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Fallacy of LG autonomy

By Ochereome Nnanna

AFTER the local government election which took place in Lagos last weekend, I was amused that analysts on some television stations were complaining about voter apathy. It was already known that the ruling All Progressives Congress , APC, would “sweep” the polls, why bother?

It is not as if the malady of predictable local government poll outcome is peculiar to the APC or Lagos State. It has been a nation trend since the return of our democracy in 1999. Irrespective of which party produces the Governor, any local government election automatically procures a “clean sweep” for the Governor’s party.

Honestly, I do not see the need for local government elections or the existence of the State Independent Electoral Commissions, SIECs. They are mere drains on the state treasury. They were established to legitimise the democratic fraud that is rampant in all local government elections. It is far more honest to have caretaker committees and no SIECs. At least, we save the money that goes into organising the electoral jiggery-pokery that only produce the will of the Governor and his political party rather than the will of the people.

The current concept of local government as a tier of government is a scam. In 1976, the Olusegun Obasanjo regime carried out a reform of the local government system in Nigeria, the outcome of which was put in the 1979 Constitution which still obtains in its 1999 variant. The stated objectives of the reform included fostering local government autonomy, taking governance and development closer to the grassroots, creating more economic activities at the local levels and giving that level of government access to federal allocation.

I call it a fraud because since then, the local government has never achieved the objectives of enhancing development at the grassroots and becoming an autonomous tier of government. Instead, because the military boys created them just as they liked, they gave more to the North (particularly the much favoured North West) and fewer of them to the South (especially the usually marginalised South East). Because they were units through which the Federal Government shared the oil wealth of the nation from the Niger Delta, the local governments’ real purpose became obvious. Till date, the local system has continued to be the avenue through which the North every month collects the lion’s share of the nation’s oil wealth, capitalising on its vast landmass and real or imagined population superiority.

All efforts to give the local council the status of a tier of government have failed both during military and civilian regimes. The creation of the joint state/local government account and the power of state Assemblies to regulate activities of the local governments ensured that the objective of autonomy is conclusively defeated.

Attempting to make the local governments autonomous will almost amount to having 774 states instead of 36. A local government chairman that lives chiefly on federal allocation will become a lapdog of the President if removed from the grasp of State Governors. It will only result in a change from a smaller master to a bigger one.

That was the situation that the General Ibrahim Babangida regime tried to create, whereby local government chairmen referred directly to the President bypassing the Governors. That is what today’s Governors have effectively checkmated. You cannot spoon-feed local government areas from Abuja and expect the piper’s paymaster not to call the tunes, especially when the President is at odds with a Governor.

My own idea of local government reform is to return to the situation which obtained before the civil war. The Regions were effectively in charge of local administration. The military only took over that power from the Regions in order to perfect their totalitarian hold on the polity. They thus funnelled our oil wealth in a manner that benefited their areas more and cheated other less-privileged areas (especially those areas that fought against injustice during the civil war). It was merely a war booty-sharing exercise nicely disguised as a means of fostering local autonomy.

States or regions must be given back their right and power to regulate local administration. The Federal Government has no business in local administration except when a major breakdown of law and order requires Federal attention. Regions/States should not only be empowered to create and run local administration, they should decide the style of local administration that is culturally conducive to their people.

One of the reasons for the 1976 local government reform was to checkmate the excesses of Emirs during the Native Authority system before the civil war. The South and some areas in the Middle Belt have no emirate system and were never part of indirect rule. They live in autonomous, kindred communities. They don’t need local government areas. What they need are communal governments or county councils.

In Anambra State, for instance, there are 177 such communities. Each of them should form its own community government under the control of the state or region they belong to. Any part of the country that wants to continue with the current local government system should feel free. All local or communal governments should be self propelling, subject to the State Government but totally insulated from the Federal Government.

The Federal Government’s interest in the local government system is nothing but what Fela calls “Army Arrangement” which must give way now. It is only these communal settings made up of people of roughly the same kindred setting that can make local administration work. They will fight to develop their communities and ensure these counties are relatively corrupt-free. The current local government system belongs to everybody and to nobody. There is a big different between “my own” and “our own”.

How can you lump communities with different aspirations into an artificial local government and expect it to work? Give power back to the local communities and see local administration jump back to life!

 


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