BY BRIGHT JACOB/span>
Nigerian governors have continued to take bashing for being responsible for the rejection of the bills seeking legislative and financial autonomy for local governments, by State Houses of Assembly in the country. The Point recalls that the National Assembly, in March 2022, passed 44 Constitutional Amendment Bills, and by October of the same legislative year, only 11 state assemblies had deliberated and voted on those bills.
Twenty five states were vocal about not wanting to deliberate on the bills unless four more Constitution Amendment Bills were considered and passed by the National Assembly. One of the four bills sought the establishment of a State Police.
However, the request of the state assemblies for State Police didn’t see the light of day, as the Senate on January 24 announced that 35 Constitution Amendment Bills had eventually been considered by 27 state assemblies, and approved by at least 24 of them, as required by law.
The apex legislative house also disclosed that the 35 bills which scaled through had met the requirements of the provision of Section 9(2) of the Constitution, and had been transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari, for assent. However, two bills that sought financial and legislative autonomy for local governments didn’t make the cut.
State assemblies yet to forward their resolutions to the Senate on the Constitution Amendment Bills are those of Taraba, Plateau, Sokoto, Jigawa, Kebbi, Zamfara, Oyo, Kwara and Gombe States. According to legal practitioners who spoke to The Point, the jettisoning of local government autonomy was the result of state governors, who for selfish motives, want to control local governments for political and financial reasons.
“OF COURSE, IT IS VERY WRONG. IT IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. UNFORTUNATELY, BEGGARS HAVE NO CHOICE BECAUSE THEY DEPEND ON GOVERNORS, SOLELY. WHAT IS HAPPENING IS THAT THEIR ALLOCATIONS ARE MEANT TO GO TO THEM DIRECTLY. BUT ONE WAY OR THE OTHER, THE STATE GOVERNORS HIJACK IT. THEY DON’T ALLOW SUCH FUNDS TO GO TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENTS”
The lawyers who spoke in separate interviews told our correspondent that governors knew the importance of grassroots politics, and would do anything to maintain a firm grip on the local governments, where such politics play out. Legal luminary, Kunle Shofola, said that the actions of the governors were not only wrong but unconstitutional.
Shofola also stated that the local governments had become “beggars” whose allocations were “hijacked” by state governors. Furthermore, Shofola explained that governors all over the country have been fighting local government autonomy because they dread the idea of losing any grip they have on the grassroots in their respective states. “Of course, it is very wrong. It is unconstitutional.
Unfortunately, beggars have no choice because they depend on governors, solely. What is happening is that their allocations are meant to go to them directly. But one way or the other, the state governors hijack it.
They don’t allow such funds to go to the local governments. “And then they just give them stipends to pay salaries and things like that, but then there’s no money to execute other projects.
So, the governors are fighting against local government autonomy because they don’t want to lose their grips on the grassroots in their states,” he said. Shofola also said that most local government chairmen would not challenge the actions of the governors, as they feared running into “trouble” if they did.
Another senior lawyer, Honesty Eguridu, said that the governors were the ones that are “the problem in Nigeria” and who had ganged up against the poor masses. Speaking further, he said that “selfishness” was at the centre of the governors’ actions, and this has led them into installing “stooges” or “puppets” to administer local governments.
Eguridu added that the actions of the governors meant that no local government in Nigeria would be able to execute projects. “The problem we have in Nigeria is the governors.
The governors are ganging up against the poor masses because everyone knows that local government autonomy guarantees development at the grassroots. “And they do this because of their selfishness. They want to control the funds. Their own allocation doesn’t seem to be enough for them.
So, they want to also control the local governments. And if you watch what is happening, these governors put their own stooges or puppets at each local government administration, to take control of these funds. “In short, no local government in Nigeria is even executing projects again right now.
Unlike what we used to know in those days when local government chairmen take ownership of some roads, execute water projects, tar streets and construct drainages that are close to the grassroots.
Now, however, there’s nothing like that happening,” he said. While tracing the origin of the problem, Eguridu said that it started in Lagos, after then governor, Bola Tinubu, was in a political fight with former President Olusegun Obasanjo over the creation of Local Council Development Areas, by the former. According to Eguridu, Tinubu was distributing the money meant for the local governments, and Obasanjo took exception to it and demanded Tinubu gave and allowed the local governments to spend their money themselves.
