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THE CASTRATION OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Local governments must be functional, responsive and accountable to the people
It is unfortunate that the recent proposal by the National Assembly to grant financial and administrative autonomy to the 774 local government councils during the constitution amendment process failed. The clause could not secure the concurrence of the Houses of Assembly in at least 24 of the 36 states as required by law. The failure of the proposal thus effectively confirms local governments as mere appendages of the states. At stake in the perennial battle between state governments and local government administrations is the issue of joint accounts held by the two but administered by the former.
Before the local councils were created, there were only the federal and state governments. The idea behind the creation of local government administration is essentially to bring the effect and benefit of governance nearer the people at the grassroots. But that has not been the case.The terrible state of feeder roads, street roads, filled and over-flowing drains and inability to clear even refuse bins are all signature malaise of the failure of local government administration. Across the country, it seems that local governments are no longer responsible for rural roads, local dispensaries, health centres, and markets. Ironically, they now receive much more money, both from the federation account and internally generated revenues.
In the fourth schedule of the constitution, the specific functions of the local government are well laid out. One of it, for instance, says, “local governments shall be responsible for the construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a state.” Also, the local government administration has the duty to provide and maintain public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal….”
However, the performance of local governments has over the years been completely disappointing as they bear very little or no impact on the lives of the people at the grassroots. But for the physical existence of their offices, many local governments exist only on paper. Worse still, council officials collect rates and tolls from the communities, markets, motor parks, among others, without much thought to even maintain the structures and facilities from which those rates and taxes are collected, let alone render service to the people.
Today, many of the LGAs across the country merely exist to the extent of brazenly sharing monthly allocations from the federation account among top members of the council and political godfathers. They have a perfect excuse, though. Many of the state governments are in the habit of hijacking the local government funds, releasing to them only a fraction of their entitlements for paying bills and maintaining statutory overhead expenses.
Cowed and compromised, council officials end up not achieving much to the chagrin of the electorate. Apart from the overall effect of this on general administration, many council bosses become conduit pipes for governors, deepening the corruption at that level. The resultant effect is that wide-scale retardation and atrophy becomes the norm yet the received wisdom is that with the local governments not performing to the required optimal level, the nation generally suffers because this is the level of government that is closest to the people and should be the most responsive to their needs.
An effective local government system, where the chairmen are prepared to work and where they are not stifled by the governors, is much needed for human development. It is therefore important to upgrade the quality of leadership to bring back the glorious days when council administrations were the nucleus of governance. A new framework must also be formulated to make the local governments more responsive and accountable to the people.