Participants at a town hall meeting of the 24 communities composing Ikole Local Government Area of Ekiti state have stridently called for autonomy of the LGs to enable them respond to the yearnings of the people at the grassroots. The gathering observed that autonomy would ensure that the Local Governments are strong enough financially to work for the people. They also called for a more responsive leadership that would be in synch with the interest of the people.
While condemning the present practice of locating projects without their inputs, they want political leaders to be forthright and deliver meaningful development projects with the peopleâ€™s consent. They are not particularly happy that the LGs have been subverted by governors who dictate not just who is elected chairman but what the LGs do with their funds. â€œThe LGs are in shreds because they are now in the pockets of governorsâ€, they maintained.
Both the Senate and the House of Representatives had in their amendment to the 1999 Constitution, endorsed LG autonomy and its direct funding as part of the process of strengthening the third tier of government but the powerful lobby of the governors, who had been accused of fiddling with LG funds ensured that their respective houses of assembly voted down the amendment.
Organised under the aegis of Community Life Project (CLP) with support from Open Society Institute of West Africa (OSIWA), the gathering also demanded for constant engagement between LG officials and the people, particularly on the location of projects in the area. They decried a situation where the political elite take flight and are no longer accessible after elections are over.
â€œDuring electioneering campaigns, you see these leaders virtually prostrating all over the place. Once we elect them, we donâ€™t see them again. The people we do not see, how do we discuss with them?â€, queries Mrs. Adebusola Tosin Adebanjo, a fashion designer
â€œNo money to spend for housing, food and clothes and our conditions are getting poorer. We need to talk to the chairman and the other officials to know our needs but we canâ€™t see them. After elections, itâ€™s very difficult to see them, talk less of getting them to work for usâ€, quips Mrs. Bola Adedeji who is the Iyaloja Ikole.
Miffed at the near isolation of the LG officials from the community, Mr. Olumide Michael Funso, a community leader at Ikoyi Ekiti said, â€œThey are not involving the community in the affairs of the local government. Itâ€™s what the governor wants that they do. Theyâ€™ve been told what they should do without our input. Thatâ€™s why itâ€™s important we should all support the campaign for autonomy of the LGs so that things can be betterâ€.
Speaking in the same vein, Mr. Afolabi Ganiyu, community leader in Igbonna said, â€œWhen we had autonomy, we had everything.â€ He believes that â€œWithout autonomy, nothing can workâ€.
What is perhaps intriguing to Chief Samuel Taiwo Ojo, one of the community leaders is that when most of the officials of the LG were illiterates, they had almost everything but the opposite is the case now that officials are highly educated. â€œIn the 70s, our councillors were not literate but we had infrastructure, we had power, water, good roads and everything was working. Now that we have educated people manning the LG, we have nothingâ€.
Former speaker of the Legislative Council, Mr. Ayoposi Ayoola, counselled that future candidates should be properly grilled on the basis of their manifestoes. â€œWe have to ensure we properly vet the candidates and their manifestoes so that councillors who are not likely to deliver are not electedâ€.
But Mr. Akin Ajayi, a youth leader in Orin-Odo Ekiti was of the view that interrogating the candidates and their manifestoes was not a guarantee against the emergence of irresponsible leaders. â€œEven if they have manifestoes, how does that impact on the people? We all know that the chairmanship of the LG is dependent on who the governor wants and not who the people wantâ€, he said.
Director of Community Development, Ekiti state, Mr. Olusegun Ajayi, who moderated the town hall meeting admonished the people not to give up on their push for responsible leaders that would do their bidding. He said after elections, the community must ensure they present their needs assessment to the elected leaders. â€œAfter elections, itâ€™s now our responsibility to work on our needs assessment and push it throughâ€.
â€œItâ€™s not for the community leaders or the Kabiyesi to chose for the community but the responsibility of all members, elders, youth, women and opinion leaders. You have to be able to collate the different needs of every community in your environmentâ€, he said.
Ajayi also asked the people to be interested in the process of budget preparation. â€œItâ€™s important we know whatâ€™s going on and how our funds are managedâ€.
CLP Programme Officer, Mr. Francis Onahor while responding to the worries of the people said, â€œWe know we are going to face challenges but we have to persevere and forge ahead in spite of the challenges. Once you forge ahead with a shared vision, others will followâ€.
Explaining what led to the muting of the community master plan by CLP, Onahor said â€œWe were part of the campaign for LG autonomy but it was voted down by the state houses of assembly at the instigation of governors. So we had to come up with a community master plan. Part of our project is to identify resources and also the necessary capacity building methods to drive the processâ€.
The climax of the town hall meeting was the break out session in which the participants listed the needs assessment of the different communities in Ikole LGA. The listed needs include water supply, building of a youth centre, electricity, roads and ecological control, amongst others.