THE search for a more effective and accountable governance system in Nigeria continues with the current efforts at the national level to review and amend the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.
The focus is on greater decentralization and devolution of authority and responsibilities from the Federal (centre) to state government levels, as well as from the state government level to the local government level and commensurately down the line to the communities level.
At the state level, there has been a crying need for a more decentralized and devolved administrative autonomy of management to much lower levels community and sub-community levels for a more effective social mobilization and more accountable development of communities.
This desire is buttressed on and supported by the current globally accepted and endorsed governance ((principle of subsidiarity) which enjoins that ”decisions should be made and services provided at the lowest possible level which is technically most cost-effective, without creating too many over-spill effects”.
The trend of political discourse, therefore, is towards a more decentralized and devolved administrative and developmental approach – a trend and approach that challenges the people at the lowest community levels to take their developmental destinies in their own hands and not to depend on the usually more distant and hardly interested national and state level governance apparatus.
The desire for this decentralized and devolved trend has been manifested in several states of the country under varying nomenclatures -viz: Local council development areas/centres in Lagos State, autonomous communities or community council governments in Imo State, local development areas in Abia State, development centres and neighbourhood committees in Enugu State, etc. These contraptions are all aimed at further decentralizing the development initiatives and governance processes. Greater administrative and management decentralization and devolution of responsibilities has been proven to be a strategic approach or framework for accelerated and accountable socio-economic development of local communities in particular and the country in the aggregate.
In the light of the foregoing political trends and discourse, it is difficult to understand the political imbroglio in Anambra State concerning autonomous communities, in which the state government and the state legislature have engaged in sailing against the current by opposing and obstructing the emergence and evolution of the autonomous communities system as a process of decentralization and devolution of governance and development in the state. It is self-evident that decentralization and devolution of administrative and developmental responsibilities to lower level (community) entities is a means of achieving accelerated socio-economic development that reaches and benefits people at the grass roots level.
Drawing from extant experiences as an illustration, the Federal Government created local governments and allotted LagosState with 20 local governments areas. However, the Lagos State Government, its Legislature and people have since found it developmentally more effective and productive to further decentralize and devolve governance in the State by creating additional 37 local government areas or local council development areas in the State – for a total of 57. Consequent on this, development is permeating these areas at an accelerated pace. Although the Federal Government pretends not to legally or constitutionally recognise these additionally created 37 local government areas, they are willy-nilly, a fait accompli!
These structures have come into being and are serving as veritable vehicles for accelerating local development in their respective areas and bringing economic and social development nearer to the people in their communities, and indeed making communities take their development in their own hands. The State (Lagos) had recently successfully conducted local government election in the framework of these local council development areas. Eventually, indeed sooner than later, there may be no option for the Federal Level but to recognise them as duly constituted local governments.
As earlier indicated, practically all the other South-East (Igbo) states (except AnambraState) have taken steps to decentralize and devolve governance and development. But the State does not seem to have internalized the lessons of experience of our short harrowing history.
Those who are old enough to know will recall that at the on-set of the series of creation of states, some well-meaning, respected and revered Igbo leaders, in all honesty and with the best of intentions for the Igbo, made representations to the Military Government authorities at the time, to prevail on these authorities NOT to split the Igbo into too numerous states. This was ostensibly on the good-intentioned reasoning that splitting the Igbos into too numerous states would weaken them politically. As already noted, this was an honest good intention for the Igbos at that time. Indeed, this in part tends to explain why the Igbo South East was allotted less number of states than it would possibly have received, and why the former so-called minority areas today have more states than the former so-called majority areas that are now the Igbo South-East.
It is the history that, beginning with three political regions at the on-set of national political Independence in 1960, states creation (administrative decentralization) grew to four regions or states in 1963; to 12 states in 1967; to 19 states in 1976; further split into 21 states in 1987 ; into 30 states in 1991 and into the present 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory of Abuja in 1996. But the Igbo South-East remained with only five states throughout these series.
The local government areas increased from 301 in 1987 to 499 in 1989, to 589 in 1991 and to 774 in 1997.
These successive creation of states and local governments were all in response to political demands and clamours for greater regional and local autonomy and for decentralization and devolution of development decision-making and responsibilities.
The administrative decentralization involved in the creation of more states and local governments was perceived as a potent strategy for spreading development throughout the country. The political, economic and social development outcomes of these processes are today all too self-evident.
Mr. DONATUS OKPALA, a commentator on national affairs,wrote from Lagos