Governor Rotimi Amaechi
Not many people, it would seem, have paid due attention to it, I mean the recent effusion of the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors’ Forum and Rivers State Governor Rotimi Amaechi. Shorn of all embellishments, cut to the bone, it seems to me that what Governor Amaechi is saying is the local councils should continue to be emasculated. Amaechi had given indications that the NGF would oppose any constitutional provision granting autonomy to local councils as one of the federating units. He spoke last week when he received members of the House of Representatives Committee on Youth and Social Development led by Hon. Kamil Akinlabi Mudashiru who visited him at the Government House in Port Harcourt. Amaechi insists on the sanctity of only two federating units - the states and federal government - in a federal system.
To be fair, it’s that way in most federal system particularly in the United States and Germany. In some federal systems where the states and the federal governments are the federating units, states even have more powers. But in our own federal system, it would seem the drafters of our constitution wanted to see the local councils as a separate tier of government, yet they failed to give them the matching powers to go with it. While Section 7 of the constitution guarantees the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils, the same constitution also enjoins state governments to regulate affairs of the councils.
I sympathise with our local councils. They have been turned into pawns in the hands of our executive governors. They are now mere appendages of the state governments. That is why it’s only in a few states today that you would find elected chairmen and councillors in place. What you have in most cases are caretaker committees, appointed people. But notwithstanding the remonstrations of Governor Amaechi and his colleagues, there should be autonomy for the local councils; there should be fiscal autonomy for them, even if we may not see them as a separate tier of government. Their allocation should come directly to them from the federal account, otherwise it won’t get to them as is the case in most states at present. The Joint States and Local Governments account should be abolished today. It has become a way to emasculate the councils.
If I were an honourable member of the House of Representatives or a distinguished Senator and were to vote in respect of the status of the local councils, I would cast my vote for total autonomy for the councils as they remain the level of government closest to the grassroots, to the people. Though some of our local government chairmen and councillors have not performed to expectation, some have failed to work in the interest of their people, but so also are some governors too. Should we do away with states governors? No, I don’t think so.