A Lawyer and Human Rights activist, Onuora Odo has advocated for financial autonomy for both the Judiciary and local governments in the country. In this interview, he spoke on various issues.
How would you address the issue of insecurity that appears to have enveloped the country including the South Eastern part of the country in recent time?
– There is no doubt that the issue of insecurity has become a major bane of this administration. In the recent time, the incidences of gruesome and mindless killings, rape, kidnapping and what have you in the country has sky-rocketed exponentially.
It has assumed an alarming dimension that underscores descent into anarchy. It goes to show that the government and the security agencies are yet to get a handle to violent attacks in the evolving insurgency. The Federal Government has only demonstrated helplessness in fighting insecurity. Their successful onslaught is an indication of failure of intelligence gathering and inter-agency collaboration which could have helped the authorities to pre-empt some of the onslaughts. I strongly condemn the cavalier attitude of the Federal Government as there is no visible strategic plan on ground to end the killing spree. The security agencies involved should sit up as the continued and conspirational silence of the government of the day will elicit some kind or public outrage which could culminate in revolution.
What do you have to say about the judicial arm of the government as presently constituted today?
Practically speaking, the judicial arm of the government appears to be an appendage of the executive arm, given that monetary allocations are made by the executive.
However, the law appears to have suffered implementation deficiency. But, with the activation of the relevant laws with respect to financial autonomy by the Federal Government. There are plans by the Federal Government to push into force the fourth Amendment to the 1999 constitution by signing an executive order to give bite to the implementation of financial autonomy for State Assemblies and Judiciary. That will give the Judiciary a soul of its own.
The PMB administration recently re-emphasized financial autonomy to local governments in Nigeria as contained in the guideline released by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU). What is your take?
The move is seen as a radical move in giving the local government the needed power to manage their affairs and resources independent of the states which have treated local government funds as its own and released paltry and beggarly amounts to the councils.
The decision has been widely lauded and seen as a way of ensuring the third tier of government lives up to its real constitutional roles as the third tier of government nearest to the people and with constitutional capacity.
No doubt, the intention is to curb the hydra headed monster of corruption being perpetrated by pernicious and desperate politicians who see the system as a milk cow for them and their cahoots while the interest of the people suffers. With the new directives and guidelines by NFIU, the local government can now take up its constitutional roles and be held accountable for the actions and inactions.
This indeed is a laudable and far-reaching decision that will not only impact on governance but delivery of democracy dividends for the citizens.
Do you envisage any challenges in the implementation of the directives?
Definitely yes. Without being told, knowing Nigerian politicians for what they are, they will devise means and ways of controlling the purses of local governments. The cold fact is that the directives will one way or the other be scuttled and frustrated by the government because of the fact that it has been their practice to perfect the art of railroading their cronies and hirelings to control these local governments on their behalf. So, the moment the statutory allocations came to them, the local government Chairmen who are always loyal will voluntarily return the money to the governor.
With the present situation at the local governments, what is the way forward?
As you are well aware, every problem has both remote and immediate causes. So, the remote cause is the fact that the conduct of local government elections is done by State Electoral Commissions which are merely inclined to favour state Governors to control the process through shambolic and horrific elections. I strongly recommend that the conduct of elections into local government should be taken over by INEC from State Electoral Commissions. The abysmal trend of leaving the conduct of election into local government in the hands of State Electoral Commissions will defeat the essence of financial autonomy of the local government. The local government will continue to wobble under meddlesomeness of State Governors. I strongly recommend that the anti corruption agencies should beam their investigative searchlight on the local government by closely monitoring their finances and transactions.
How do you rate the anti- corruption war of this administration?
– Honestly speaking, the anti-corruption war of the PMB administration is commendable but, it still leaves much to be desired. The Federal government should do well and rejig the anti-corruption agencies. Anti-corruption fight should go beyond arresting and prosecuting public office holders who are caught on the wrong side of the law. It’s better to build the institutions, processes and systems that enhance public transparency and make corrupt practices more difficult in the first place. In this age and time, structural policy reforms and better management of the foreign exchange regime is the way to go. It’s not enough to arrest and prosecute.