Nwabueze Okafor, National President, Association of Local Government of Nigeria
The importance of local governments’ autonomy was stressed in Gombe State last Saturday during the council elections in the state, Chuks Okocha writes
As the third tier of government and the closest to the people, the constitutional responsibilities of the local governments cannot be over-emphasised. From supervising and taking care of such duties like markets administration, primary health and grassroots developmental need, local government is as important a stakeholder in a federal system.
Surprisingly as records have shown, there are no properly constituted local government administrations in over twenty states of the federation. To compound this scenario, local government autonomy is also not guaranteed in the constitution. As such, state governments have continued to see the local governments as mere administrative vehicle, and this has continued to reflect in the relationship between the states and councils as less important.
It is against this backdrop that an evaluation of local government administration in Gombe state has become a pride of focus because the state administration under Governor Ibrahim Dankwambo stands out amongst its peers in Nigeria by giving autonomy to all the 11 local government administrations in the state in line with the dictates of the constitution.
Upon assumption of office, the governor ensured that the local governments enjoyed autonomy in all issues including finances. It is Dankwanbo’s view that with prudence in financial management and project implementation in the eleven local governments in the state, the councils would continue to serve as a most useful link between the state and the people.
Drawing largely on the recently concluded local government election in the state and comparing it with voter apathy during elections in the country, the turnout of eligible voters has been seen as a product of improvement in the education and enlightenments in the local government administration in the state. In the state, the local government administrations took it upon themselves to ensure adequate mobilization to the extent that there was intense enlightenment.
For the first time in the state, the people, save for the two local government areas of Gombe and Kwami, freely expressed themselves, men and women, exercised their franchise and witnessed nine chairmanship candidates of the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, return unopposed; a political development widely applauded by the observer team that turned up at the various voting centres in the state.
One clear interpretation of last Saturday’s election in the state is the influence of education and its creative expansion in a state that hitherto wallowed in abject poverty and want, and second, the creation of wealth through an efficient skill acquisition programme as a panacea to youth restiveness, in addition to provision of basic social infrastructure and promotion of trade and commerce.
Again, the governor’s pro-poor initiative, christened, the Conditional Cash Grant aimed at providing for the aged has been roundly applauded as one of the best welfare scheme to be introduced in the affairs of government in Nigeria.
As result of the policies of Dankwanbo, voting during the election became a representative democracy, the most common form of participation by the people, bent on reciprocating the administration’s gesture. For many indigenes of the state, the election was seen purely as a civic responsibility and not snatching of ballot boxes that often characterize similar exercise in other parts of the country.
This was a far departure from previous exercises and other elections. The people, for sake of education and enlightenment, regarded the election as a necessary civic duty devoid of violence.
The election, therefore, became a fundamental facet of citizenship tagged ‘the right to vote’. This was because voters opted for one of the four most potential responses open to them - loyalty to a state chief executive who had cared so much for them within the last two years.
With his achievements in office between 2011 and 2013, he has proved that politics is not all about failed promises, but being able to deliver with honour. The positive effects of his administration on the people as seen in education which gulps over 40 percent of the state’s budget has gone down to reduce the level of illiteracy in the state and enhanced enlightenment. This explains the understanding and appreciation of the state to the governor’s policies.
A combination of his political philosophy and moral standing are the hallmarks against which the Dankwambo phenomenon in Gombe state is understood.