By CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
FORMER Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, at a recent event in Enugu, left no keen observer in doubt over his intention to seek the highest office in the land in 2015.
At the 13th anniversary lecture and National Conference of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) at Nike Lake Resort, Enugu, Atiku, the 2007 presidential candidate of the Action Congress (AC), said, if elected, he would pursue resource control and devolution of power to the federating units.
His words: “Presently, our state and local governments look up to Abuja for monthly allocations. That kind of dependence does not make for any meaningful autonomy and surely will not bring about meaningful development. Every tier of government should be reasonably self-reliant in terms of revenue. The revenue it gets from other tiers should be supplementary, otherwise, it will lack reasonable degree of autonomy irrespective of what the law says. That is the reality of human condition and politics.
“That is why I have been calling for devolution of more powers and revenues from the Federal Government to the states and regional governments. It is not political posturing, it is a critical condition for deepening our democracy and promoting national development, peace and security.
“You know what, if I am president, what is it? Coal? Enugu State take your coal! Oil? Niger Delta take your oil! But I have the power of taxation. If your income from coal is N1 trillion I will say pay the Federal Government 70 per cent. That is your business. If you raise N10 trillion from oil, take your money but pay 75 per cent to the Federal Government.”
Atiku made the declarations while speaking on how to strengthen the local councils and enhance their delivery of democracy dividends to the grassroots.
Oil, Military rule negative influence
Noting that the local councils used to be very strong before the advent of oil and military rule in Nigeria’s polity, he stressed the need for improved taxation and governance.
“In the days when I was growing up and when there was no oil, the Local Government system was funded by taxation. There were radio tax, bicycle tax, etc and everybody paid. With the money the local governments built roads, primary and secondary schools and provided healthcare delivery that even the current state governments don’t provide in some cases. That was what we did prior to military rule and oil significant contribution to our national revenues. That is what makes people hold their government to account,” he argued.
On how to strengthen the local councils, the former Vice President said a number of questions needed to be answered. “Should we continue with the practice of the Federal Government creating local councils across the country and allocating resources to them directly?
Should it be left in the hands of federating states to decide for themselves the system of local government and number of local governments they need because of our historical and cultural differences? Remember: in the First Republic, we all had different system of local government administrations. The one in the North was different from the one in the East and the East was also different from the one in the West.”
He continued: “In my view, there are three critical issues here. First is the structure of the federation. The second is our political practice. The third is our disregard for rules and regulations. In a federation, Local Government administration ought to be left in the hands of the federating states or regions. Rather, there is the awkward situation where the local governments deal directly with the Federal Government side-tracking the state governments.
“The federating units should be left to determine the system and number of local governments and fund them accordingly in accordance with their historical and cultural peculiarities and development needs. Our focus should be on ensuring a more effective local government administration, a responsible fiscal management and accountability.
The proximity of state governments to the local governments makes them more suited to understand the local governments. All politics is local. The Federal Government lacks the capacity to monitor every local government development or issue in this country. In a federal system, it is in our collective interest to strengthen the local level,” he contended.
He continued: “The central government did not create local governments prior to military rule. We had a more effective and responsive local government administration then. I am a product of my Native Authority. I never knew anything about the regional government for my primary and secondary education until I went to the university.
The Federal Government started creating local governments at the same time we lost our heads to oil revenue. Local governments have become more dependent on the Federal Government than on the state governments. That is an anomaly.
It is our over centralization of power, excessive concentration of resources at the federal level and the abandonment of due process and regulations under military rule that led to state governments’ abuse of local administrations. That is what led to direct federal allocations to local governments and its subsequent provision in the constitution.
“If we amend our constitution to have a genuine federal system rather than the near unitary system that we currently have, there will be no need for statutory and mandatory direct federal allocation to the local government; there will be no need to enshrine the number of local governments in the constitution.
Other than direct fiscal allocation to the local government what other rationale exists for enshrining the number of local governments in the constitution and making the creation of new ones virtually impossible for state governments? What if a local government experiences rapid growth in population, for administrative convenience and effectiveness, the state government wishes to split it into two or more local governments, why should such a split be made difficult for the state until the constitution is amended? How many times are we going to amend our constitution?
“I believe that the federal share of national revenue should be whittled down while the allocation of states and local governments should be increased. All over the world, serious governments tax their citizens and corporations to raise revenues for development purposes and service delivery.
For that reason, governments work hard to promote economic development so as to create a strong tax base. I am opposed to this indigene, indigene thing. We should feel that Nigeria is our own no matter where we come from. Where we reside should be our home.
I was discussing with the US Consul General to Nigeria and he said in the United States, it is where you pay your tax that determines your citizenship. If we want to have a joint ownership of this country let’s abandon indigenship.”
Effect of godfatherism
The veteran presidential aspirant identified godfatherism as a major hindrance to council autonomy. “On the question of political practice, for as long as our party politics remain the domain of controlling godfathers at the federal and state levels devoid of internal party democracy, so long will our local government remain at the beck and call of whomever chooses contestants for local electoral offices.
The point is that even if local government funds come directly from the Federal Government without state/local government joint account, the dominant role of governors rather than party members in selecting candidates for electoral offices will still not ensure autonomous, effective and responsive local government administration.
“So, we need to find ways of ensuring internal party democracy so that the selection of candidates for elections to local and other levels will be carried out by the generality of party members rather than a few godfathers. At the local government in particular, we should encourage independent candidates.”