All stakeholders should work towards making the local government councils independent, including financial autonomy
The recent threat by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) to move against any attempt to grant autonomy to the local governments should be seen as a serious affront on the nation’s constitution which in the first place is the basis for their being in office. The 1999 constitution provides for a three-tier government, namely federal, state and local governments. In fact the constitution clearly defines the federating units of Nigeria and the local government areas in section 3(1) stating that there shall be 36 states in the country. And in section 3(6), that there shall be 768 local government areas in Nigeria as shown in the second column of Part 1 of the First Schedule of the constitution.
There is therefore no ambiguity concerning the existence of the local government system of administration in the country. That is why we wonder why the governors have suddenly become so agitated over a constitutionally guaranteed arrangement for the good governance of the country. But we know why: The governors have since 1999 rendered the local government administration in their states so ineffectual to the extent that they now feel it should be done away with completely.
According to the Chairman of the Forum, Mr. Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State, the governors would not support the granting of autonomy to local government council, adding emphatically that they would do everything possible to frustrate any move by the National Assembly to grant such powers. Adducing reasons for this position, Amaechi said the state governments now pay teachers’ salaries across the country. Consequently, he said, there was no need for any extra powers or financial autonomy for local administration in the sense that money released to the councils were usually squandered by the local government chairmen.
First we consider Amaechi’s argument as seriously flawed. If state governments oppose the release of money to local government chairmen for fear that the money could be squandered, how about the federal government holding back their monthly allocation from the federation account on the same ground that the governors would squander it? Indeed, there is abundant evidence that some governors are equally guilty of the kind of financial malfeasance they are now accusing the LG chairmen of.
In throwing his weight behind the campaign against Local Government autonomy, Lagos State Governor Babatunde Fashola, SAN, argued: "Thus, it is provided that each State legislature must establish LGCs and make statutory provisions for their structure, functions and finance. The constitution also provides that LGCs will participate in the socio-economic affairs of the state. Although local governments are guaranteed a share of the funds accruing to the Federation Account, their share is required to be allocated to the relevant states for the benefit of the LGCs in accordance with the applicable state law." Fashola added that "It is our position that any proposal to confer LGCs with autonomy, distribute funds directly to them and make them into federating units would be erroneous."
We do not think the Governors are right on this issue. We believe they are simplyexploiting the silence of the constitution regarding a protective mechanism that guarantees financial and political autonomy to the councils. It is the same way that majority of the governors have raped the democratic institution by refusing to conduct local government elections in their states. To now rub insult on the injury, the governors want to kick againsttheautonomy thatwas designed to bring about effective governance at the grassroots level.
We find everything wrong with the NGF’s audacious move, and we would advise the National Assembly to ignore the governors’ threat. We therefore urge all critical stakeholders to work towards affirming the autonomy of the Local Government system, particularly its financial autonomy.