“And when other states saw the lucrativeness of what Tinubu did, they latched onto it and started holding onto funds belonging to local governments,” Eguridu said. On the solution, Eguridu said Nigeria needs a president who would tell the local government chairmen, who refer to governors as “bosses”, to take charge of their allocations themselves, and also warn them about being accountable for the funds, and that failure to do so would result to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission “knocking on their doors”.
Whether the president would assent to the bills, Eguridu said he believed the president would not do so “if what he thought it to be was not so.” He, however, said that would create room for the next president coming in to “make the necessary corrections.”
Eguridu also refuted allegations of embezzlement at the local governments as an excuse for the rejection of local government autonomy by state assemblies and governors. Rather, he said embezzlement was the trademark of state governors.
He said even if there was embezzlement at the local governments, it would be easier to trace and track the funds used for the implementation of contracts because “everyone would be able to see what the money was expended on.”
On how the rejection of local government autonomy would affect the ordinary masses, Eguridu said, “It will be business as usual for the assembly members and governors, and the common man is kept on the cesspit of impoverishment, lack of funds and basic amenities. What they are telling us is that we will still continue to suffer under them.
And Nigerians have to rise against these people and chase them out of power,” he added. A notary of the Supreme Court, Fred Aigbadumah, said that governors were doing everything possible to “give boundaries to the powers of the local governments” because at the heart of the matter with local government autonomy lies the real fight, one for their (LGs) financial autonomy.
Aigbadumah heaped blame on the National Assembly for making the amendment of the Constitution impossible to achieve, insisting it would have been the only achievement of the current National Assembly before they wound down. On the solution to the constitutional crisis, he said the amendment of the constitution was imperative.
He also said that power being unbundled at the centre would rub off on state governors, who lord it over the local governments.
“This is why we are saying that one of the basic solutions to Nigeria is the amendment of the Constitution, and then that power that is concentrated at the federal level be unbundled.
When this is done, there’s a way it will affect the states, too. The president is the most powerful president under the constitution of Nigeria. The same thing with the governors in their various states. And this is a fundamental issue,” he said.
Asked how ordinary Nigerians could have their own voice and not always depend on a few governors who “spoke” for the vast majority of the masses, Aigba dumah said it was high time the National Assembly and state assemblies sat up to their responsibilities, because “they are the direct representatives of the people.”
He said that grassroots representation of the masses was supposed to be the job of the members of the houses, but in practice, it was not.
“The members are supposed to be the grassroots representatives of the people. That is their job. But when you are talking about de facto…in the real sense of it… practically, they’re not. And that is what is leading to all these challenges and problems we are seeing today,” Aigbadumah said.
On his part, a political analyst, Reginald Anene, said that a lot of state assemblies were rubber stamps for the governors. In his assessment, it was “a case of the voice of Jacob, but the hand of Esau.” Anene noted that politics in Nigeria was played from the grassroots, that is, ward and local government level, and governors were aware that financial autonomy would translate to political autonomy for the local governments, hence the likelihood of governors losing their influence at the grassroots.
Continuing, Anene said that governors consistently want to control the political narratives in their states and this usually leads to their parties sweeping most local government polls.
“Think about it, which state in Nigeria do you see people from other parties winning seats as local government chairmen? It’s almost impossible for that to happen. You will see a state and when it comes to local government elections, the ruling party sweeps almost all the local government council seats. It is that control we are talking about,” he said.
Asked if the bill would be signed by the president before the close of the 9th assembly, Anene said it would have been better if the amendments were presented individually rather than presenting them wholesale. In his view, this might lead to the president not agreeing with one or two of them, and sending the whole amendment back to the Senate so that the nagging ones could be adjusted.
Anene said that like the Petroleum Industry Bill which suffered many rejections, it would take a whole new process that could probably see off the 9th assembly, with a new National Assembly coming on board to start the process again. Countering those who said the actions of the governors were for selfish reasons, Anene said that some of the governors may actually have genuine reasons for rejecting certain bills.
“We should not forget the fact that the governors were elected by the people and sometimes these governors looking at these bills may find out that it probably will not benefit their states. “Think about it this way. Why is it that most governors in the North will not want to accept any Bill that will make their respective states truly federal in such a way that they generate and then contribute towards the centre instead of coming to the centre to collect? If there’s any such amendment that will make a state there truly independent…of course, a lot of states that are not viable would kick against it. So, we have to look at the governors on a case-by-case basis,” he pointed out.