Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar
By Christopher Isiguzo
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, Wednesday took a swipe at those calling for the scrapping of the local government system in the country, arguing that instead of scrapping the system, the third- tier government should be granted full autonomy in order to function properly.
Abubakar, who spoke on a day the Chairman of the Northern States Governors’ Forum (NSGF) and Niger State Governor, Alhaji Babangida Aliyu, advocated for an increased funding of the local government council, noting that the present 20.60 per cent was not only abysmally low but would make the councils to function below expectation.
The duo spoke at the 13th National Conference of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) in Enugu.
Atiku specifically noted that the inability of the local governments to function effectively was as a result of the over-bearing influence of the federal and state governments in the way they relate with the council.
“Nigeria’s local government still lacks reasonable autonomy to provide services and implement development projects for the local populations in an efficient and timely manner. Taking a cue from the over-bearing federal and state governments attitude in their relationships with local administration, many have been abusing the joint state-local government accounts by tampering with their funds. While these abuses go on, many councils are unable to say so for fear of angering their state governments,” he stated.
He also listed structural defects of the federation, the political practice and disregard for rules as the cause of the ineffectiveness of local council administration, noting that with full autonomy granted the councils, massive development would come to that level.
“The Federal Government is simply too distant to monitor what happens at that local level. For as long as our politics remains the domain of controlling godfathers at the federal and state levels devoid of internal party democracy, so long will our local governments remain at the back and call of whomever chooses contestants for local electoral offices.
“The point is that even if the local government funds come directly from the Federal Government and without the mediation of the joint state local government account, the dominant role of governors rather than party members in selecting candidates for local electoral offices will still not ensure autonomous, effective and responsive local government administration.
“Therefore, we need to find ways to ensure party democracy so that the selection of candidates for elections to the local and other levels is carried out by the generality of party members rather than a few godfathers. We need to allow independent candidature at the local government level during election,” Atiku said.
Continuing, he said the over centralisation of power and excessive concentration of resources at the federal level and abandonment of due process and regulations under military rule led to state’s abuse of local administrations.
“If we amend our constitution to have a genuine federal system rather than the near unitary system that we currently have, then there will be no need to enshrine the number of local governments in the constitution,” he said.
He also suggested self sufficiency in revenue generation of the council areas, maintaining that if proper taxes were generated from the sundry activities of the council administrations, it would go a long way in boosting the autonomy of the council areas.
On his part, Aliyu said the 20.60 per cent was grossly inadequate for them to execute meaningful development projects.
According to him, the Federal Government was too far from the councils, while suggesting an increase of seven percent to the current revenue allocation so as to strengthen their capacity to discharge their responsibilities and serve the people most effectively.
National President of ALGON, Nwabueze Okafor, posited that the local governments being the closet to the people should be strengthened financially to carry out its statutory responsibilities to the people, while noting that the conference was called to fashion ways of making the local governments more responsive to the yearnings of the people at the grassroots.