ALGON President, Nwabueze Okafor
Events & Reports
The Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), recently organised a three-day workshop where managers of local governments in the country, stakeholders and opinion leaders brainstormed with a view to finding lasting solutions to the problems militating against effective governance in the grassroots. Anayo Okolie reports
No doubt, the essence of the third tier of government in Nigeria is to provide development at the grassroots level. But this may have been far fetch, much as factors responsible for this have become subjects of recriminations.
A lot of people, without prompting, would naturally blame the state governments for the failure of councils to perform at optimal level. This, again, they are quick to attributing to different factors, including the non conduct of elections into the councils by many of the states.
The local government administration system is not alien. The system is designed to alleviate poverty and attract development to the grassroots being the closest tier of government to the people. But, over time, some state governments have denied the people the right to good governance for nearly a decade because they would not conduct election into the councils.
In 1999, former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, inaugurated the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), an umbrella body of all the 774 local government councils in Nigeria as part of moves to make the council system effective. Objective of the initiative is geared towards projecting and protecting the interests, rights, privileges, autonomy and improvement of local government of administration.
ALGON has since embraced its responsibility as well as shown commitment to good governance and accountability in decision making. Indeed, to ensure a functional local government system, the ALGON leadership has held various capacity-building programmes, both in Nigeria and abroad for its members.
But in spite of such efforts by the ALGON leadership, states like Abia, Anambra, Plateau, Edo, Bayelsa, Delta, Kogi, Benue, Nasarawa, Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Kano, Ondo, Oyo, Osun and Ekiti have not conducted elections into the councils. Although, some of the governors often latch on to reasons of court cases instituted against them by some tendencies in the state, more often than not, it is connected to lack of will on the part of leadership.
These and more, however, formed the basis of discourse at the 13th anniversary and general assembly of ALGON where stakeholders pondered the fate of local governments and some of the issues hindering the councils from living up to their billings.
In attendance were President Goodluck Jonathan, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Political Affairs, Dr. Ahmed Gulak; former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar; former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani; Governors Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu (Niger) and Raji Fashola (Lagos), Acting Governor of Enugu State, Sunday Onyebuchi; United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Terence McCulley, represented by Consul General, Jeff Hawkins; ALGON President, Nwabueze Okafor and President of the Forum of Local Government Federations in Canada, Dr. Rupak Chattopadhyay.
Others were Professor Muhammed Tawfiq Ladan of the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria; Professor Assisi Asobie of the University of Nigeria, UNN; Professor Haruna Dlakwa of the University of Maiduguri; Dr. Sampson Ebimaro; Professor Adejo Odoh, Professor Chikelue Ofuebe (UNN); Professor FC Okoli (UNN); Raymond Onyeguy Professor J I Elaigwu; Bamidele Aturu; and Dr Precious Kalamba Gbeneol, Senior Special Assistant to the President on MDGs.
Jonathan who spoke through Gulak said local government as the closest tier of government to the people deserves full autonomy and condemned a situation where some governors dissolve local councils at will and refuse to conduct elections.
“Vibrancy in the local governments means the constitution is functioning. Tenure of local governments depends on the whims and caprices of the state governors. That should not be so. The tenure of our local governments whether three or four years should be clearly defined in the Constitution.
“The President has no right to wake up and say he has dissolved a state government. So, why must a state governor dissolve a council? Why are we following the constitution in breach? We must live up to our duty and expectation of upholding and defending the constitution.
“The President is 100 per cent in support of ALGON because the local government is the closest tier of government to the people. He is in support of Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution as amended, which says that at every given time the local government must be democratically elected. The situation where some governors dissolve local governments is unconstitutional, illegal and unsustainable.”
One other issue he claimed is affecting the local governments is the joint account system.
“The President is concerned about the state-local government joint account. It erodes the autonomy of the local governments. The framers of the constitution did not envisage that the account will be run the way it is being run. The joint account means that allocation from the Federal Government and internally generated revenue must be put together for sharing but unfortunately, most local governments don’t get up to 20 per cent. How do the local government chairmen function without funds?
“It is for this reason that President Jonathan is fighting for full autonomy of the local government. So, continue to mobilize and sensitise people for the amendment to come through,” he said.
Former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar who inaugurated ALGON in 1999, 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.
Atiku said “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 of the councils are unable to say so for fear of angering their state governments.”
He 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,” he said.
The former veepee noted that “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.”
He stressed that over-centralisation of power and excessive concentration of resources at the federal level as well as 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, Governor Aliyu elucidated on the funding system. He noted that 20.60 per cent was grossly inadequate for councils to execute meaningful development projects, adding that the Federal Government was too far from the councils and therefore suggested an increase of seven percent to the current revenue allocation to strengthen the capacity of the councils to discharge their responsibilities and serve the people most effectively.
Aliyu disclosed that most of the councils in the country generate less than N10 million and have to depend on extra funds and helping hand from the joint account to discharge their responsibilities.
He said he was not among governors abusing the state-local council joint account, and that Niger State was a model in the management of the joint account which an independent committee oversees. He also stressed the need to empower councils to enable them improve their internally generated revenue drive to accelerate development at the grassroots.
