L-R: Governors Ibrahim Shema (Katsina), Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), Liyel Imoke (Cross River) and Patrick Yakowa (Kaduna)...the governors are seen as problems of the local governments
Except there is a degree of autonomy and democratic semblance in the administration of local governments in the country, the reign of aberration may as well become a permanent feature of that tier of government, writes Ayodele Opiah
Indeed, democratic governance is about the masses and their welfare. The fact that local government has a role in that respect is not subject to debate, given their closeness to the people. Therefore, the state governments cannot lay claims to transmitting development to the grassroots when there are no democratically elected chairmen in the councils.
Further compounding this are several other issues. For instance, there have been such arguments on whether or not the local government should be scrapped since they have become mere administrative vehicles of the states without autonomy. The issue of joint account is also believed to have accentuated the stagnation currently being experienced in the development of local governments.
There is the believe that the joint account system has is more of an avenue for state governments to access funds belonging to the councils and misappropriate under the guise of collective development of the state. The Joint Account Allocation Committee (JAAC), a financial platform between states and councils had once alleged diversion of funds from such arrangement. It said the deductions from local governments’ allocations under the guise of implementing capital projects by some state governors are fast turning councils to lame duck.
A national daily in one of its recent reports had claimed to have learnt that the tactical delay in the conduct of local government polls by some state governments and appointment of caretaker committee chairmen to pilot the affairs of the councils are part of the ploy by governors to feast on the resources of the councils.
Thus, analysts are of the view that if the trend is not curtailed in time, socio-economic operations of large number of local governments may be grounded, while the current inability of some chairmen to pay their workers’ salaries may linger than envisaged.
THISDAY Checks revealed that the combination of revenue from the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee (FAAC) and the statutory 10 percent of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) that goes into the coffers of JAAC is a clear cut stipulation within the framework of the 1999 Constitution. But, the combined effects of the shortfalls in allocations accruable to states and councils from May 2012, health workers’ special scale and the implementation of the new national minimum wage have made it extremely difficult for the third tier of government to effect prompt payment of salaries in recent months.
The development is already pitching the Nigeria Union of local Government Employees (NULGE) against some state governors, with the threats of strike.
Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Amichi in Anambra State, Rev. Ephraim Ikeakor, once noted that “in as much as we continue to commend the Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi for the good work he is doing, it still beats one’s imagination why the government of Anambra State has bluntly refused to conduct local government election.
For instance, in Kwara State, while the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), led by Mr. Adebayo Ishola, described as untrue, allegation that the state government was extorting or collecting money from the 16 local government councils, NULGE is already mobilising its members to down tools over late payment of workers’ salaries.
The deliberate attempt to indirectly continue to promote a sense of insecurity which shields governors from being accountable to the people they govern is believed to be another reason they are afraid to have elected local government administrators at the grassroots level. It is believed that they want to continuously sell the fear factor so that people will cease to ask questions about how resources are channeled and for what use. Though, not many would agree with this submission, it is however, the belief in certain quarters.
Secretary of NULGE in Oyo State, Chief Joseph Oguntimehin, contended that local governments were constitutionally guaranteed and recognised under Nigeria’s constitution, but insisted that JAAC, through which state governments allegedly fleece and stifle councils should be criminalised by the National Assembly.
“We are aware that governors are ganging up to further make local governments mere departments under them. Already, constitution empowers them to create additional councils. The state governments feed on councils’ funds; they won’t like the councils to be scrapped. Rather, they want a system where the councils will be mere appendages.
“Monthly allocations to all councils are published in the national dailies by the Federal Ministry of Finance. A local government got about N130 million recently and what eventually got to that council was less than N30 million. If you ask, the governor would tell you the balance has been deployed to pay primary school teachers and so on.
“What we are saying is that these councils should be allowed to pay their bills. There is a Supreme Court judgment which says funding of primary schools should be joint responsibility of states and councils. But they did not allow that verdict to take effect because the governors have turned themselves to alpha and omega in their respective states,” he said.
While warning that the development would culminate in the incapacitation of the councils, Oguntimehin said: “The other perspective to it is that they usually do not allow local government election to hold. How many states have conducted council polls since the last general election? They prefer to use caretaker chairmen who are their stooges.
“The truth is that we all must agree, that any governor that has so far refused to conduct local government elections or set in motion the process of election at that level in their various states are despotic, undemocratic and should be recommended for impeachment if their state Houses of Assembly are still alive, he said.
Unfortunately, while the state of the councils is appalling, there seems not to be hope in sight for a breath of fresh air since the state Houses of Assembly which is the only institution that can rescue them are also under the claws of the executive. As a result, the aberration in the councils may have become a permanent feature except, perhaps, they are scrapped and stop the ongoing looting in the name of local governments.