say that it is time for change, from bad to good, from mediocrity to excellence, from insensitive leadership to a caring and compassionate one; from a leadership without vision that has been groping in the dark without clues to one of foresight, wisdom and laid out plans to solve our myriad of challenges.
Nigeria has 768 Local Government Areas and 6 Area Councils. The 1999 Constitution guarantees the system of local governments by democratically elected councils comprising of an executive and legislative arm. But that tier of government has not known democracy as it has been subjected to all kinds of abuse, experimentation and degradation. In many States, Local Government Councils (LGCs) are not elected. They are run by caretaker committees appointed by the governor. And where LGC elections have been held, they have been abused and manipulated by State Governments using the instrument of the State Independent Electoral Commission as the ruling party in each State declares itself the winner of virtually all the seats. Where an opposition party wins or the victory of the ruling party is challenged, incumbent Governors set up sham Electoral Tribunals that do the will of its appointers. Whether it is a caretaker committee or a purported election, the will of the people have been subverted. State Houses of Assembly made laws limiting the tenure of LGCs and tenures range between 2-3years. In many instances, the LGCs are dissolved before the end of their tenure. All these happen just to please the demi-gods and their minions that run administrations at the state level.
Since 1999, each of the 768 LGCs and 6 Area Councils has “received” not less than N30billion from the Federation Account. This is over N23.220trillion accruing to LGCs. Yes, received is in quotes because the bulk of the money never got to the LGCs. It was hijacked by State Governments through the State Joint Local Government Account. There is practically nothing to show for this huge funds collected by the State Governments on behalf of LGCs. Poverty is increasing at the local level and our people have been denied access to the basic necessities of life such as portable water, functional schools, primary health care services, electricity, feeder roads, etc. If N30billion or even half of it had been invested in every local government, poverty would have been a thing of the past in Nigeria or at least, significantly reduced.
LGC Chairpersons and Councilors are paid salaries but are rendered redundant by the State Government and their duties in Schedule 4 of the Constitution are left unattended. The duties of LGCs listed in schedule 4 of the Constitution include establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses and slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences; construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lighting, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces and public facilities, sewage and refuse disposal. It also includes control and regulation of outdoor advertising and hoarding, movement and keeping of pets, shops, kiosks, restaurants, bakeries and other places for the sale of food to the public; laundries, licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor. It further includes establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute and the infirm.
This is not the way of democracy. It cannot be allowed to continue. Nigerians can no longer be treated as slaves by persons who they elected to serve them .Following consultations with the Nigerian people in all the federal constituencies, the National Assembly has proposed the following amendments to the 1999 Constitution on LGCs: Direct funding of LGCs from the Federation Account and cancellation of State/Local Government Joint Account; LGCs recognized as a tier of government; INEC to organize all LGC elections and abolition of State Independent Electoral Commissions. Others are the provisions for four year tenure for LGCs; stoppage of allocation from the Federation Account or State Government to an unelected or caretaker LGC and no recognition of such LGC as a Council properly so called under the Constitution or any law for the time being in force. Finally the LGC executive and legislature have been firmly established with the power to determine the general policy direction and implementation in the Council without undue interference from the state.
There are some other good recommendations for amendment of the constitution taken by NASS. They include two important components of the right to life and livelihoods which have been made justiciable and promoted to fundamental rights by the NASS amendments. They are the inclusion of the rights to free basic education and free primary and maternal health care services as fundamental rights in chapter four of the constitution. Surprisingly, civil society and the larger population, human rights and women’s rights activists seem to have glossed over this development and may continue to sleep while State Houses of Assembly will be at liberty to reject the provisions. But this is the time for intense lobby, engagement, dialogue and interaction to see that these rights are made justiciable. Their elevation to fundamental rights means that they have been removed from mere unenforceable pious aspirations of state policy to definite rights that can be claimed from state agencies and non state actors in certain circumstances and where the claim is refused, a cause of action arises which anchors a claim in court for its enforcement.
