Hon. Nwabueze Okafor
National President of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Hon. Nwabueze Okafor, speaks with Anayo Okolie on the need to strengthen the local government system as a way of checking poor governance. Excerpts:
Why is there the rampant belief that the third tier of government has failed to deliver?
I would rather say that something is fundamentally wrong; and that is the issue of joint account that was provided for in the constitution. Some of the state governors who are not as concerned as others in strengthening the local government system might have exploited that gap in the constitution by taking actions that are not helping the third tier of government to develop.
In what areas do you think the National Assembly can assist with the ongoing constitution review to enhance the local government administration?
Our greatest concern is making sure that democracy is strengthened at the local government level. So, we are going to make presentation to ensure that local government councils are run by democratically elected government so that the people can participate in decision-making that will culminate in good governance at that tier of government. This is because when appointed by somebody or a governor, that person is responsible to only that person that appointed him. But if elected by the people, you know you have to provide for them because if you don’t do that, they will not vote you again. So, that is where we will make presentation to the National Assembly to ensure that it is well stated in the constitution that local government councils can only be run by democratically elected government.
Second, on the issue of joint account, we are equally hoping that something will be done on that to enable the local governments to draw allocation directly from the Federation Account instead of depending on state.
As National President of ALGON, what really are your plans for the association?
ALGON is for the people and whatever we are doing today we consider the people because if ALGON is not doing it well it will affect the people. After the official handover by the former President, Felix Akhabue, we tried to articulate programmes for the association, some of which aimed at strengthening the local government system; to strengthen democracy at the local level by fighting for the constitution and legal recognition of democracy at that level of government because what we have in the country in recent time is a system where democracy is almost killed at the grassroots level which is the level that people participate most. It is the level that people have access to, and that is also the level that people at the grassroots can connect easily.
But now you will find a situation where more than half of the local government areas in Nigeria are not run by democratically elected government and that is killing democracy at that level and that is the only level that can strengthen democracy because there is mass participation in local government activities. The people know their local government chairmen and can assess them easily than other elected persons.
One of our programmes is to strengthen democracy at that level and to ensure that the grassroots people have the ability to elect their representatives themselves because it is only when you have democracy at the local level that the people can participate in the election of their councillors so that when they don’t have access to their local government chairmen, they can easily reach their councillors. But when you have a transition committee, caretaker committee and management committee at the local government level, the people are denied of councillors.
If there will be progress in Nigeria, we have to ensure that there is democracy at all tiers of government. These are some of the programmes that we are going to pursue to ensure that democracy is strengthened at the local government level by partnering other tiers of government (federal and state). We have created a platform to partner and sensitise them on the need to have a robust and functional local government system in Nigeria.
Your responsibility as ALGON president cuts across the 774 local government areas in the country, how do you cope?
Some of the challenges we have had in the past is that the association has not been able to create a sufficient linkage between the local government councils in different parts of the federation. We have not been able to come together and develop the capacity to get the local government councils together to pursue programmes that are people-oriented. But presently, we are working hard to build a stronger and united association of local governments.
For the short time you have been in office, what can you say are your achievements?
We have done a lot in providing infrastructure for our people, especially in the area of health and education because my local government is very peculiar and it is a local government that has both rural and urban components and because the rural part of the local government area had been neglected for a very long time, when we assumed office, we started by making sure we tackled the issue of infrastructure in the rural communities. Today, we have been able to build roads connecting all neighbouring local government areas.