Making case for vibrant local government system
Governance at the local government level in Nigeria is in a state of crisis. The waste of colossal resources by elected officials and other public servants at the third tier of government in the past and even more presently, has resulted in dismal failure.
Apart from providing services, the system was created to promote political development in the sense of national consciousness and integration. It was meant to decongest the centre by locating some of its activities to the grassroots, to bring national point of view to the people, while they still maintain their local identities.
Last October, former President Olusegun Obasanjo accused governors of being the major encumbrance to the effectiveness of local government administration.
To the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Communication and Community Affairs, Mr. Kehinde Bamigbetan, another problem confronting councils is the issue of revenue allocation formula that is skewed against the third-tier of government, adding that despite being the closest to the citizens, it has the least allocation.
Bamigbetan also identified years of dictatorship and non-payment of rates by citizens to the councils as other challenges that are responsible for their dismal performance.
Obasanjo, who delivered a keynote address at the first International Conference on Politics, Security and Development, Babcock University, Ilishan-Remo, Ogun State, titled: “40 Years of Local Government Reform in Nigeria: An Assessment”, traced the genesis of the problem to second republic, where he noted that the gains envisaged by the 1976 reforms became a mirage, adding that the local government has since became a political issue.
“The civilian regime of president Shehu Shagari and the then 19 states’ governors politicised the system and used it as a tool for partisan reward and punishment. Contrary to Section 7 of the 1979 constitution, which provided for democratically-elected local government officials, several local governments were arbitrarily dissolved, particularly in Kano and Lagos States on frivolous grounds, while caretaker committees were constituted to replace them or sole administrators appointed without any elections held.”
The Guardian observed that only a few states have provided infrastructural developments in the grassroots, while the rest have succeeded in taking over government administration.
Some of the Chairmen told The Guardian that they are being starved of fund, as only a fraction of their allocation are released by governors. They blame the Local Government/State Joint Account as the major debacle that has further affected their finances, which indirectly affected their performances.
According to the constitution, the allocation from the Consolidated National Revenue Account to the local government is to be added to the contribution of the state into a joint account as funding for the functions of the local governments. But not only do most of the states contribute nothing in breach of the constitution, they also devise different programmes to take substantial amount of allocation due to councils.
With that, most of the council officials just shared what remained among them without any serious service being undertaken for the people.
Sometime in 2014, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), under its former head, Prof. Attahiru Jega listed states that had for many years failed to conduct council election. While some made attempts to conduct election, others discarded the call.
The use of caretaker officials has been described by political analysts as political recklessness. On several occasions, governors’ sack elected council officials arbitrarily, without recourse to the House of Assembly.
For instance, there was the dissolution of elected local government officials in Ekiti State on October 29, 2010, by the government of Kayode Fayemi, when the chairmen still had up till December 19, 2011, to complete their three-year tenure.
Though it took them years to get judgment from the court of law, when they were eventually given a fair hearing by the Supreme Court, late last year, the judge did not only condemn government’s decision, he described the act of dissolving democratically-elected local government officials by governors and replacing them with caretaker committees, as executive recklessness.
The apex court also nullified the provisions of the laws enacted by the states’ Houses of Assembly empowering governors to carry out such dissolution and replace them with caretaker committees.
To overcome the challenges, the former Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs of Ogun State, Muyiwa Oladipo, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to ensure that the independence of local governments is guaranteed and also review the revenue sharing formula of the three tiers.
He said: “The president should increase the revenue sharing formula of local government, for it to stand on its own. The percentage accrued to the Federal Government should be reduced and the state and councils should get larger share shares. That is the major area the president needs to focus on to reposition local government because everything boils down to funding.”
Obasanjo, who emphasised that councils have considerable capacity more than any other tier of government, enjoined them to enter good partnership with private and public organisations to positively impart the lives of people.
The former president wants local governments to be led by men and women who understand the challenges people are facing and who will face issues that will lift the standard of living of the masses.
“To reposition the third tier, we need confident, creative and courageous leaders to achieve the desired result. Such leaders must have character, command respect, strong without being ruthless, generous without extravagance, with high morals and level of responsibilities and willingness to work.
“Local government as a third tier of government should not be scrapped or changed, rather, it should be strengthened and democratised. Officials of the local governments should always be elected and not appointed. There is also need to put mechanism in place to promote transparency and accountability at all levels of governance. In this regard, it will be crucial to strengthen institutions of horizontal accountability and anti-corruption bodies. In addition, civil society organisations, particularly at the local levels should be reoriented and empowered to hold elected officials accountable.”
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