By Senator IroegbuÂ in Abuja
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has commended the National Assembly formally accepting, inserting and passing into the draft amended Constitution, their proposed amendments on Local Government reform and Labour Issues.
The NLC President Comrade Ayuba Wabba at a briefing in Abuja yesterday, said that National Assembly (NASS) took a giant step by voting overwhelmingly in favour of Local Government authority in spite of tremendous pressure from strong vested interest groups.
According to Waba the 8th National Assembly had made history and shall be remembered for bowing not to the insular interests but the popular wishes of the people.
Their initiative, he said, was an improvement on the efforts of the previous Assemblies, which goes to show that government was not only a continuum, with tenacity and requisite experience at the National Assembly, we shall get our democracy right.
He expressed no doubt that if passed into Law, these amendments will free-up the local governments from the strangle-hold of state governments and widen the democratic space as well as restore the lost glory of local governments.
The Labour leader said that the Local Government system of government known by various names, is the oldest form of administration, and sadly, the most abused and exploited in our post-colonial history.
He said: “Until progressive decline and bastardisation set in, the Local Government represented the centre of administrative excellence, clinical efficiency, training, education, development, tax administration and effective commodity boards. Â
Local governments also represented maintenance culture of infrastructure including roads, environmental sanitation, functional health facilities, low incidences of corruption and violent crimes.Â The singular reason for this magical performance was that local governments were close to the people and ministered to their needs.
“A per functionary interrogation of the local government system will easily throw up five phases: the colonial native authorities; the rise of the modern local government councils in the fifties; the decline of these councils in the 60sâ€™ and early 70s; and the reforms of 1976 and post 1976 which substantially accounted for: Continued encroachment of State Government on responsibilities of LGAs and erosion of Local Government autonomy due to the meddlesomeness of state governments; Highly constrained fiscal, administrative and political autonomy for local governments; Non-compliance by State Governments with the Revenue Allocation Formula which stipulates that the states should contribute 10% of their internally generated revenue to the local governments and the imposition of extra budgetary expenditure on the local governments by States; indeed, local governments are sometimes compelled to shoulder some responsibilities of expenditure of Federal Government Agencies like the Police, Customs and Excise, Immigration, the Judiciary, Electoral Commissions etc.”
“Mandatory deductions for â€˜joint projectsâ€™ by the State and Federal Governments, which have no direct bearing on the lives of the people at the grassroots. These deductions constitute a major drain on the resources of the local governments and negatively affect the implementation of programmes for the benefit of the local populace; Capacity constraints which include over-dependence on the Federal and State governments for policy initiatives and programme development; Constitutional ambiguity in (a) responsibility for creating LGAs; (b) clearly delineating areas of responsibilities between States and LGAs in some concurrent areas, such as education and health and;(c) lack of clarity of roles in administering urban centres; Imposition of undemocratic structures (Caretaker Committees) to administer local governments contrary to Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution; and Manipulation of State Independent Electoral Commissions to scuttle popular will at the grassroots by way of imposing surrogates whose primary motivation is to loot the treasury for their grand masters,” he added.
According to Wabba, the cumulative effects of these on the local government system, workers and the Nigerian people are overwhelming and range from the arrest of the growth of the local government system of administration; abortion, prevention and denial of generations of the Nigerian Youth from acquiring the needed administrative and political leadership training at the local government level; gross socio-economic under development; rise in violent crimes across the country; mutual distrust between local governments and the populace; mass disenfranchisement; arrest of democratic culture; mass resentment; loss of values and ethics; over concentration of power at two levels of government etc.
He stressed that the overall impact of these on the polity can only be understood in the context of the fact that whereas the advanced economies such as the UK and the US have been able to develop their societies using their local governments (known by other names) we continue to deceive ourselves that we can achieve grassroots development without the local government councils.
The NLC President noted thatÂ overall implication of the amendments by the National Assembly was the unconditional restoration of the autonomy of local governments without which the progressive retardation and decay in the polity would continue unabated.
Wabba further stressed that the autonomy would :Â Ensure that the local government system develop as a third tier of government with the capacity to discharge its constitutional responsibilities to its constituents; Strengthen democratic decentralization of power and put power back in the hands of the citizenry at the grass roots level of governance; and Give a voice to the voiceless, especially the minorities who have been short-changed at the state and federal levels of government.
“Make the work environment less hostile for Nigerians and less threatening to the system; Put more power in the hands of the citizenry and their institutions and thus help them strengthen their demand for accountability and social justice,” he stated.
However, without attempting to diminish the importance of the action of the honourable and distinguished members of the Parliament a lot still needs to be done.Â These amendments have to go to the 36 State Houses of Assembly for their concurrence.Â The minimum requirement for these amendments to qualify to become law is the concurrence of at least two-thirds of the 36 State Houses of Assembly.
To this end, Wabba called on the members of the 36 State Houses of Assembly to be on the side of the people and history by displaying the courage of the colleagues at the National Assembly by giving their unqualified support.
He also called on all the governors of the 36 states to sheathe partisan or insular considerations and support these amendments in the national interest.
He also called on other Nigerians whose support is invaluable, to rise and mobilise support and should spare no effort in ensuring that these amendments become law .
He further commended the NLC affiliates namely, Nigeria Union of Teachers, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees and the Medical and Health Workers Union of Nigeria for harmonizing their common position to confront their challenges in the Local Government, and urged them to continue in solidarity and oneness, for the struggle to actualise full autonomy for local Government in Nigeria.