Anambra: Who is afraid of autonomous communities system?(3)

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BY DONATUS OKPALA

THE financing of these community development efforts is invariably from contributions and levies from individual community members – at home and abroad -who consider such contributions as obligatory socio-cultural and filial responsibilities.

Indeed, whatever services and facilities that the state level government is able and willing to provide, is often only a marginal supplement or complement to the developmental efforts of communities.

Most of the services that local rural communities enjoy is, therefore, in spite of the state government NOT because of it, thanks to the communities’ own efforts.

The autonomous communities innovative governance initiatives awaken the spirit of the citizens at the basic local levels to rise to the challenge of community-driven economic and social development. Imbued with a sense of solidarity, there certainly exists enforceable social contracts at this level, even if- sometimes it be through mutual coercion- mutually agreed upon!

The practical and greater effectiveness of autonomous communities system becomes more relevant when the prevailing ineffectiveness, gross incompetence and deeply ingrained corruption in the existing local government system, as currently constitutionally configured, is considered. In terms of development, most of the local governments in Anambra State only exist in name, not in fact. Developmentally, there is not much to show that they exist. The verdict is near unanimous that the current local government system has not been able to deliver the so-called dividends of democracy to the local people. They are largely ineffectual and ineffective.

The disenchantment and loss of faith in the efficacy of current local government system in Nigeria is such that there has been widespread suggestions for the system to be scrapped in the process of current constitutional review. The suggestion has in this regard been made to the effect that: “Under the new  envisaged amended constitution, let each federating unit (state, region/zone) determine whether it wants to continue the existing local government system or replace them with community or county governments”.

The Anambra State Government has been waging a protracted battle to squelch the emergence and evolution of the autonomous community system in the state. The prop or crux of the state government’s reasoning for opposing the emergence of autonomous communities in its State is that by virtue of section 3(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which assigned 21 local governments to Anambra State, and by virtue of section 4(5) of the Local Government Law of Anambra State 2000, each local government area has a specified and listed number of towns. Based on these, the state government goes on to argue, that if the emergence of autonomous communities would lead to a gross multiplication of the number of towns that make up each local government in Anambra State”. On the basis of this reasoning, the state government concludes that the earlier Law (Anambra State Autonomous Communities (Recognition) Law 2002) (enacted by a previous administration of the State) was in breach of section 3 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It consequently proceeded to repeal “the recognition of Autonomous Communities in Anambra State”.

While the issue of constitutionality or otherwise is left to constitutional lawyers to argue, it is common knowledge that Anambra State is only one out of the 36 states that make up the Nigerian Federation and that these states are governed by the same 1999 Constitution as is Anambra State. It is also common knowledge that autonomous communities and similar governance systems or structures have been created and/or recognised by several other Nigerian state governments -more noticeably Anambra’s neighbouring states of Imo, Abia, Enugu, Ebonyi and with varying appellations, Lagos and indeed several other states of Nigeria. These are done with the progressive view of decentralizing development and accountable governance. Indeed, as has been noted by Dr. Sylvan Ebigwei of Aka Ikenga, there are zones where almost every street is a local government.

What water then does Anambra State government’s arguments hold in anchoring its opposition on the 1999 Nigerian Constitution? This stance smacks of the tragedy of a limited view and is patently visionless.

It is a manifestation of political backwardness for the Anambra State Government to expend resources to fight against such progressive development trend of decentralization reflected in the Autonomous Community System. It also appears doubly paradoxical that a state that prides itself as “The light of the Nation”  would fight so doggedly (for nine years now!!) to constrict and impede the progressive march to modernization of the governance process and system in the State.

Rather than expending energies and resources at constricting and squelching community growth and development initiatives, the Anambra State Government, ought to, as its sister states in the South-East Zone are doing, accept and support the Autonomous Communities System so as to leverage and accelerate community-driven and more accountable economic and social development at the grassroots level.

*Mr. Okpala, a commentator on national affairs, wrote from Lagos.

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