Be-thinking the local governments
Local governments are the third tier of government. The first two are the state and federal governments. So far there is nowhere in the world where local governments are independent either of the state or the federal government. When local governments are independent, the states become irrelevant, because the states will no longer have access to the land and the people. Besides, federations all over the world have, at least three tiers of government.
Be that as it may, local governments are nearest to the people. They comprise the executive expressed in the council chairman and the supervisors. Like the states and the federation, supervisors are like commissioners of the states and ministers of the federation. Like the council chairman, councillors are elected. They constitute the legislative arm of local governments. Like state and federal legislators, councillors make laws- such laws are called bye-laws. Councillors also have oversight functions in the councils. They ensure the chairman and supervisors adhere to the budget, execute projects and the like.
It is for these reasons that the refusal of some states to conduct local government elections is objectionable. Under Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution, it was envisaged that some people shall be elected to take charge of the affairs of the local governments. The Constitution mandates the people to assume office as prescribed by it. For that reason, the basic law directs that there shall be elections to the 774 local government councils of the federation. The Constitution clearly forbids anyone or group from taking control of the government of Nigeria or any part thereof except as prescribed by law.
Thus, those saddled with discharging authority at the local government level without election constitute the usurpation of the authority of local governments. The governors should be blamed for these lapses. Indeed, failure to conduct local elections is a grievous breach of the Constitution. But governors have a duty to defend the Constitution by preserving the values and ideals of democracy. In Nigeria, council chairmen are mere pawns in the hands of governors. Expenditures of local governments are variously regulated by the governors. Therefore, governors should give utmost priority to local elections as learning process for federal elections.
Adhering to this will boost democratic practice in Nigeria. It will also ensure that the dividends of democracy reach the people faster than ever before. However, we should not miss out the federalist doctrines which confer power on the federating states to control and promote their local authorities. Certainly, the present Nigerian federalism is skewed to favour some communities; because states and local governments were arbitrarily created. That arbitrariness has encouraged many states to create area councils without the corresponding financial powers.
However, to reduce the cost of governance, particularly now that states can no longer pay salaries of workers, we should convert zones to states with the present states becoming local governments. Then, councils can create housing estates in order to provide shelter for the people. Thus, the infrastructural concerns of such councils could be met. Such concerns include: rural roads, low-cost housing, water supply and flood control measures. Indeed, the urgent task of the people should be how to make council officials accountable to the people.
While some states have complied with constitutional provisions on council elections, many have done other things that render local governments irrelevant and powerless to fulfill their functions. Under the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution, the functions of local governments include: construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces and such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a state.
It is disheartening that some states have conspired to strangulate the importance of councils by diverting their funds to other uses. Thus, the constitutional provision requiring the payment of council statutory allocations into a joint account with the states has not been helpful. However, that does not necessitate independent local governments. The clamour for independent local governments is borne out of ignorance and profligacy. As poverty and unemployment ravage Nigeria, councils should be empowered to assist in the establishment of local and import-substitution enterprises for our prosperity.
This may be done through the institution of a N720 billion national full employment programme for the country. This way, we my heave a sigh of relief from the debilitating scourge of poverty ravaging the country. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, unemployment in Nigeria doubled between 2006 and 2011. At the same time, we allowed our factories to close down in favour of a trader mentality that imports everything including toothpick from China. If we must use Chinese for their cheap products, why don’t we bring them here to manufacture the goods and create jobs? Clearly, many things are wrong with Nigeria. Let local governments build this nation for us.
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