by Aliyu A. Ammani
The idea of local government councils was born out of the need to bring government closer to the people as a mechanism for engendering socio-economic development at the grassroots level. However, reading section 7 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, non-lawyers like this writer, cannot fail but see the incongruity in it. This incongruity, in my view, is the bane of local government administration in Nigeria since 1999.
Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution guaranteed a system of Local Governments (LGs) by democratically elected Local Government Councils (LGCs), but all benefits that are derivable by this constitutional provision, the dividends of democracy, were taken away in the same breath by the same section of the Constitution’s tying the LGCs to the State Governments’ apron strings. This led to the negation of the practice of democracy and social justice: as the LGCs functionaries’ ability to be directly responsible to their respective LGs is compromised.
Most of what we see today as the poor performance of the LGCs in Nigeria is a consequence of what State governments do to LGCs. Many State Governors, and their ‘appendage’ Houses of Assembly, are behaving as if they do not realize that local governments are indeed a constitutionally guaranteed third tier of government and that the LGCs are made of constitutionally guaranteed democratically elected officials. We see State Governors removing elected LGCs’ Chairmen as if they are bureaucrats appointed by the state governments.
This interference of state governments in LGs administration, particularly as it borders on the utilization of funds and the exercise of political power, presupposes that the elected LGCs’ officials are more of a bunch of gumption less nincompoops that cannot be trusted with the running of their respective LGs; rather than a team of competent politicians elected for a purpose, which they are suppose to be.
Many LGC chairmen are forced by circumstances to breech on the social contract entered between them and the electorates via the electoral process, as their hands remain tied. In any conflict of interest or priority between an elected LGC chairman and the state government/governor, the state government/governor prevails or the chairman lost his seat. In situation where there is party difference between the LGC chairman and the state government, the LGC chairman has his concretely mapped programme of bringing progress to his people frustrated by the state government for obvious reasons. In some cases, a vindictive member of the state House of Assembly who feels he has an old score to settle with his LGC’s chairman will be too happy to strangle any popular programme the LGC chairman may embark upon. And so on and so forth.
Consequently, there now exist a profound disconnect between the LGCs and the people. The elected LGC officials no longer feel or aspire to be accountable to the people, they look up to the state governor and spend considerable amount of time and resources trying to be in his good book. This, in my view, makes the state governors run the LGs as fiefdoms. Thus, what is intended to be the government of the people, by the people and for the people is emasculated at the local government level. In Nigeria today governance at the LG level is anything but for the people!
From all indications, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will be reviewed within the lifespan of this administration. There is no future for the LGCs unless and until they are freed from the shackles of state governments. If the Constitution is reviewed we will like to see the local government councils as independent of the state governments as the state governments are independent of the Federal Government: a third tier of government for all intent and purpose. After all, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
The tenure of LGCs across the length and breadth of Nigeria should be made uniform and clearly stated: preferably a 4-year term as obtained in the 2 other higher tiers of government; so that LGCs should no longer be axed at the whim and caprices of state governors. Local government councils should assume full legislative powers insofar as such powers are within their constitutionally assigned responsibility as does their counterparts in the 2 other higher tiers of government: the power to check the excess of the LGC chairman including the power to remove the chairman from office where necessary, should be vested in the council members.
The LGs should receive direct Federation Account allocation as does the other 2 tiers of government. The so-called State and LGs Joint Accounts supposedly set to fund grassroots projects remain an avenue through which LGs’ funds are diverted and misapplied with impunity. This contributes in no small measure, to the impotency of local government administration.
The way local governments are run in Nigeria today make complete gobbledygook of their place as the third tier of government. Elected LGC officials are cowed, intimidated and reduced to bootlickers and lackeys of the state governors; they seem to have no will of themselves, they do what the state governors want and not what they, in their heart of hearts feel and know their people actually want. Sometimes I wonder, why do we need elected LGCs’ officials in the first place if they cannot take political decisions commensurate with their responsibilities on their own? Why don’t we simply appoint civil servants in their place and let the LGCs be administered as mere appendages of the state governments’ bureaucracy instead of deceiving ourselves that the LGs are the third tier of government?
From 1999 to date, State governments have continued to interfere with the conduct and performance of the local government councils. Such powers of interference have to be checked, curbed or minimized to allow the LGs breathe a new lease of life. This is the only way they can effectively perform their strategic functions of bringing socio-economic development to the grassroots. Any worthwhile constitution review process, in my view, must take cognizance of this.