From Fred Ezeh, Abuja
The Speaker of House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has said that the local government system must be effective and functional for Nigerians to enjoy the expected ‘dividends of democracy’.
The Speaker registered his disappointment that many Nigerians, particularly his constitutents in Lagos State, do not understand jthe concept of democracy and that causes them to place demands on lawmakers that ordinarily should be handled by local government administrations.
Speaker Gbajabiamila, who spoke at the opening ceremony of the General Assembly of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) in Abuja, on Wednesday, said that concept of democracy focuses on separation of powers as well as checks and balances among the three tiers of government.
He challenged the local government chairmen to develop new strategies that would enable stakeholders across government and civil society to collaborate effectively and achieve necessary and long overdue reforms of local government administration in Nigeria.
He noted that local governments are the closest to the people and that until the system is structurally and fundamentally fixed, the benefits of democracy would continue to elude Nigerians.
‘I found out in every election cycle when I go home for re-election campaigns, my constituents would keep asking me for what constitutionally local governments should do. Things like road repairs, evacuation of drainage system, and several others. These things are exclusively the responsibility of the local government,’ Gbajabiamila said.
‘It’s an indication that my constitutents do not understand the fact that in a democractic society, there’s a separation of power. Every tier of government has its own responsibilities. I often travel from Abuja sometimes to clear debries and gutters in my constituency which ordinarily is not my responsibility.
‘This is to underscore the importance of LG administration. I have realized that the reason local government system is not functioning in Nigeria is because the administrators are hampered, structurally.
‘Howbeit, we will continue to run round the circles if we fail to fix the problems of local government administration. For too long, we have avoided the hard conversions about our nation’s future. But we cannot afford to do that anymore.
‘Many of their responsibility have been made difficult and I am sure you know why, and we are all suffering for it. I suggest you make you resolutions at the general assembly historic and we will support you with legislative framework. There’s political consensus lately in favour of constitutional reforms to address the structural and fundamental problems of LG.’
ALGON President David Kolawole, in his remarks, gave assurance that the general assembly will develop a realistic plan that would herald the transformation of the local government system.
‘However, our greatest challenge is the arbitrary suspension or removal of democractic elected LG Chairmen and Councilors by the governors.
‘We demand and will continue to push for autonomy for LGAs. In addition to that, we will push for the review of 1999 constitution as relates to LG administration. We also pray for uniform tenure of four year terms for LG administration which will encourage stability and service.
‘We also demand an end to unconstitutional reduction from the local government account, and decentralisation of Nigerian police that will make community policing effective.’