By Pini Jason
EVER before the current effort to further panel beat the 1999 constitution (as amended), the issue of local governments’ administration in Nigeria had generated febrile debates.
It has hitherto been a contest for authority between the Local Government Councillors who want to be free from the overbearing control of State Governors, and the State Governors who want to be the only captains on the ships of their states, brooking no other authority or autonomy.
In between the contestation, the ordinary people occasionally chip in some feeble opinion. Most times the masses look unconcerned while the flaks fly over their heads, simply because they do not trust any party to the controversy to honestly impact meaningfully on their miserable life.
Two weeks ago, the debate became so emotional that it was reduced to a personal war between the National Assembly posturing to save the masses through an amendment to the constitution and a member of the “hegemonic” Governors’ Forum, His Excellency Rabiu Kwankwaso of Kano State.
First, it seems very illogical to want to sculpt a wonderful figurine out of a rotten wood. It cannot happen. The local governments are parts and parcel of a skewed and, therefore, dysfunctional federation which is no longer working for anybody, including those it worked for in the past.
It should be obvious why neither the states nor the Federal Government is working, even with the most touted nationalists.
In the situation we find ourselves, the local governments will not work; what the debate is all about is to remove state governors as parts of the unworkability of the local governments and transfer this mal-functional monstrosity wholesale to the local government chairmen.
In other words, remove the hands of the governors from the till and insert those of the local government Chairmen!
What we ought to be debating is how to return to a workable federation. But it seems that the Local Government Councillors, the Governors and the National Assembly all think that they will be in power forever. None of the parties to the dispute is looking beyond how they are directly affected at the moment and into the future.
This attitude of personalising and privatising the political space has been a major source of our stagnation as a nation. It elicits unnecessary controversy over otherwise simple and straight matter, prompting people to doubt our intelligence as a people.
For example, by the American constitution, an elected President must take his oath of office on 20 January.
This year, 20 January fell on a Sunday. Obama’s second term was to begin that day. To avoid any constitutional breach, the Chief Justice administered his oath of office in the Oval Office in the presence of his family only, while the public ceremony took place on Monday, 21 January 2013.
In Nigeria, we would still be digging up sundry interpretations of the constitution, while some professional muckrakers and sophomoric lawyers would become talk show constitutional experts compounding a non-existent problem; some Senior Advocates would be in court; “a cabal” would emerge to protect the “personal estate” of the President-elect.
At the centre of the local government autonomy debate is MONEY; who gets to dip his fingers into the LGs allocation!
The Federal Government allocates money to a tier of government it has no absolute control over. State Governments claim money allocated and the Local Government Chairmen cry that the money has been embezzled by the states.
At the end of the day, no tier of government is actually held accountable and local government becomes “free money” and is wasted while the rural population continues to wallow in poverty and neglect.
The debate about how to solve this problem would be very simple if we remove personal interest in the matter and look beyond now.
It is common knowledge that in order to easily access LG allocations, many Governors dissolve democratically elected councils and install cronies as Caretaker or Transition councillors. Now if you grant autonomy to the local governments, can that keep the fingers of a Governor out of the till when the councillors are appointed by him?
Can you force a Governor to conduct election into the councils? So I have no faith that the so-called autonomy would change anything.
A far more emotional debate has concerned EQUITY in the creation of states and the distribution of the local governments. The military regime used all manner of considerations to create states and the local governments in a way that made the exercise one of the most inequitable actions in the country.
There is still discontent about the creation of states and local governments. The South East has been agitating for one state to correct an obvious inequity. But the North has been standing against it.
In a recent advertorial, the Arewa Consultative Forum disingenuously claimed that its opposition was based on the need “for reduction of cost of governance across the country in favour of development of real sector” but went on to “appeal to the authorities to take into account factors of land mass and population” in case of state creation; the very factors that created the inequity many sections in the South are complaining about.
The “inchoate” attempt by Lagos state to deal with this inequity shows that the National Assembly is incapable of correcting the ill, if the Federal Government continues to dabble into the creation of local governments. Yet, the Lagos state option of operating the “inchoate” LGs as Development Areas remains the honest way out the emotions raised by local governments.
I therefore think that to deal with this matter once and for all, and equitably for all concerned, the National Assembly should show courage, and not petulance and pique, to remove the issue of local government from the purvey of the Federal Government.
If it is indeed, “local” government, then its creation and administration MUST be left to the states. Stop allocating money from the Abuja specifically to local governments. That is anti-Federalism, inequitable and undemocratic.
Re-distribute the money to the states and let any state create and run local governments according to their local needs. If a state desires to create 1000 local governments, let it do so and fund it from its purse. If a state does not want local governments, so be it; we are a federation!
That way, there will be no more argument about “embezzling local government funds”. There will be no inequity. But will personal interests allow us to get out of the debilitating quagmire once and for all?
Salute to the glorious Eagles
FINALLY Stephen Okechukwun Keshi proved skeptics and non-believers
wrong. He made history by winning the African Nations Cup in South Africa on Sunday 10 February 2013. Keshi won because he was not under undue pressure from those who have ruined our football to win at all cost.
If he was handed the ultimatum to “take us to semi-final” or nothing, he would have flopped. This is the time to believe in what I have always called “the other Nigerians”.
Us! Believe in our resilience which keeps us going, in spite of our roguish politicians; believe in our commitment to fatherland; believe in our ability to achieve, if we look out (play) for one another like the team. Believe in merit! Congratulations Eagles and Keshi, the man of history!