Local government administration in Nigeria has been crippled over the years, no thanks to the overbearing attitude of state governments, who have turned local governments to appendages of their various states.
Since its reformation in 1987 by the Ibrahim Babangida administration, succeeding federal administrations have not been showing necessary concerns on the relationship between the state and local governments.
Many state governors spend local government allocations without batting an eye lid, while many, for the duration of either their four-year or eight-year tenures, failed to conduct local government election and those who managed to, they never allow for free, fair and credible elections.
The state governments have also been deliberately treating the local governments as its arm rather than a tier of government.
To a professor of political science from the Lagos State University, Professor Abubakah Momoh, the recent move by the National Union of Local Government Employees to consult political bigwigs across the country on how to curb these anomalies, is a good development, but he urged them not to be intimidated.
Advocating for a total overhauling of the local government administration in the country, the scholar added that it is criminal for state governments to control the purse of the local government.
He said: “For how long can we demand for autonomy for local government? I pray the local government don’t lose out. They must be autonomous. We need total reformation of local government administration. Physical and financial autonomy is the solution. Interim chairman and interim chairperson are not recognised by constitution. It is an aberration. They should stop it. We should treat local governments with respect and we should allow democratic system in our local government.”
Momoh condemned state governments for poor conduct of local government elections, saying that it may affect democratic development in the country.
He said: “Unfortunately, the state governors believe that it is their own people or their own political party that must be at the local government and that is why they usually refuse to conduct elections at the local government level.
“Truly, the report of the 2014 national confab suggested that autonomy should be granted to local governments in the country to improve the standard of living of the masses at the grassroots”
“Secondly, the governors should allow the local governments to use their allocations for reasonable purposes. State government has no right to take from the purse of the local government and the Federal Government too has no right to take from the purse of local government. Let them have control over the affairs of their administration.”
The political expert said with the body language of the present administration, the recent national confab report may not be implemented and it affects the socio-economic and the development of the rural areas.
“One of the resolutions of the recent national confab was considering as paramount importance local government autonomy. But with the body language of Mr. President, he may not implement that report.”
When asked if the local government has lost the battle for autonomy, a former chairman of NULGE in Ogun State, who pleaded anonymity said, “We can’t lose out. Why I use ‘we’ is because they still consult us anytime they are to take a step. We are in the struggle together. The current leadership of NULGE is proactive in its struggle for local government autonomy.
“I understand that recently, they embarked on a very critical move to rescue the 774 local governments across the country and we hope for a positive result. ALGON is helpless, because majority of the chairmen are appointed in their respective states and you know they cannot fight against the governor who appointed them. What I know is that one day, local government shall be free from the stranglehold of state governments.
“I know some of the chairmen wish to provide social amenities for our people. But how can they provide amenities when they are financially crippled?”
Truly, the report of the 2014 national confab suggested that autonomy should be granted to local governments in the country to improve the standard of living of the masses at the grassroots, level but sadly, President Muhammudu Buhari has emphatically said he hadn’t gone through the confab report, no one has briefed him on the report and he does not have intention of implementing the confab report. Regrettably, he said the report has been kept in the archive.
Analysts averred that for robust and effective relationship between the government and the citizenry, there is need for viable local government administration, which can only be achieved through the implementation of the 2014 confab report.
The ineffectiveness of local government administration in recent years has been giving Nigerians nightmare. It affects the socio-economic and the development of the rural areas, says Professor Momoh.
Among the agitation of the rural dwellers over the years was conduct of credible local government elections and financial autonomy is key. Victimisation of local government administration by state governments could be traced back to the Second Republic, during the regime of Alhaji Shehu Shagari (1979-1983).
Despite that Section 7 of the 1979 Constitution provided for a democratically elected local government councils in the country, the then government refused to conduct local council election, while sole administrators were appointed to man the local governments.
The template of the Shagari government on local government administration was maintained when then General Muhammadu Buhari came on board in 1983, before his government was toppled by General Ibrahim Babangida in 1985.
During Babangida era, (1985-1993), there were certain reforms aimed at ensuring local government autonomy. These included the abolition of the Ministry of Local Government; establishment of executive and legislative arms in local councils; and direct allocation to local government without passing through state governments.
The regime also increased local government statutory allocation from 15 to 20 percent with effect from 1992. In December 1999, another local government election was conducted nationwide, which was the first in the Fourth Republic.
In recent time, there are efforts by workers of the third tier of government to ensure that the local governments are freed from the alleged asphyxiating grip on them by the nation’s 36 state governors.
NULGE President, Ibraheem Khaleel, during a recent visit to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, solicited for his support for what he called “rescue mission of the local government system.”
He noted that, as a founding member of the administration that reformed local government administration in 1976, he knew that they had autonomy of the local governments in mind.
In his reaction, Obasanjo lamented that the 774 local government areas across the country have been rendered “impotent” and almost “bastardised,” following the massive encroachment into their affairs by the state governors.
He said the glaring injustices and overbearing influence of the governors, which they hand down routinely to the local government areas, are such that they cannot tolerate should the Federal Government elects to treat them the same way.Obasanjo said he is helpless about their plights, noting that when local government was reformed in 1976, by the then military government, which he was a part, it gave them “functions, responsibilities and duties” to perform.
While frowning at the governors’ attitude to the local councils, Obasanjo said it is saddening now to observe that state governors’ interference has completely eroded the “sanctity and constitutionality” of establishing local governments.
The former president, however, said Nigerians should keep talking to members of the National and states Assemblies as well as other stakeholders towards finding a way to make the local government truly functional and democratic as envisioned by the founding fathers.
He charged them to fight on in ensuring that local governments are liberated, saying, “Coming to me or me saying something is not the answer. I’m like a cripple. I have no executive power. I have no legislative power but you are not crippled and you can show them that you are on ground. Local government should be allowed to carry out its function.
“But I wonder, if the states can allow what they are doing to the local governments to be done to them by the Federal Government.
“Sadly, the autonomy of the local governments almost without any exception, have been bastardised and encroached upon by the states.
“Both are supposed to be tiers of government with each having its roles and functions. But, that is not the case.”
While speaking with the same delegation, President Buhari expressed willingness to support any amendment to the constitution that will allow for local government autonomy.
The President said constitutional amendment was urgently required to clearly define the relationship among the three tiers of government.
He described the frosty relationship between states and local government as “a very serious constitutional problem.”
“The states behave as if they own the local government, if they are of the same party. It is worse if they are not.
“This is a very serious constitutional problem and unless there is absolute clarity and transparency, the relationship will continue to be exploited against the interest of the ordinary people of the country,” he said.
Will the local government get the much needed autonomy even as the executive arm of government seems helpless? Is the legislature ready to amend the constitution to grant autonomy to the local government? Or will President Buhari implement the 2014 confab report which granted full autonomy to the local government?
These are questions that only time will provide answers to.