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You are here:Home>>Strategic Research & Analysis>>Nigeria LG autonomy: Will govs succumb?
Sunday, 09 June 2013 21:28

Nigeria LG autonomy: Will govs succumb?

Written by OMONIYI SALAUDEEN
Nigeria Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu    Photo: BiztechAfrica  Nigeria Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu Photo: BiztechAfrica

 

Towards the realization of July time frame for the amendment of the 1999 constitution, the Senate committee on the review led by Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, Wednesday, formally presented its report on the floor of the green chamber. One of the main highlights of the report is the proposed amendment of the relevant sections on local government administration in the country.  This includes, among other things, abolition of state/local joint government accounts, direct funding of state houses of assembly and state independent electoral commissions. Auditor-General and Attorney-General are to also receive funding directly from the state Consolidated Revenue Fund.’’ In the same vein, there are equally indications that the Senate might be considering inclusion in the 1999 Constitution a provision that will stop the allocation of funds to any local government council that is not being run by democratically elected officials. “

 

The report reads in part: “In the bid to engender accountability and efficient service delivery, the committee proposes the creation of first-line charge for certain bodies and offices in the states. “State houses of assembly, state independent electoral commissions, auditor-general and attorney-general of a state are to get their funding directly from the state Consolidated Revenue Fund.’’

 

Since the advent of the present democratic experiment, autonomy of local governments has been a recurring issue in the polity due to illegal diversion of funds belonging to the local councils by their respective governors. In the bid to make the administrators subservient to their whims and caprices, some governors even have deliberately refused to conduct local government elections and put in place caretaker committees to oversee the affairs of the local governments. As a recent statistics shows, only 17 states of the federation including the FCT have elected officers running the affairs of their local governments as enshrined in Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution. As a result, it has been very difficult to make the officials at that level to be accountable to the people. It is also part of the reasons why performance has been abysmally low across the states of the federation.

 

If these recommendations eventually scale through the state and national assemblies, it will surely go a long way to reduce overbearing influence of the governors. But it appears the governors wouldn’t let be, as they have consistently continued to oppose the bill. Before the latest crisis that is plaguing Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), its embattled Chairman, Governor Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, literally launched an open campaign against the proposal, insisting that it would not see the light of the day. The question now is: Will NGF succumb?

 

While the controversy still rages, the Nigeria Union of Teachers (NUT) has also raised its opposition against the planned policy, fearing that it would affect the fortune of education sector. Their resistance to the proposal is based on the past experience where local governments piled up backlog of arrears of salaries of primary school teachers with resultant strikes that also paralysed the subsector.  The President of the union, Comrade Michael Alogba said, “The entire teachers of this country are saying no to local government autonomy. Not that we have any fear or any grudge against the policy but because of the fact that local governments had been given such responsibility in the past, they failed woefully. That is the fear Nigerian teachers are entertaining. We are aware that the House of Representatives is handling the matter; we pray they represent the entire Nigerians very well. We would not want a situation whereby the recorded gains in the sector will be thwarted by this uncalled for autonomy.”

 

It was gathered that members of the Senate Constitution Review Committee, at their recent retreat in Lagos State, agreed that any council that is not under the control of elected chairmen should be excluded from benefitting from monthly allocations from the federation account. Therefore, when amended, the constitution may include a provision that will totally outlaw funding councils run by caretaker committees since there is no provision for such arrangement in the constitution.

 

The aim is to enhance effective performance of elected local government Chairmen. Before the fresh wave of agitation for the autonomy of local government, control of the affairs of the local councils was vested in the various ministries of local government and chieftaincy titles. This was part of the measures to ensure prudent management of resources at the grassroots level. But most analysts have criticized the supervisory role of the states because local governments have always been used as conduit pipe for siphoning money meant for development. This concern may have informed the decision of the senators to provide for a clause that would further be inserted in the constitution to authorise the Federal Government to release funds for the payment of local government staff while caretaker committees would be denied access to funds in states that may want to resist the new law. The belief in most quarters is that elected chairmen will perform better under autonomy arrangement given the support of the party.

 

It has equally been argued that abolition of state/local government joint accounts would check corruption as well as embezzlement of public fund. The implication is that elected officers will now be directly answerable to the people. Some pundits are, however, skeptical that council administrators may become reckless for lack of supervisory role of the state. But the proponents of the idea maintain that it is better for the electorate to be the watchdog than allowing the state to control council resources.

 

If as it is being suggested, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is given the power to conduct local government election as against state electoral bodies, it will be impossible for the ruling parties to manipulate election in favour of their candidates. At present, there is hardly any state where the opposition has won local government election. It has always been winner takes all syndrome.

 

A level playing ground that guarantees a free and fair contest will not only promote competiveness among parties in power but also accelerate the pace of development at the grassroots level. Unlike the present arrangement where governors use their power of incumbency to foist unpopular candidates on the people, performance will now be a yardstick for election of council officials. That way, it will strengthen the power of the people to demand accountability.

 

But there are fears and apprehensions among concerned stakeholders that conferring the power to supervise local government election on the INEC may be at variance with the principle of power devolution, which is primarily the objective of the new reform policy. Besides, the tendency is there that the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP) may want to use the federal might to penetrate the states under the control of the opposition, unless the INEC is determined to sustain its integrity as an unbiased umpire.

 

Even at that, the issue of speedy and fair resolution of electoral disputes that often arise from one irregularity or the other during the conduct of election may be a huge challenge to the judiciary. It will be recall the in the recent past, some judgments of the tribunals have raised a lot of questions on the integrity of the judiciary. A case in point is Osun and Ekiti State Appeal Court Tribunals which brought in Governor Rauf Aregbesola and Kayode Fayemi respectively. The way and manners the matter was handled has made many people to lose confidence in the judiciary. With the deluge of petitions that may likely follow local government election, the crisis of confidence now bedeviling the judiciary can only be best imagined. Only a staggered election can reduce the burden on the tribunal.

 

Source: Daily Sun

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