BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE & TONY EDIKE
ENUGU — PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, declared his readiness to fight for full autonomy for the local councils, saying no meaningful development could be achieved in the country if the councils were not vibrant and not allowed to function.
He spoke on the second day of the 13th annual extra-ordinary general assembly and national conference with the theme “Rediscovering the Nigerian local government system in the emerging constitution” organised by the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON, in Enugu.
The President, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Political Affairs, Ahmed Gulak, said since the councils were the closest tier of government to the people, the rising wave of insecurity in the country would have been reduced if they were functioning well.
He also expressed his opposition to the state/local government joint account, noting that the councils have a special role to play in his transformation agenda, which they were not doing currently. He also wondered if the local government councils were getting their share of the subsidy fund.
Lawyer sues Finance Minister, AGF
The President spoke as a lawyer, Raymond Onyegu, dragged the Finance Minister and the Attorney General of the Federation before a Federal High Court in Abuja, seeking to stop statutory allocations to councils without elected chairmen.
Speaking at the forum, Onyegu, who lamented that 25 of the 36 states of the federation do not have elected governments while Anambra State has not held council polls since 1998, said a judgement of the Supreme Court holds that statutory allocation is meant for democratically elected local councils and not care-taker or transition committee chairmen
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Jonathan’s support for the local councils is coming against the background of the continuing efforts by governors through the aegis of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, to dislocate the councils from being recognised as federating units like the states.
NGF chairman, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, had earlier this week told a delegation of the House of Representatives Committee on Youths and Social Development that the governors would oppose suggestions to give the councils autonomy from the states and make them part of the federating units.
According to Jonathan, “vibrancy in the local governments means the constitution is functioning. Tenure of local governments depends on the whims and caprices of the state governors. That should not be so. The tenure of our local governments, whether three or four years, should be clearly defined in the Constitution.
“The President has no right to wake up and say he has dissolved a state government. So why must a state governor dissolve a council? Why are we following the constitution in breach? We must live up to our duty and expectation of upholding and defending the constitution.
“The President is 100 per cent in support of ALGON because the Local Government is the closest tier of government to the people.
He is in support of Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which says that at every given time the local government must be democratically elected. The situation where some governors dissolve local governments is unconstitutional, illegal and unsustainable.
“One issue affecting the local governments that the President is concerned about is the state-local government joint account. It erodes the autonomy of the local governments. The framers of the constitution did not envisage that the account will be run the way it is being run.
“The joint account means that allocation from the Federal Government and internally generated revenue must be put together for sharing but unfortunately, most local governments don’t get up to 20 per cent.
How do the local government chairmen function without funds? It is for this reason that President Jonathan is fighting for full autonomy of the local government. So continue to mobilize and sensitise people for the amendment to come through.”