“When we talk about ‘government’ and ‘governance’ to a layman, it conjures up the image of the Local Government Chairman and the Councilors, as well as the activities surrounding them. Therefore any attempt at deepening democracy in whatever context will be a fallacy unless it is focused on strengthening and rediscovering the local government system for improved service delivery to the people.
“Given the enormous responsibilities that the local government are saddled with, as spelt out clearly in the Constitution and the limited resources available to them by the present financing arrangement, what may seem more important at this point of our democratic development is to urge for a review of the federation allocation arrangement and even then restructuring of our federalism in such a manner that each tier of government should take only what it is best suited to do in terms of service delivery to the people,” Aliyu said.
His Lagos State counterpart, Fashola, who was represented by his Special Adviser on Political Affairs and Legislative Matters, Hon Musiliu Folarin, noted that the federal arrangement was non-negotiable because it is the surest way to improve development in the country. He advocated true fiscal and political federalism and devolution of power to the constituent units for every section to develop at its own pace.
According to him, the overall objective of governance at all levels is to improve governance and provide directly needed services and amenities to the citizenry. He urged Nigerians “to go back and ensure that your people are actually elected because Nigerian people must control their government.”
Nnamani, who decried the prevalence of unelected governments in most councils said development strides were being witnessed in councils where democracy prevails, adding that there is need for council budgets to be debated like those of the states and federal governments.
Acting Enugu Governor, Onyebuchi stressed the need to strengthen the councils and said the council system is very vital to development in general, adding that elsewhere the socio-economic advancement of countries was measured by the well-being of their rural citizens.
ALGON National President, Okafor who spoke earlier said in his opening address that the local governments being the closet to the people should be strengthened financially to carry out their statutory responsibilities to the people.
He noted that local governments provide the effective platform for communities to contribute and participate in the process of governance, adding that the top-down and skewed approach to development which tends to equate development of federal and state capitals with national development has done a great deal of damage to efforts to maximise the potential of the nation.
He held that some states where regular council elections have been well-established, have performed better and therefore urged states that are yet to hold council elections and the states that have no plan of conducting theirs to do so in order to deepen democracy in the country.
Okafor said that the concentration of development in the cities has proved very disastrous and only serve to encourage rural-urban migration, adding that even when efforts are made to develop the rural areas, the federal and state governments usually teleport such developments fully built up without the input and participation of the benefiting local communities.
Experience over the years, Okafor noted, has shown that the master-servant approach to national development is not only retrogressive but also unsustainable, adding that in view of the critical position of local government as host communities for over 70 percent of the nation’s population, local government should constitute the basic driver of the nation’s democracy and its development process.
According to the ALGON boss, any effort to develop the nation without the active involvement and participation of local governments would continue to end in what is being experienced over the years.
“We should learn a lesson from the event and development around the civilised world where municipal governments are growing in relevance.
“The necessity of committing more powers and resources to local government is underscored by the fact that local people have a better appreciation of local problems confronting them than outsiders. Their familiarity and its peculiarity with the local government enable them to respond innovatively to challenges and create local solutions to local problems through appropriate policies and this way, the civilised world is driving the socio-economic processes,” he said.
He however noted that ALGON is playing its role by carrying out primary obligation through representation and promotion of the interest of local government to catalyse the growth of grassroots democracy and development.
He asserted that good corporate governance is critical in the quest for a responsible and responsive local government system in Nigeria.
“If we advocate for adequate funding of local government, we also have the responsibility to insist and ensure that those whom public fund are entrusted are made sufficiently accountable. Therefore, the concern for accountability in the local government system is equally as critical as the need for local government autonomy.
United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Terence McCulley, who was represented by Consul General, Jeff Hawkins, said despite express provision of the 1999 constitution for a democratically elected local government, about half of 774 local government areas in Nigeria do not enjoy electoral mandate while some have not conducted elections since 1999.
“Local government elections are the right thing for average Nigerian citizens; they are also the right thing for local governments themselves. Nothing undermines the legitimacy of government more than the perception that it does not fully represent its constituents.”
McCulley promised that the US would work with ALGON to see through the reforms and take tough decisions that are necessary to strengthen the local councils.
In his opinion, Chairman of Kaiama Local Government Area of Kwara State, Abubakar Sadiq Ahmed, noted that the 13th anniversary was initiated to enable the system look back at the obstacles confronting the third tier of government and determine how to move the local government forward in the country.
He observed that in some states and councils, there were lots of achievements within the 13 years while in some, it is failure. “Some states, since 1999 have not conducted their local government election and they cannot be compared with a state like Kwara where there is no room for transition or caretaker chairmen because election is being held before the end of the tenure of the council chairmen.
According to him, there is big difference between elected and appointed managers of local government because the elected person is accountable to the people and he will try as much as possible to attract development to the area. But appointed person is accountable to the person that appointed him because there is no authority in the local government that can check him.
As a result, to strengthen the local government system and democracy, Ahmed noted that the grassroots need to be democratised because it will enable the grassroots people hold the chairmen accountable, which in turn will encourage political participation.