President of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON), Ozo Nwabueze Okoafor has joined the campaign for autonomy for local governments in Nigeria, stating that what the councils needed to perform is financial autonomy and not sovereignty.
The ALGON president said that it is unacceptable to the association that the state governments will be the wheel of progress for a democratic financial autonomy for local governments’ administration in Nigeria.
In a statement, he signed, the ALGON President said, “As federating units, local government councils require the right level of administrative and financial autonomy (not sovereignty) to be able to discharge the weighty responsibilities and functions assigned to them by the Constitution.
“It is therefore, important to clarify the raging confusion and allay the fears of those who think that autonomy means that local governments are sovereign entities outside the realm of federal and state governments’ oversight. Rather, autonomy means that local government councils shall receive their share of federal allocation and part of the internally generated revenue of their states, and exercise the authority to appropriate such funds for the development of their areas of jurisdiction.
“This is the approach in major civilised democracies. Autonomy can only threaten political leaders who prefer to build empires and who see themselves as demi-gods even in a democratic environment. The ALGON President said.
The ALGON President who blamed the undemocratic heads of local government administration as those opposing the autonomy for the local government said that local government as federal units have constitutional roles to play.
He said, “Apparently the only relationship provided by the 1999 constitution as amended between state governments and the councils is captured in Section 7 subsection 3 and it says, “It shall be the duty of a local government council within the state to participate in the economic planning and development of the area referred to in sub-section 2 of this Section and to this end, an economic planning board shall be established by a law enacted by the house of assembly of the state.”
“It is very regrettable that some media utterances opposing the autonomy of local government councils are coming from respected stakeholders who essentially understand the importance of grassroots development and the level of impoverishments being experienced as a result of make-shift arrangements of local government administration. These include, caretaker committees, transition committees, sole administrators, and head of personnel management etc.”
According to the ALGON President, “the truth remains that in the advanced democracies the world-over, local governments are recognised as a separate tier of government with an increasing role to play in promoting grassroots democracy and socio-economic growth.
“Furthermore, that the Nigerian Constitution recognises local councils as a third tier of government with the right to participate in sharing both revenue and responsibilities amply shows that local councils are federating units. (Sections 3 (6), 7, 162 (3), (7) & (8), 313 and Fourth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution as amended)”, he said.
Lampooning the state governments of standing the complete autonomy of the local governments, the ALGON president said, “It is an irony that while state governments are agitating that the federal government should get off their backs; they are at the same time opposing the autonomy of the third tier of government.
“The indispensable roles that local government play the world-over in grassroots development will continue to serve as a sharp rebuke to those who are opposed to the liberation of this tier of government from the shackles hindering its effective functioning,” he explained.
In a direct rebuke of the state governments’ opposition to local governments autonomy, the ALGON president said, “We wish to advise that in exercising our rights of freedom of expression on the issue of the desirability or otherwise of local government autonomy, we should not lose sight of the need to place national interest above personal/group considerations. This is because, if we must grow our country in the right order, namely from bottom to top, we should be mindful of the vital role of local governments and resist the temptation to undermine the current constitutional amendment exercise through endless arguments and postulations.
“In a constitutional and democratic dispensation as ours, with ample safeguards against abuse of power within the context of rule of law and due process, state governments are expected to be custodians of peoples’ rights and freedom of expression. Therefore to make contributory opposition that would undermine the positive impact on the nation’s nascent democracy is unacceptable,” the ALGON president said.