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Governors use money allocated to local govts as slush funds – Speaker Dogara

Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, in this interview, lists measures to secure independence for local governments which, according to him, are being emasculated by state governments across the country.
In your estimation, is local government administration on course in Nigeria?

As far as I am concerned, I do think that the issue of local government administration, especially how effectively they are run, should not just be left to any authority or person.

Yakubu Dogara
Yakubu Dogara

If I were to answer your question straight forward, I will tell you that it is not working and the reason is very simple. All the local governments in the country are specified in the First Schedule of the 1999 Constitution. The work they do is as specified in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution. But above that, Section 7 of the Constitution is very instructive, it talks about the system of local government being democratically elected,

it is guaranteed under the 1999  Constitution, so if we start from Section 7 of the Constitution, how many local governments will you say have executives that were democratically elected? How many of those councils do you see are performing the responsibilities   assigned to them under the 4th Schedule of the 1999 Constitution? The answer is quite obvious, and it is a system in crisis. Since 1999 when we had this latest advent of politics, I don’t want to go back to the days of military regime, you will attest to the fact   that there is hardly any local government that has lived up to its constitutional mandate and the reasons are quite obvious.

I guess the reason might be that the local government administration is groaning under interference from the state governments.

You are quite right. I will say really that it is by design of the Constitution. The Constitution makers, those who drafted the 1999 Constitution actually muddled up a lot of things with regards to running of local governments. I do not know what model they adopted really because when you look at the federations across the world, nations that are described as federal republics like Brazil, for instance, India, the United States, there appears to be a model that they are following but I don’t know what model the framers of the 1999 Constitution wanted to promote in Nigeria.

Now, you talked about independence of local government councils in Nigeria. I don’t know whether it is achievable, whether we should talk about semi-autonomy or some kind of semi- independence. Because when you are talking about independence of local government councils such as is practiced in India, the United States of America and Brazil, they have a democratically elected council, a democratically elected council legislature, you have even council courts, you have council police, you have councils that are directly in charge of recruiting their personnel and disciplining them, you have councils that are in charge of resources that come into the council and appropriate them because they have legislators.

The chairmen operate as the executive and they can be impeached if they go against the rules and so, they are completely independent and they deliver on the mandates given to them. But in Nigeria, that was not the model that was promoted by the framers of the 1999 Constitution when they talked about things like joint accounts for instance.

And the governor will sit in the state executive meeting and come up with a resolution that they have sacked an elected council executive and then appoint council caretaker committee. To be candid, that is gross violation of the Constitution. I don’t know if the framers were able to anticipate that their may likely be the situation that most of the governors will violate the powers that were assigned to the states with respect to local governments under the Constitution.

That has become the norm, rather than the exception, where majority of the councils in Nigeria, even as we speak in this era of change and the promise APC made, you will be surprised that majority of the area councils are run by caretaker councils and there is no where in the Constitution where caretaker is mentioned. So, I don’t know what kind of democracy we are practicing, the Constitution is very clear as to how these things should be done but, unfortunately, some of them, in their wisdom, have constituted themselves as middle men in the chain. They block the flow of the powers conferred by the Constitution, and incidentally, nothing is done at the level where decisions or punitive measures taken against such unwholesome decisions directly at disobeying two crystal clear provisions of the Constitution. Nothing is done.

So that has become the bane of local government administration in Nigeria. I agree with you totally, there is lack of independence because they are subsumed in the control of the state executive that things appear not to be flowing.

As a matter of fact, joint account is one of the biggest evils because it gives the authority to local government ministries in the states. In most states, especially in the North where we don’t have oil and co, the ministry of local government in the state is regarded as the ministry of petroleum resources. So we all know when funds are allocated to the councils. Instead of getting to the councils, they are hijacked at that level and appropriated according to the whims of the powers-that-be.

What is the House doing, therefore, to sanitize this tier of government?

You will note that all the issues we have been discussing about are constitutional issues. And you know under the Constitution we have powers. Governmental powers are carved and shared horizontally and vertically and then, it  is only the vertical powers that we have under the Constitution, what is known as the concurrent list, there is the exclusive list and the residual list which goes to the state assemblies. If you look at it, part of the confusion we run into is the local government system under the Constitution that we practice now is, by and large, subject of laws passed by the state assemblies and not the National Assembly. The only way we can rescue the local government system in Nigeria is by introducing amendments to the Constitution and that is what we are trying to do. We attempted it in the 6th Assembly but most of the critical aspects of what we are talking about here did not scale 2/3rd votes from all the state assemblies in Nigeria.

