By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel Abdulkadir is the national president of the National Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, the umbrella body of local government employees in the country. Given the provision of the constitution stipulating that the system of democracy should be guaranteed at the local government level, many stakeholders have been upset by the spate of dissolution of local governments by governors working in cahoots with their respective state Houses of Assembly.
With governors appointing sole administrators or caretaker committees in clear violation of Section 7 of the constitution, NULGE has in recent weeks mounted a nationwide campaign to bring focus on the absence of democracy at the third tier, a development, Abdulkadir says has helped to foster insecurity and poor development at that tier.
Rallies have been held in the six geopolitical zones in Lagos, Jos, Calabar, Kano, Enugu and Jalingo in the bid to bring sanity to local government administration.
Following the zonal rallies, a national rally has been scheduled for Thursday, April 27 where representatives from all 774 local governments are expected to converge in Abuja for a national rally on the issue.
Remarkably, the rally is expected to be graced by international partners of NULGE including the Public Service International and the Africa, Municipal Local Government Workers Network.
Comrade Abdulkadir in between his shuttles between the zonal rallies told Saturday Vanguard that the rallies were planned to stir the country towards ensuring that the forthcoming amendments being pushed by the National Assembly are not again rejected as was done by those proposed by the 7th Assembly.
“It is like a renewal agitation as a result of the failure of the Seventh Assembly to achieve the constitutional amendments as they particularly affect local governments.”
“It is only when we have democratically structured local government system in Nigeria that a lot of issues could be addressed in our polity in Nigeria particularly the gap in democracy itself
“We are saying so 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.
Given the vibrancy with which local governments operated at the onset of the Fourth Republic, the NULGE president asserted that the system of democracy over the years since 1999 progressively collapsed as the states suffocate the operation of democracy at that tier.
“By not having that, you are creating a chaotic situation in the whole country and that is what we are witnessing today. I wish you could recollect what Nigeria was between 1999 and 2002 when the election of local governments was conducted along with elections at the state and federal levels, the quality of political leadership produced at local government level cannot be compared with what we are witnessing today.”
Abdulkadir particularly noted the fact that local governments in the country with their diversities can best be administered through the system of democracy.
“You cannot govern and administer Nigeria as a nation in a centralised manner because we have a lot of diversities in our tribes, diversities in our beliefs, diversities in our culture and so on, so the only way you can actually create an inclusive platform that will address the agitations of minorities in the society is by having a strong local government system that will no matter how small a group will be, a sense of belonging in democracy and in governance.
“These are the main reasons we decided to invest in these rallies. We feel that as workers in the local governments that failing to do what we are doing is like abdicating our responsibility from removing the local governments from the situation they find themselves in.”
The Association of Local Governments of Nigeria, ALGON which is the body of elected local government chairmen should ordinarily have championed the move for the protection of democracy at the grassroots. However, the body has failed to show any inclination towards that direction. Abdulakadir was asked why the body was not collaborating with ALGON.
“We are not collaborating,” he admits adding, “ALGON is very weak, very weak because the leadership of ALGON is drawn from the elected representatives in the local governments and in a situation where democracy at the local government is completely eroded because of the heavy encroachment by the state governments into the local governments”
He cites the meningitis outbreak in Zamfara State to demonstrate the failure of state control over the local governments.
“I know that as a local government worker, that anytime you have an outbreak in any small community that the first point of call is the local government and no matter how irresponsible the leadership of the local government is, the local government cannot ignore such situation and allow it to escalate that it will get to the national level.
“Because of that gap, today people are dying in hundreds in that area and the truth is that the secondary healthcare facilities are not easily accessible to the local communities.
“Even the security challenges that we are talking about, the local governments have their own security architecture at their own level and at any given time that there is any threat to security, the first point of call is the local government and they do it in a manner and way that it will not escalate to the level that will attract the state or Federal Government intervention.
“The present challenge from Boko Haram is mainly because of the unavailability of local governments in the country because if you have local governments, they will address a lot of issues.”
He was taken up on assertions by some including former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar and Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State that local governments should not be recognised as a tier. He dismisses the claim as unfounded on facts.
“We are completely against that because local governments have completely become impotent under the watch of the states. We are not saying that the states will not have anything to do with the local governments, but that they should have some responsibility but at supervisory capacity, but not to the extent that the governor will decide not to allow elections at the local government. Are we not a democratic society?
“We also strongly believe that if there is anything due to the local governments from the Federation Account, let the money come straight to the local governments. Even in the United States, they have federal grants to the local governments, they don’t pass it through the states. It goes directly to the local government accounts. If we have anything like that, let it go directly to that tier.
Given the crass dismissal of local government autonomy by the state Houses of Assembly during the last constitution amendment exercise by the 7th National Assembly, the NULGE president was asked how optimistic he was that the same institutions would not again derail the venture?
“As a trade unionist, who has found himself in a crisis industry, we are optimistic that what we are doing will eventually help to strengthen the local government system and keeping quiet will not make any change in the system,” Comrade Abdulkadir submitted.
Abdulkadir, besides leading local government workers in Nigeria also leads the Africa, Municipal Local Government Workers Network, AMLGWN, the body of local government employees in Africa.