Paul Yovo with agency report looks into the lingering public concern for and against LG autonomy
Against the background of widespread public concern for some autonomy for Local Governments, many Nigerians are wary that many Chairpersons of councils are not disciplined enough with the resources that have so far been allocated to them by the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) for the developments of their areas. They allege that some state governments tamper with the funds in abuse of the 1999 Constitution which gives them power to manage the funds. Even so, opinions still vary as to what should be done to make LG function properly for the interests of the grassroots.
The question of whether local governments, the third tier of public administration in the country, should be granted autonomy was again thrown into the public domain recently when members of the Rivers State House of Assembly voted overwhelmingly against it. On Tuesday December 16, 2014 the house sat to consider amendments being proposed to some sections of the 1999 Constitution voted to reject the amendment of Section 4 sub-section (7), which seeks to grant local government councils autonomy.
The decision fuelled wild protests by members of the Rivers State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, who besieged the gates of the old Government House, Port Harcourt, where the state assembly sat, to register their rejection of the decision.
The summary of the message of the protesters was for the members of the state assembly to vote in line with the National Assembly which had earlier approved autonomy for the Local Government Autonomy governments. Vice- chairman of the Rivers State NULGE, Mr. Madighi Dickson, who led the protesters said they were in the House on a peaceful protest to demand that the legislators decide in favour of autonomy which was in line with the wishes of those who elected them. But the protests did not change the decision of the House, which rejected the amendment.
Recently, economists have proposed that if financial autonomy is granted to the local government councils, it would bring sanity in the management of the funds for rapid development at the grassroots. They recall that although some concerned stakeholders had recently called for the amendment of the section of the constitution that gives such power, most of the state governors opposed the amendment.
They also recalled that when the local government authorities were managing the funds in the past, they recorded impressive development projects such as construction of schools and roads, among others. In a move that some analysts describe as a reaction to the expectations of concerned Nigerians, President Muhammadu Buhari, revisited the issue of local government autonomy in his inaugural speech. Buhari said: “Elsewhere relations between Abuja and the states have to be clarified if we are to serve the country better.
“Constitutionally, there are limits to powers of each of the three tiers of government but that should not mean the Federal Government should fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments. “Not least the operations of the Local Government Joint Account, while the Federal Government cannot interfere in the details of its operations, it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked.
“As far as the constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. “ For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow abuse under my watch.’’ Expectedly, the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) was among the stakeholders that commended the president’s speech in that regard. Mr Ibrahim Khaleel, the President of the union, who was also a member of the 2015 National Conference, made this commendation recently in Abuja.
“I like every bit of the speech; it was encouraging, assuring and inspirational; Mr President was kind to every Nigerian. “I am particularly happy on his determination to institute a strong inter- governmental platform for each tier of government to operate within limits. “His willingness to confront the issues in local government head-on is a welcome development,’’ he said. In his opinion, Alhaji Gambo Sallau, the former Speaker, Kano State House of Assembly, stressed that development at the grassroots would continue to suffer as long as the constitution supported Joint Account system.
According to him, the Joint Account system enables the state governments to exercise unnecessary control over local governments’ finances. He, nonetheless, noted that the president had to convince the legislators and governors on the need to amend the relevant sections of the constitution. Sallau said the governors would continue to take advantage of the Joint Account to interfere in the management of local councils’ fund if the presidency did not take action.
Sharing similar sentiments, Malam Jabiru Danlami, the President of NULGE, Kaduna State chapter, said local governments should be empowered to run their affairs for sustainable rural development because they were closer to the masses.
“Money allocated to local governments is always diverted by the state governments in the name of Local Government Joint Account. “Once local governments are given autonomy, the issue of Joint Account will be history,’’ he said. In the light of the new administration’s resolve to bring change in governance, Gov. Aminu Masari of Katsina State, said that he would not tamper with local government funds irrespective of the provision of the constitution that gave the state government power in that respect. He said his administration would rather establish a mechanism to monitor the expenditures of the local governments and punish any official who mismanaged the funds.
“All forms of embezzlements will not be condoned as there will be checks and balances in the expenditure of the local councils in the state,’’ he said. The governor assured the public that the local councils would be allowed to execute their contracts and would not be compelled to contribute money for joint projects with the state government. In the same vein, Gov. Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun said that it would be in his interest if local government councils were granted autonomy because a lot of responsibilities would move to the local governments. “Those governors that say that the autonomy thing will not favour them are those governors that deduct from local government allocation from the Federal Allocation.
“If they have the autonomy they are craving for, definitely they will be on their own completely. He, however, warned that “as it is, things may collapse, because the council areas do not have the wherewithal to generate funds as they don’t have the platform for it. “They need the support of the state and that has been my experience since I became the governor of the state,’’ he noted. But Alhaji Abubakar Babawuro, Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) Chairman in Gombe State, opined that operating a joint account between local government councils and states had its positive side.
He noted that in Gombe State, the government gave 10 per cent of internally-generated revenue to the councils. He observed that without the assistance, the share of some council from the Federation Account would not be enough to pay even staff salaries. “With my experience as local government chairman of Gombe Local Government Area, I can tell you that even if granted financial autonomy, the council cannot function effectively without the state government,’’ he said.
But Dr Michael Oke of the Department of Banking and Finance, Ekiti State University, Ado Ekiti, insisted that unconstitutional control of local governments by governors had impeded performance of local governments. He said that local governments should take care of projects such as pipe-borne water, observing that “this and lots more cannot be achieved because its finance is being siphoned by state governments and the local governments can no longer embark on any development projects.’’
Oke also decried the policy of appointing caretaker administrations instead of conducting elections that could ensure that people voted for their own leaders. Dr Francis Fagboun, the Head, Department of Local Government Studies, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ile, commended Buhari for his stance on the administration of the local governments. He urged him to do everything within the ambit of the constitution to “liberate local governments from the shackles of state governors.’’
Also, Mr Deji Gbadeyan, a constitutional lawyer, decried the misinterpretation of Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution. He said Section 162 (sub 6 & 7) of the constitution is meant to protect the autonomy of local government councils. “There is nothing wrong with section 162, it is a perfect law but the interpretation by the stakeholders is faulty.
“Section 162 of the constitution was enacted to make the local governments more vibrant and development-oriented. “But what we are seeing today in the interpretation of the section is that allocation to the local government from Federation Account now passes through the state government which keeps it on hold. “Local governments and the states then meet on the issue of finance where the state then dictates what quantum of finance should go to the local government.
“Whatever is due to the local government, they share it just like states share from the Federation Account. “If there is any joint project being executed by both the state and the local government, the joint account will take care of it,’’ Gbadeyan said. He recalled that local government councils were a creation of the constitution just like the state governments. For effective local government administration in the country, analysts therefore plead with the presidency to address the issue of local governments’ autonomy constitutionally.