In the 7th Assembly, however, this issue of autonomy, financial autonomy of local government got endorsement of 20 state assemblies but, unfortunately, we needed 2/3rd, so we were short of four. So, it means that even if the President had assented to the Bill on constitution  amendment, that aspect wouldn’t have scaled through. Now, the problem is this: We will have to make the local government system a bit independent.

I am not saying absolute independence because we may not achieve that since ours is a strong federation. It is not a weak federation like what you have in the United States where councils and states join money and then appropriate it and pay royalties in taxes to the Federal Government. So. What we can therefore do is to make sure that in the spirit of the Constitution, the local government administration is democratically elected to ensure that, by the provision of the Constitution, any local government that is not democratically constituted will not have access to funding from the federation account.

That was the problem we had. There was this issue of Lagos creating more councils and then President Obasanjo   decided to deny them allocation from the federation account before the court now said ‘you are just a   trustee, you can’t do that’. As a matter of fact, the   money does not belong to the Federal  Government. So, we must cure that.

But, unfortunately, the court did not provide a remedy, even though there is a remedy inherent in the Constitution itself. But the problem is that it is not working. For instance, if a state government insists on running the affairs of the local governments on caretaker administration when   the Constitution is insisting on democratically elected that amounts to serious violation of the Constitution, which, in itself, is one of the biggest grounds for impeachment. Impeachment when they say gross misconduct is violation of the provisions of the Constitution. How many governors have been impeached in practical terms, when they  appear to have the state assemblies in their pockets?

In addition to that, we want to ensure that local governments have financial autonomy. Each local government council will maintain an accountant with the accountant-general of the federation where monies due to it will directly be paid.

That, of course, means that the issue of joint account is eliminated. Now, in the course of the President’s inaugural speech, he devoted a substantial time talking about local government administration in Nigeria and he talked about the injustice perpetrated by the joint account. And he did say, if I remember very well, that he will not have kept his trust with the Nigerian people if he allowed others who are under his watch to abuse their own trust.

So, he clearly stated that something is going to be done about this but, as long as we don’t achieve those three vital things, even if it means the state and the state assemblies will still have to exercise some form of legislative control over the area councils, the Constitution has to be very clear on how local government council executives are composed, for instance by election , the legislature is composed by election, and that they have financial autonomy. Now, that heals a lot of things.

That therefore means that no state exco can just sit and decide to suspend the chairman or even a councillor. It will not work again. It means that if a council chairman misbehaves, it will not fall within the province of the council legislature to either suspend him, impeach him or whatever measures they will adopt. So that frees the local government council under the control of most of the state governors.

And to be able to achieve this, our thinking was to say even the council legislature should even legislate more for the area council. But you know, we live in a political environment, with the dynamics of politics, not all actors are rational and if these proposals were to go to the state assemblies for ratification that we need 2/3rd of to become law, if they know you are stripping them of powers, the tendency is that, self preservation is the first law of the species, they will want to say we will not deprive ourselves of this power. So, we don’t want to take it at that level first, but free them of control of state governors. Let them have these three areas in which they are independent. Maybe there will be a discussion about absolute independence later after these ones have been taken for the councils. That is key.

Why has it been difficult for state assemblies to stop governors from emasculating the LGAs?

For the state legislature to be able to perform, they will need some level of insulation. If they are not insulated, especially from financial pressure, there is no way they can do well. I remember in the 6th Assembly too, the constitutional amendment which we actually passed into law contained a clause for financial autonomy for state assemblies but, apparently, to some of the actors then, speakers of state houses of assembly, said it wasn’t the intention of the framers of the Constitution to give them autonomy.

That they didn’t want it, but they gave us that autonomy in the National Assembly. Federal legislators, they said okay, we can have that autonomy but they didn’t want it at the level of the state, so it failed. And as long as they don’t have that financial autonomy at that level, so many things will continue to be wrong at the level of the state and at the local government because they won’t have the capacity, really, truly speaking, to be able to oversight, superintend on matters affecting the state in the area councils.

