by Usman Alabi
Perhaps local government is that tier of government that is never considered or seen to be in the scheme of things, yet they play a very significant role in the polity. A lot of us have even forgotten that they exist and so do not place any demand on them especially when we are ignorant of their responsibilities. Every one look to the federal and state governments even for the most remote and minute of matters when in the real sense of the matter, such issues are within the purview of local government. It is not a coincidence that in the United States the Local government seems to be the most powerful tier of government not because of anything but based on the fact that they are closer to the people. At least, the people can easily identify with the government closer to them than one in a far away federal capital. They can identify with a chairman and councilor that is from them, and they can make direct complaints and monitor the activities of the government at that level with ease.
The local government is however systematically designed to be transparent and accountable whether it likes it or not. But this cannot be said of our clime basically because of political apathy and docility, ignorance and ambivalence. We have a tradition of not holding local government accountable for what are exactly their responsibilities even though their activities affect us in one way or the other. We just don’t ask questions about them. Let me inform us and remind those of us who already know that we have three tiers of government in the country and the local government is the third tier, they run their own form of government which is directly closer to the people, they are recognized in the constitution and are also saddled with constitutional responsibilities which they are bound to carry out, their offices are elective position, they draw up budget which are also passed by the state assemblies and they are expected to implement the budget in a fiscal year, they have allocation from both the federal and state government and also have internally generated revenue (IGR). And so they are bound to be held responsible and accountable to the people within their sphere of influence, but this can only happen when we begin to ask questions about them and take careful look at their activities.
The 1999 constitution places local government under state control, the main functions of the local government according to the constitution are:1)(a) The consideration and the making of recommendations to a planning or any similar body on the economic development of the state, particularly in so far as of authority of the council and of the state are affected;(b) collection of rates, radio and television licenses; (c) Establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm; (d) establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughterhouses, markets and motor parks; (e) construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lights, drains and other public highways, parks and gardens; (f) naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses; (g) provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal; (h) registration of all births, deaths and marriages. The second part of their responsibilities as stipulated in the constitution also includes, (a) the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; (B) the development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of minerals; and (c) the provision and maintenance of health services. Having known the responsibilities of local government as entrenched in the constitution, can we look around us in our local areas and confidently claim that our local government are carrying out these constitutional responsibilities, can they account for the allocation given them to carry out such responsibilities and the IGR. Though there had been argument about local government autonomy especially the aspect of financial autonomy, which also means that most local governments are starved of funds, but what happen to the ones they eventually get. The house of assembly in Lagos on the23rd of June this year approved the 2016 budget estimates for 20 local governments and Local council development areas (LCDA) in the state. The amount approved for each of the local governments ranges between one and two billion naira. Since the approval of their budget, can they be held responsible for effective use of the funds allocated to them?
Yet the onus lies on us to begin to ask questions about the deeds of government at that level, the local government must be made to run an open government system that would engage the people at the grassroots and ensure accountability. Only when we begin to take genuine interest in what is going on around us in our local area, when we begin to place demands on our local government area in terms of accountability and transparency can we say that we are fully aware.