The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed – Section 7
By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor, Johnbosco Agbarakwu and Omeiza Ajayi
LOCAL government workers from across the country are today converging on Abuja for the grand finale of the series of protests against the relegation of democracy in the country’s local government system.
In apparent dismissal of constitutional provisions on the sustenance of democracy at that tier, State governments have in collaboration with their state Houses of Assembly since 2001 enacted various laws to put the local governments at their beck and call.
Sustenance of democracy
The focus of the laws has mainly been to give the governors the legal leeway to appoint sole administrators over the local governments, a development that is at variance with Section 7(1) of the Constitution.
That provision states thus:
- (1) The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.
The effect of the subjugation of the local governments to the states is the fact that development at that level has been stymied and in many cases, the local governments have even been unable to pay salaries of their employees. This is mainly on account of the fact that governors using the various laws enacted have appointed lackeys as sole administrators or chairmen of caretaker committees who have almost always deferred to the governors concerning the funds of the local governments.
Workers at that tier under the aegis of the National Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE had in the last few weeks staged zonal rallies in all six of the country’s geopolitical zones to vent their angst against the removal of democracy at the local government level.
NULGE National President, Comrade Ibrahim Abdulkadir, in an interview with Vanguard, bemoans the absence of democracy at the local government level saying it has essentially belittled the essence of democracy at that level. “We are saying that because the people at the grassroots level don’t know any other leadership apart from their councillor and chairman. Sincerely speaking, without giving them that opportunity, you have completely disconnected them from democracy. By not having that, you are creating a chaotic situation in the whole country and that is what we are witnessing today.”
Various stakeholders spoke on the matter in separate interviews with Vanguard. While many political office holders especially federal legislators spoke in favour of autonomy for the local governments, former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar has sustained his opposition to it on the note that the local governments are sub-units of the states.
Describing the agitation as misguided and “inconsistent with establishing a viable and well-functioning federal,” system, Atiku who spoke in Abuja while presenting a book, ‘Nigerian Federalism: Continuing Quest for Stability and Nation-Building’ published by the African Policy Research Institute.
“In 2012, I went before ALGON in Enugu and told them that their clamour for local government autonomy from state governments is misguided. I told them that it is wrong for the federal government to be creating local governments and giving them money directly from the federation account. What is the meaning of “local” then, I asked? How does the transfer of local government dependence on state to central government translate to autonomy? Even our state governments are nearly totally dependent on the federal government, meaning they do not even have the autonomy that we are trying to give to the local governments that are below them. This is a complete absurdity.”
He was supported by former Governor Victor Attah, himself a former chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, the very platform, critics claim has been used to undermine democracy and autonomy of the local governments. Attah said that in a true federal system, local governments could not be described as federating units, especially in a confusing scenario like Nigeria where states now also create local governments.
Attah, who spoke in an interview with Vanguard in Abuja, said a true federation should only concern itself with federating units.
Talking about autonomy
“Local governments are not federating units and have nothing with the federal government. We cannot be talking about autonomy. What does that really mean? And then you say a state can also create its own local governments”.
The former governor advised the country to go back to the constitution, practise true fiscal federalism and stipulate whether the states or geo-political zones should be the federating unit. However, several members of the House of Representatives rejected the argument of the two former executive office holders.
Nnanna Igbokwe, member representing Ahiazu Mbaise/Ezinihitte Federal Constituency of Imo State said: “I can assure you that the eighth National Assembly will support the autonomy of the local government especially financial autonomy if state governments have issues with administrative autonomy. What is proper is total autonomy so that the people at the grassroots can feel the direct presence of government.
“So, I am in support of it, I will vote for it and I will canvass for it and that has been my position and it will not change. In the last attempt we made taking into cognisance that we are practising federalism was that we advocated for financial autonomy for the local government, while the administrative control can still be in states to strike a balance. The essence of craving for autonomy is for the release of funds and the utilisation of funds. It is over the control of funds because this is a place you provide services.
“The administrative relating to number of wards and other issues can be done by the state, but there should be financial autonomy so that there can be effective and transparent utilisation and application of funds.”
Mrs. Rita Orji, member representing Ajeromi/Ifelodun Federal Constituency of Lagos State, Mrs. Rita Orji said that it was only autonomy to the local government areas that would bring the desired developments to the rural areas. “Don’t forget that the local government is an arm of government. It is when we strangulate them that you see lots of problems and underdevelopment at that level.
“When you look at local government that makes much money, you will not see anything to show for it. For instance, a local government that is collecting N145 million monthly from the federation account, and at the end of the day, you will not see one good road that was done by the local government, common culvert you will not see, there is no programme going on in the local government except the state that will come and do it, that is not democracy.
Joint Account between state and LGAs a stumbling block — Ukeje
Also commenting, the member representing Bende Federal Constituency of Abia State, Nnena Elendu Ukeje said that the problem had been the Joint Account between the state governments and the local government areas. “The House has always been unanimous in its belief that there are three tiers of government. We also recognise that the local government being the one that is closest to the people will deliver on certain things.
“The agitation by NULGE is not new because they have always been agitating but I am hoping that in the face of the new constitutional amendment, there will be actually a separation of the joint account because I think the concern they have is the JAC, the Joint Account between them and the state.
“That being the reason, their own money should be independent of the state, then that will also create financial autonomy to the local government and therefore give then the autonomy they feel.
Speaking of autonomy without financial autonomy is really no autonomy at all. “The Joint Account between the state and local government strips the local governments technically of that autonomy because the money goes straight to the state and the state disburses it.
But if they had their way that is what the constitutional review is trying to do to separate the joint account, if that were to happen, then it will give them the financial autonomy.”