So, it is a combination of the two, the three lines of intervention with respect to local councils that we talked about and then the financial autonomy for the state legislature so that if the governor’s think, for instance, that they are misbehaving, and then they decide they will punish them by withholding funds. But once they are sufficiently independent, they don’t need much intervention from the state to be able to run. I believe that those key components are vital. But the overall importance of effective local government administration is something that we will talk about later.

I think the situation is even worse now with caretaker committees all over the whole country. I think it is not a problem that the House of Representatives can easily solve. So we just leave that one for now.

Let us talk about the state independent electoral commissions. Do you think SIECs can pass credibility test? I am asking this because hardly can you see opposition win if SIECs conduct elections in states.

When you talk about hardly do opposition win in the states. I don’t know of any state where that is a reality. Even if appears to be a reality, maybe it is an arrangement to just put one or two so that they can decorate the process with a political gown of democracy to say that it was actually competitive but I don’t think throughout the history of local government elections since 1999 when the state electoral commission took charge, that has ever been a situation where any credible election was conducted in any state. The point is this, he who pays the piper, they say, dictates the tune.

The state independent electoral commissions, the head of those agencies are appointed by the state governors. In one of the states, I think in my state, in the last administration, it was even the political adviser to the governor that later became the chairman of the state independent   electoral commission. I don’t know how independent those commissions are. The truth is they will never work democratically.

Have you thought of the attendant problems of local government autonomy? Do you think the present local government administration   councils can handle autonomy?

Like I said, once you feed the resources and they have the right personnel manning the local governments, I’m assured that a lot of things will change. It is not going to be like before. If you go to area councils now, how many sound people are willing to run for elections to be councillors, for instance, or local government chairman? So once the pool of leadership improves, there will be sanity, they will build on those things to ensure that there is development takes place and we are a better nation on account of that.

Don’t you think that all laws that place councils under the control of the House of Assembly should be amended or repealed?   For instance, National Assembly does not legislate for states. Must states continue to legislate for local governments?

I talked about that and my take on that as you know, I did say that we are politicians and we live in a political environment and not all actors in a political environment are rational. So, the thinking is that the most appropriate thing to do in the circumstance will be to say okay, we are going to have total autonomy, totally independent local governments with dedicated legislative assemblies that are elected on their own, so they should be able to make laws for the effective running of their councils.

Now there will be state wide laws, the federal laws, the residents or even the councils are subject to the state wide laws and the federal laws but the basic things like you rightly pointed out, if we don’t legislate for the state, why should the state legislature legislate for councils?

But you know, I put it this way, I said if you were to send that proposal to states, because it dovetails an amendment to some provisions of the constitution and you need two thirds of legislature of states to pass, will that law pass?

And I did say self preservation is the first law of the species so the tendency is to say they are trying to strip us of our powers and nobody wants to lose power so they will vote against it. So what we should do is escalate the political, democratic composition of the council executive, the legislature, give them financial independence, then if it works very well, then we will get to a point where we will begin to say leave local government affairs solely in the hands of elected council legislatures, not even the state assemblies. But that, perhaps, is the discussion that will take place much later, not now. Certainly not now.

Finally what effort will you tell   Nigerians generally the House of Representatives is making with regards to   local governments.

That is what we have been discussing. I talked about the fact that nothing will work in the area councils unless we are able to secure some kind of independence for them and that is what we are doing in the process of amending the Constitution. I talked about the fact that some of the defects are actually in the Constitution and not as an account of practice. So that is what we will be looking at. The aspect we will be looking at, I did say, is to ensure that all local government councils in Nigeria are democratically run, not run by caretaker councils appointed by the state executive. That is one big area that we are looking at.

The second area is democratically elected council legislators, not caretaker committees. So that they will be saddled with the responsibility of passing laws that will give the council the powers to effect all latitudes given to them under the 4th Schedule of the 1999 constitution. We talked about financial autonomy, which is the biggest. We want to guarantee that by ensuring that councils submit their respective account numbers to the federal government where money meant for them are paid directly without any intervening authority or third party all the chain so that council authorities and citizens that live in those local governments will know that this is what is coming.

The money is published every month so they know. And to be able to achieve this, I did talk about the state legislators needing some form of autonomy and we want to give them that. That will definitely be in the proposal that will be going out to them to vote on. We talked about ensuring democracy, credible elections at the third tier of government and we agreed, it was your suggestion actually, and I concurred that state independent electoral commissions have never worked and will never work. So our best bet is to make sure that they are eliminated.

 


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