By IFEATU AGBU
Local governments were designed to bring development to the grassroots. It cannot be otherwise, as the Federal Government, which is calling the shots from Abuja, is too far away from the headquarters of the 774 local government councils in the country. Similarly, most of the state capitals are far from the many towns and villages in the local government areas.
But the failure of most of the local governments as agencies of development has prompted some people to advocate that the third tier be scrapped.
Their shortcomings notwithstanding, the local governments have an important role to play. The nation needs them to perform some basic functions at the grassroots to accelerate the overall development of the country. In the light of this, rather than scrap the local governments, as some people have suggested, they should actually be roused from their slumber.
The sure way to do this would be to assign definite and measurable roles to them every year. In other words, allocations from the Federation Account to the local governments should be tied to specific projects and programmes, which should be monitored by credible federal and state agencies.
As part of the efforts to make the local governments relevant in the development process of the country, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, recently held a meeting with the chairmen of the 185 councils in the Niger Delta region. For the commission, the main objective of the meeting was to forge a development partnership with the local governments.
In order to achieve this, the Managing Director of NDDC, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwoha told the council chairmen that N30 million had been set aside by the commission for every council area that was eligible. “It is part of the commission’s efforts to drive development down to the grassroots,” he said.
However, since the resources of the commission are limited, the financial lifeline being offered to the councils would not be enough to go round the 185 council areas in the region at once. Ugwoha said: “What is available to kick start the scheme is N1.35 billion, which without recourse to other parameters of wealth allocation among the nine NDDC states, uniformly translates to N150 million per state. At N30 million per local government, the amount available to a state can only accommodate five council areas. It simply means that other LGs may have to wait a while for the scheme, which shall ultimately evolve, to benefit all 185 local government areas in the Niger Delta”.
In a way, this will ginger the local governments into action and it would also bring out those that are truly committed to developing their areas, since the partnership requires some commitment from the councils. The councils that would benefit from the NDDC largesse are required to match the NDDC grant by 50 per cent, which means that they would contribute N15 million to raise the fund to N45 million which must be used to execute a project that would have direct and immediate benefit to the various communities.
No doubt, this is one good offer the council chairmen should grab with both hands. Again, it is a grant that must be put to the best possible use. The LG chairmen should use the bottom-up approach in the selection of projects. Their people must be involved in determining what is actually needed, to ensure that they take the projects as theirs and as such do everything necessary to safeguard and protect them.
The good thing about projects like this is that the other partner would serve as a counterpoise necessary to put a check on abuses. There would be no room for the cavalier approach to local government contracts in this partnership arrangement. In this wise, the NDDC boss laid the ground rules for the council chiefs. He said: “We need to be careful in choosing contractors for the projects.
We should go for those with competence and tract records, so that the work time does not drag beyond what is being envisaged and thereby create basis for contractors to demand payment of variations”. The federal and state governments as well as other development agencies should take a cue from this to enter into similar partnerships with the local governments to ensure that they are encouraged to perform their duties diligently. Granted that the local governments are not getting enough funds to adequately address the important functions assigned to them in the constitution, that cannot justify a situation where many of the LGs virtually go to sleep.
That the local governments don’t have much to show for their existence is a sign that there is something fundamentally wrong with the system of resource allocation and sharing of responsibilities. It would appear that there is a mismatch between the statutory functions of the local governments and their capacities.
Obviously, an appropriate balance is yet to be struck in the use of revenue allocation to correct the imbalance between responsibilities and revenue power at the lower levels of government. The Federal Government currently takes 52.68 per cent of the centrally collected revenues, leaving the states and local governments with 26.72 and 20.60 per cent respectively. With this relatively small amount, prudent local governments could still manage to execute some projects. The problem is that by far the majority have nothing tangible to justify what they receive monthly from the Federa