Nigeria is under obligation to use the maximum of available resources for the progressive realisation of the right to health. This obligation is encapsulated in national and international standards. The right to health is an integral and indispensable aspect of the right to life, for without good health, the right to life may be extinguished. Primary health care is that basic health care required to attend to basic diseases and epidemiological conditions including effective environmental health interventions. Primary and maternal health care including newborn and child health is a component of the right to health that Nigeria has underperformed in over the years leading to high Infant Mortality and Morbidity Rates, high Under-5 Mortality Rate and high Maternal Mortality Rate. Nigeria has one of the highest rates of maternal and child mortality and morbidity in the world.
According to the World Health Statistics 2014, our immunisation coverage is poor and improvements in the sector have not been sustainable. As at 2012, immunisation coverage for 1 year olds is 42% for measles, 41%, 41% and 10% for DTP3, HepB3 and Hib3 respectively. Nigeria’s infant mortality rate dropped from 126 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 112 per 1000 live births in 2000, and lowered to 78 per 1000 live births in 2012. Within the periods, Africa’s figures of infant mortality per 1000 births was comparatively lower from 105/1000 live births in 1990 to 63/1000 live births by 2012. The Under-5 mortality rate in Nigeria dropped from 213 per 1000 live births in 1990 to 124 per 1000 live births in 2012. This is still poorer than the African average. Nigeria’s maternal mortality rate was 1200 per 100,000 live births in 1990, 950/100,000 in 2000 and “improved” to 560/100,000 in 2013. This is far higher than the numbers of peer countries. Essentially, our health indicators on Maternal, New Born and Child Health do not match our resource profile.
Despite the provisions of the Universal Basic Education Act and the Child Rights Act, Nigeria contributes over one-fifth of out of school children in the world. The learning outcomes are poor, school infrastructure is in decay and there is a general environment un-conducive to learning. Basic education is the foundation, the fulcrum upon which other tiers of education revolve. Once the foundation is poor, the society cannot build on it. For us to produce quality graduates, innovators and thinkers, we must get our basic education system right. There can be no better time than now to secure the commitment of all levels of government to address these health and education challenges through constitutional amendment. The approval and implementation of these provisions will remove this shame from Nigeria and elevate our standard of living, productivity and contribution to the pool of human civilisation.
But the big challenge for local government autonomy is that we need at least 24 State Houses of Assembly voting in support of the National Assembly position for this to become part of the Constitution. However, the 36 state governors (whether of the Jonah Jang or the Rotimi Amaechi faction of the governor’s forum) are reported to have vowed to resist LGC autonomy through the State Houses of Assembly. This is a real threat considering that state governors are powerful men who virtually control proceedings in the State Houses of Assembly. Hardly is there a state where the governor did not influence the choice of the Speaker and Principal Officers of the Assembly. In the circumstances, the governors want more poverty for our people; more children out of school; more pregnant women dying during child birth; more Nigerians dying of water borne diseases, malaria, typhoid fever, etc.
What is our duty as Nigerians, the depositories of power when the Constitution states that “sovereignty belongs to the people of Nigeria from whom government through this Constitution derives all its powers and authority”. The governors owe their power to us as our agents and servants and a servant can never be greater than his master. The wish of the servant can never triumph over the declared interests of the master. Otherwise, the master must relieve the servant of his duties. We must therefore reaffirm our rights and resist evil plots of governors.
Nigerians should therefore join the struggle for autonomous LGCs. Suggested action points include: Sign petitions in support of the autonomy for LGCs; join mass rallies in support of the autonomy; send “Grant Autonomy to Local Government Councils” as text message to members of your State House of Assembly and State Governors; engage members of the State House of Assembly in their various constituencies individually to endorse LGC autonomy. We can also use the conventional media and the social media including twitter and face book for discussions. On a final note, an appeal goes out to House of Assembly members: Vote for LGC autonomy and be counted on the side of the people. You have the opportunity to make history. We should also use the same strategies to ensure that the rights to basic education and primary and maternal health care are elevated to Chapter Four rights in the Constitution.
Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen of the Media and may God continue to bless Nigeria and bless us all