By Donu Kogbara
I DIVIDE my time between Nigeria and the UK and I am based in a small rented house in South London when I am abroad. And I never cease to marvel at the ENORMOUS difference between local government authorities here and there.
In the UK, vulnerable people or those with very limited incomes (students and the hospitalised, for example) are completely exempted from council tax or given discounts. And the majority who DO have to pay the tax in full don’t pay much.
In return for a modest monthly payment, my local council provides me and ALL of its other residents (including those who don’t pay a dime or pay less than the full amount of tax) with a staggering range of free or heavily subsidised (and very cheap) services beyond basics like public housing and rubbish collection:
Libraries and parks galore, unlimited access to online publications all over the world, language classes for immigrants or refugees who can’t speak English, literacy and maths classes for British-born adults who somehow missed out on good educations in their youths; adventure playgrounds for children, substantial back-up for frail and lonely pensioners, concrete help for the disabled, counselling for the distressed, lots of vocational and leisure-related evening courses – such as dance, jewellery design, information technology and so on – for anyone who is interested…
…and numerous other golden opportunities, civilized facilities and philanthropic support systems that are too numerous to mention in a one-page newspaper column.
And as if all of the above wasn’t enough of an effort, my local council regularly sends every household an excellent little magazine that it compiles every few weeks…in which we are told how the tax the council receives is being spent and how we can reach our local councilors if we want to address any concerns to them.
The magazine also encourages us to express our opinions about anything and everything…by writing to the council or participating in surveys.
In the latest edition of the magazine, readers were asked whether there are any new courses they feel the council should start up and whether we think the council should increase its commitment to the recycling aspect of waste management.
The other day, a friend of mine spotted a fox in her garden and called the pest control division of the local council in a panic and received a very sympathetic response on the phone and prompt practical assistance, plus a document full of tips about how she could minimise the risk of further vermin incursions in future.
My sister, Lela, is the Deputy Chief Executive of another local council on the other side of London; and I know how hard and sincerely she works to ensure that the inhabitants of her area get the best possible deal, despite budgetary constraints.
And the LGA she helps to run is even more of a pleasure to live in than mine is.
The question I keep asking myself is this: When will the average Nigerian LGA official be able to look his or her constituents in the eye, confidently justify the funds that have been collected in their name and begin to come anywhere near providing the above levels of care, competence, sophistication and transparency?
There are 774 local government areas in Nigeria; and most of them are shamefully impoverished disaster zones in which there is no discernible development activity.
There are, of course, always exceptions to every rule.
For example, Victor Giadom, a onetime Chairman of my home LGA (Gokana in Ogoniland, Rivers State) made genuine attempts to do useful things for our people when he was in charge.
Gaggle of ailing villages
And nobody can transform a gaggle of ailing villages into thriving oases of rural affluence in only four years. But Giadom often excitedly discussed his plans with me. And his heart was definitely in the right place.
Other exceptions exist – voluntarily or by force. I’m told that there are a handful of well-intentioned and fairly efficient LGA chairmen in other places…as well as a few locations that are full of retired professionals who make it their business to bully their local councillors, make sure they do their jobs (things like sinking boreholes) and compel them to account for every single naira that comes their way.
But Nigeria still has a LONG way to go in this regard. And the norm is blatant theft and chronic negligence. And I wonder what we can do to turn the tide.
I guess that we will finally start to make serious progress on this front when Governors stop handing key local government slots to idiotic and corrupt cronies
Donald Duke, a former Governor of Cross River State, once told me that he reckoned the best way forward would be for high-calibre individuals who have plenty of cosmopolitan exposure and advanced ideas – and normally aspire to prestigious state and Federal Government positions – to shift their focus to the local government arena and take pride in becoming effective within that context.
I think that Duke was right.
What do YOU think? The opinions of Vanguard readers will be warmly welcomed.
The Facebook heiress
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have announced that they will give away 99% of their shares in the company to good causes.
Zuckerberg revealed this information in a letter to his newborn daughter, Max, on his Facebook page. He explained that he and Max’s mother were donating their fortune to a charitable foundation – the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative – to make the world a better place for Max to grow up in…and promote equality for ALL children.
The donation amounts to $45 bn at Facebook’s current value. And even if Max only winds up with 1% of the shares, she will still have hundreds of millions of dollars at her disposal. So it’s not like she’s going to have a life of toil and suffering!
Still, given how stingy and don’t-give-a-damn-about-anyone-else-ish so many billionaires are, you have to admire Max’s parents for being so generously concerned about Have-Nots. They are a breath of fresh air and will change many lives.
May God bless them.