The Executive Chairman of Agege Local Government Area of Lagos State, Alhaji Ganiyu Kola Egunjobi in this interview, speaks on the controversy surrounding local government autonomy among other sundry issues.
By Adekunle Aliyu
The agitation for local government autonomy has raged on for long. In your view do you think the call has merits?
In all honesty, it is high time the legislative arms across the country did what is right and grant the local governments the full autonomy they deserve. The local government is the closest to the grassroots and we cannot wish away this and the fact this current situation in which the finances of the councils are under the states are a disservice to developments in our communities. No doubt, the 1999 Constitution bequeathed to us this problem of partial autonomy.
It recognises the local government as the third tier of government but restricts its independence. Constitution as we all know is a wok in progress, the 8th National Assembly has done its bit by passing the local government autonomy bill and President Muhammadu Buhari’s favourable disposition towards it is well documented, all it requires to change the narrative is for two-third of the state assemblies to endorse it.
If it comes into force, grassroots will witness tremendous developments in the area of infrastructures and human capital developments and the whole country would be the better for it.
The local government is the bedrock for sustainable development in nation building and this constitutional encumbrance is inimical to effective local government administration. Without fear of contradiction, there is no alternative to local government autonomy if we want to develop as a country. Local government is in fact, a safety net for struggling families in the grassroots.
Among State Assemblies that failed to endorse it is that of Lagos State. Does that augur well for a state that prides itself as the centre of excellence?
If am right, about eight state assemblies including Ogun, Kwara and Bayelsa have voted for it while Imo and Edo are among those that rejected it. The 8th Lagos assembly that i know, there is no issue that is an elephant in the house. Am sure at the appropriate time, the House will endorse it.
The State House of Assembly under the leadership of Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Ajayi Obasa has been impressive. Obasa himself sponsored six private member bills including Anti-kidnapping and Neighbourhood Watch that have been signed into law. He also has to his name, the Cancer Institute establishment bill among others.
His contribution to the state in the area of legislation in the last fifteen years has been positive and in my honest view, he deserves to be returned as Speaker of the 9th assembly. Like we say in political parlance, ‘One good term deserves another.’ And to your question, the fact that the State assembly did not treat local government autonomy bill with dispatch does not vitiate the reputation of Lagos as a centre of excellence.
Don’t you think the divergent views among critical stakeholders in local government administration like the NUT, ALGON, and NULGE is undermining the push for the autonomy?
Invariably, there are no divergent views on the issue of autonomy among the local government stakeholders. Everybody is on the same page. What I know is that the teachers want their salary and other entitlements, issues of first line charge in the federal allocation. Experience is the best teacher they say.
So, you cannot fault the teachers’ union for its position on the issue. Their fear is not unfounded given what transpired in the early nineties when the funding and management of primary education were solely in the hands of local government. But is it faring better now? We must also consider that there is a Supreme Court’s judgment that put primary education under the purview of the state laws. However, I will be glad to have primary education’s management and funding the sole responsibility of the local government.
Here in Agege, under my watch, the council has been doing quite a lot of interventions in public primary schools in our locality in terms of infrastructural developments, teachers’ training and welfare and supporting pupils with educational materials, desks and chairs. Recently, we distributed school uniforms to pupils of twenty-six public primary schools and offered free bus service to pupils of public primary schools.
For the first time, a Lagos council boss was elected ALGON President in the person of Bariga LCDA Chairman, Kolade Alabi, what are your expectations of his administration?
ALGON has been at the forefront of the agitation for local government autonomy and under Alabi my expectation is that the struggle will go into overdrive. You know Alabi is a lawyer and a consummate administrator having been a former vice-chairman and an executive secretary of the council. He has made history not only as the first person to assume the mantle of leadership of ALGON in Lagos but the whole Southwest.
How would react to suggestion that local governments’ administrators lack the requisite skills to drive grassroots development?
It is not all local governments that exist nominally and the belief that local governments’ administrators lack capacity to drive development is preposterous, implausible and an insult on the intelligence of many stakeholders in the administration of the third tier of government.
The incumbent Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode is a product of the local government where he rose to the position of Council treasurer and later Auditor General for local government in the state. And as governor he has covered himself with glory. So also, the stormy petrel of Rivers State politics, Nyesom Wike, who is former Obio-Akpor Council’s chairman.
The two have measured up to their fellow governors in terms of performance. Ambode even surpassed most of his colleagues. In fact the suggestion does not add up.