Now is time for local government autonomy

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 is all over the atmosphere 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 positions. 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. And, 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 six area councils. The 1999 Constitution guarantees the system of local governments by democratically elected councils comprising of an executive and legislative arms. 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 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 two and three years. 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 six area councils has “received” not less than N30bn from the Federation Account. This is over N23.220tn, accruing to the 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 Accounts. There is practically nothing to show for this huge funds collected by the state governments on behalf of the LGCs. Poverty is increasing at the local level and our people have been denied access to the basic necessities of life such as potable water, functional schools, primary health care services, electricity, feeder roads, etc. If N30bn 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.

This is not the way of democracy. It cannot be allowed to continue. Nigerians can no longer be treated as slaves by persons whom 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 the LGs: Direct funding of the LGs from the Federation Account and cancellation of State/Local Government Joint Account; local governments recognised as a tier of government; the Independent National Electoral Commission to organise all LG elections and abolition of State Independent Electoral Commissions. Others are the provisions for a four-year tenure for the LGs; stoppage of allocation from the Federation Account or State Government to an unelected or caretaker LG and no recognition of such LG 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.

But the big challenge 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 factions of the governors’ forum) are reported to have vowed to resist local government 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 does 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 local governments. Suggested action points include to: Sign petitions in support of the autonomy for the LGs; join mass rallies in support of the autonomy; send “Grant Autonomy to Local Government Councils” as a 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 Facebook for discussions. On a final note, an appeal goes out to House of Assembly members: Vote for local government autonomy and be counted on the side of the people. You have the opportunity to make history.

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