Persistent clamour for administrative and financial autonomy for local government areas in Nigeria seem to be a tall dream, as state governors oppose the move, ADEBIYI ADEDAPO writes.
From the inception of local government councils in Nigeria, there had been persistent clamour for the autonomy of the local government as the third tier of governance in the federation.
The fourth schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended, highlighted functions of local government to include construction and maintenance of roads, provision of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal, provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education, the development of agriculture and natural resources (other than the exploitation of minerals), and the provision and maintenance of health services.
Also, section 162 (3) of the constitution provides that any amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account shall be distributed among the Federal and State Governments and the local government councils in each state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
In as much as the above section of the constitution suggests autonomy for the local governments, section sub-section five of the same section 162 (5&6) provides that any amount standing to the credit of local governments in the Federation Account shall be allocated directly to the states for the benefit of their local government councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
This practice has however put the administration of local councils at the mercy of state governors, as many governors run local governments in their states as though they are departments under the state government.
In the forward of the guidelines for the 1979 local government reforms, it was clearly remarked that, the states have continually encroached upon what would have been the exclusive preserve of local governments, as the local government was granted the power of grassroots governance with apparent improvement in the autonomy as the third tier of government in the country.
In pursuant to this, the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), said it would continue to advocate for the autonomy of local governments from the control of state governments.
Already, the House of Representatives had, in 2016, passed for a second reading, a bill for an Act seeking amendment of section 162(5) and 162(6) of the constitution so as to grant financial autonomy for the LGAs.
The bill, sponsored by the member representing Isuikwato/Umunneochi federal constituency of Abia State, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha in effect seeks to abolish the Joint States/LGA accounts, so the 774 local governments can directly receive from the Federal Allocation, same manner as the states.
NULGE President, Mr. Ibrahim Khaleel, recently stated that the campaign would be a nationwide exercise, first at zonal levels in Lafiya, Calabar, Lagos, Kano, Enugu and Jalingo with grand finale at Abuja.
According to him, autonomy of local governments will address the situation whereby funds meant for operations of local governments get to them unhindered.
Khaleel, thereby urged Federal Government to look into the realisation of the autonomy of the councils for the people at the grassroots to benefit maximally from their services.
However, it is worthy to note that the amendment is being re-introduced in the eighth assembly. Onyejeocoha co-sponsored same bill in the sixth assembly, while former member, Hon. Uche Ekwunife sponsored it in the seventh assembly. In the last regime, the House successfully passed a bill seeking full autonomy: administratively and financially, for the LGAs, but the 2/3 approval of the 36 state assemblies requirement to effect constitutional amendment, could not be secured.
Stakeholders blame this development on the influence of the state governors, as they are poised to be stumbling blocks to this project, since they have resolved within themselves never to surrender the state local government accounts.
Director-general, of the Rotimi Amaechi-led faction of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), Asishana Okauru in 2014, maintained that the body would not change its opposition on the issue.
Similarly, the Jonah Jang’s faction of the NGF resolved to mobilise lawmakers in their respective states against the amendment.
Secretary of Jang’s faction, Earl Osaro Onaiwu, released a statement which indicated that the governors differed with the national assembly over the move to amend the constitution and grant local governments full administrative and financial autonomy.
“The push for local government autonomy by the national assembly was hasty without first considering the problems of executive recklessness and ineffective administration at the local level,” Onaiwu said.
Also, in 2013, governors of the All Progressive Congress (APC) at the end of their meeting, rejected autonomy for Nigerian local governments.
The governors, in a communiqué released after their meeting in Lafia, said the National Assembly was right by not including local government autonomy in the ongoing constitutional amendment.
The eight-point communiqué released after their five-hour meeting in Lafia was read by former Ekiti State governor, who is now the minister of Mines and Steel Development, Dr. Kayode Fayemi.
The governors said autonomy for the local governments would undermine the fundamental principle of federalism and push the country towards a unitary system.
The meeting of then governors, under the auspices of Progressive Governors Forum (PGF), was attended by nine governors and one deputy governor.
The attendees were the host, Umaru Al-Makura of Nasarawa, Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, Babatunde Fashola (Now minister of Power, Works and Housing) of Lagos, and Abdullazez Yari of Zamfara. Others are Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun, Adams Oshiomhole (former) of Edo, Rauf Aregbesola of Osun, Kashim Shettima of Borno, and Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo. The deputy governor of Imo, Eze Madumere, also attended the meeting.
The communiqué reads: “Recognising the fact that federalism is the basis of our sovereignty, is a matter within the purview of the federating unit and every attempt to legislate by the national assembly on the aspect of local government administration will tilt the country towards a unitary state. This will undermine and weaken the fundamental principle of federalism.”
The governors also recommended that the power to amend the revenue allocation formula be removed from the presidency and given to the National Assembly.
Nevertheless, contrary to the governors’ view, Minority Leader of the House, Hon. Leo Ogor said Nigeria could not be considered to truly be a federating state, until there was full autonomy for the third tier of government, which is the tier closest to the people.
“FG is providing electricity, providing water, and everything, that is why they are trying to borrow everything. We have mineral resources in the states, bitumen etc. but everything lies in the hands of the FG. The system is not working for us, so we have to go back to the drawing table and allow the states and local governments to operate while the Federal government concentrates on security,” he said.
Ogor advocated that several items be taken off the exclusive list, as the FG is ‘biting more than it can chew’ which is slowing down national development.
“There are amendments to the constitutions that are coming that would take care of things like this,” Ogor said.
Meanwhile, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has rekindled efforts towards realising autonomy to local governments.
Dogara, who recently called on Nigerians to lend their voices to the push for financial and administrative autonomy for local governments in the country, noted that if state Houses of Assembly are not pressurised, they may not vote in favour of the proposal.
According to the Speaker, state governors who are beneficiaries of the present arrangement will do everything possible to ensure that the proposed Constitution Amendment to wrest control of the resources of local governments from state governors does not scale through.
He also enjoined civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, community based organisations, to support the agitation,
Dogara, who urged President Muhammadu Buhari to give support to the clamour for local government autonomy, as promised in his inaugural address on May 29, 2015, said actualising financial autonomy for local governments will be in line with President Muhammadu Buhari’s resolve not to allow people under him betray the trust Nigerians have placed on them as leaders.
“This is a betrayal of trust given to some elected officials by the people who now abuse this trust,” he said, referring to some governors who divert funds meant for the development of local government areas. It will take more than the will of the legislature at the federal level to ensure that these radical changes are achieved. We all know that in the last assembly, when we passed it to the states, most of the states voted it down that they don’t want the autonomy for local government councils. And in the process of amending the Constitution, the state legislators must be engaged, and we will have to have a return of 2/3rd approval from the state assemblies. So if we put forward these proposals and we fail to gather 2/3rd support, it means that automatically it has failed and there is nothing that we can do about it,” he said.
The speaker also charged local government workers to step up agitation for local government autonomy, saying only through their individual and collective efforts will the desired change be achieved.
He noted that no progress can be achieved in the local government if the present status quo of interference and administration by state governors is retained.
Dogara argued that state governors would have extricated themselves from blame if they let local governments free.
According to him, progress can never be gotten by maintaining the status quo and the House has chosen to ensure that the ongoing Constitution Amendment exercise captures the yearnings of millions of Nigerians for development in the grassroots.
“For us as representatives of the people, we have heard the cry of the people and we know that the only way we can add value to local governments is by giving them political and financial independence,” he stated.