Why Kwara Can't Hold Council Elections

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Faced with inadequate financial resources to hold elections in the 16 local government areas in Kwara State, Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed turned to the House of Assembly for a resolution to constitute a transition implementation committee for the councils, writes Hammed Shittu

Local government administration remains the only system of government that is so close to the people of the grassroots in the country. Apart from being the system of government that involves the full participation of local people, it remains a system of government that allows views and opinions of the local people to be gauged for the purpose of providing good leadership and service oriented programmes to the doorsteps of rural populace.

This is the reason that every government, be at the state or federal level has been working round the clock to ensure that local government administration is administered with good leadership in order to enhance the well being of the people of the grassroots.

It is against this backdrop that the Kwara State Government under the leadership of Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed inaugurated a new transition implementation committee for 16 local government councils in the state as part of the efforts at re-engineering the local government administration for effective and efficient day to day administration of the local government councils in the state.

Before now, the state government had appointed transition implementation committee for the councils two times which ran the 16 local government councils for six months.

The inauguration of this transition implementation committee became imperative in view of the dwindling federal allocations to the state which would not allow the state government to conduct local government councils polls due to the financial implications that may accompany the conduct of such elections.

In order not to create a vacuum in the local government council administration, and to avoid the financial implication of an election, the state government chose to put in place the transition implementation committee.

The inauguration of the committee in the local government councils was backed up with a resolution of the state’s House of Assembly which empowered the state government to embark on such exercise for the effective delivery of dividends of democracy to the doorsteps of the rural populace.

This is so important for the state as a way of adding values to the lives of the rural populace because the agitations for good governance at the local government level has remained in the front burner in the past few months.

Speaking at the swearing-in of members of the committee at the Government House, Ilorin recently, the governor said: “As the closest tier of government to the grassroots, where the bulk of our people reside, local governments are uniquely positioned to deliver inclusive and impactful governance”.

According to him, local governments are also expected to facilitate a strong relationship between the government and the governed and guarantee sustained grassroots development.

He said: “It is perhaps for this reason that the 1999 Constitution provides for effective local government administration under the supervision of respective state governments.

“Yet the structural and economic deficiencies in Nigeria’s local government system continue to retard the capacity of local governments to perform the roles envisaged by our laws.” He explained that developments in the national economy necessitated the constitution of the committees.

The governor said , “Today’s swearing-in of newly appointed Chairpersons of Transition Implementation Committee (TICs) for the 16 local government councils, therefore, underscores our resolve to sanitize our local government system as a prelude to full-fledged councils.

“Clearly, the economic realities of local governments, and indeed the country, remain unfavorable to the enthronement of executive council chairpersons.

“While I congratulate the newly-sworn in Transition Implementation Committee members, the truth is that your appointments, like those of your predecessors, come at a time of great difficulty for all levels of government in Nigeria, especially governments.

“As you assume the mandate of leadership, therefore, remember that your appointment is a call to service. You are expected to continue to give priority to the payment of salaries and pensions and strive to clear the backlog of arrears accumulated over the years.

“You must equally prioritize low hanging infrastructure that will bring meaningful relief to the people. Furthermore, you need to stay clear of new appointments and instead make prudence and probity your watchwords”.

He urged them to distance themselves from ostentation and avoid any conduct capable of calling their integrity to question even as he assured them of continued support of the state government.

“Our government is also determined to bequeath a local government system that is robust, efficient, autonomous and inclusive.

“Despite current structural challenges, local governments will be strengthened to exploit all economic opportunities available for their long-term sustenance and viability”, he added.

Ahmed noted further that, ‘Following the completion of the verification of staff at state and local government areas, our ongoing sanitization of payrolls will continue with a certificate authentication exercise.

“This is to ensure that only those with legitimate and appropriate qualifications remain within the system.

“While the current agitation for local government autonomy enjoys a degree of support among Nigerians, the truth is that the desired autonomy will yield little fruit unless the local government system is reformed and strengthened along economic lines.

“In other words, granting autonomy to a local government with highly limited economic potential is more likely to complicate rather than resolve the challenges confronting such local governments.

“What we need is a reform that provides tangible opportunities for local government to meet salary and project obligations.”

Responding on behalf of the committees, the Chairperson of Ilorin South Local Government Area, Hajia Funmilayo Salahudeen expressed gratitude to the governor for giving them the opportunity to serve.

She assured the governor of their resolve to justify the confidence reposed in them by being steadfast, dedicated and committed to their statutory duties. She said the committee would add values to the people of the grassroots so as to move the state forward.

With the inauguration of new leadership at the local government councils, the expectations of the residents of the rural populace are high especially in the areas of health, potable water, quality education, opening of rural roads among others.

Hence, it now behoves on the new leadership to come up with new blue print that would usher-in good governance at the local government so as to bring new lease of life to the doorsteps of the rural populace.

The main challenge facing local government administration in the state is non payment of salaries ‎of workers and gratuity of those workers that had served the councils and retired from the service as at when due.

As at the time of filling this report, some of the workers in the local government councils are owed about nine months. The ugly development has continued to have a serious effect on the socio well being of the immediate families of the affected workers.

Some of the workers could not pay the school fees, foot medical bills, rent and cannot even meet other immediate needs of their families.

In a chat with our correspondent, the Secretary of the state chapter of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees(NULGE) Comrade Hotonu Rafiu said that, the non payment of the council’s workers posed a serious threat to the development of rural populace.

He said that, the development was due to the high deductions of local government revenue through Joint Account Al‎location Committee policy in the state.

He also said that, the heavy burden put on the local government councils was the payment of primary and junior primary schools teachers. This, he said, had continued to pose a problem to the revenue accrued to the local government every month in the payment of salary of council’s workers in the state.

He therefore appealed to the state government to look into this challenge in order to bring new lease of life to the residents of the state.

Also, the non payment of retirees in the local government councils has become a serious challenge as the affected retirees has been owed of about N4billion .

The retirees had staged a peaceful protest to the state house of assembly to express their displeasure at their neglect which hitherto has continued to affect their lives.

The Secretry of the Local Government Pensioners Association, Alhaji Saidu Oladimeji who led the pensioners to the assembly recently in Ilorin explained that conditions of most local government pensioners in the state were pathetic following the indebtedness. He noted that, the shifting of payment of teachers’ salaries in the Junior Secondary schools in Kwara to councils had further compounded the financial predicament of the Local Government authorities in the state.

Oladimeji said non payment of members pensions and gratuity had incapacitated them to meet their medical and domestic obligations at home.

He appealed to the members of the state house of assembly to assist the local government pensioners with the unpaid pension and gratuity which now stands at N4 billion.

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While the current agitation for local government autonomy enjoys a degree of support among Nigerians, the truth is that the desired autonomy will yield little fruit unless the local government system is reformed and strengthened along economic lines.