The agitations surrounding the string of affairs in our Local Government system is beginning to take shape courtesy of the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. For many years running citizens have demanded that the autonomy provided in our constitution be made functional in the affairs of that tier of government and for so long odds have been placed on the path of full realization of the request. But gladly enough things are turning around following the resolve of the current Federal government to break whatever has stood between the demands and full realization.
In a move that came as a surprise for most of us the Federal Government directed that funds from federal allocation due the seven-hundred and seventy-four Local Governments in the country be remitted directly into their accounts, it also directed among other things that not more than five hundred thousand Naira should be withdrawn daily. We understand from key workers in the sector that the federal government guideline on the matter is far more elaborate and that it has threatened to hold banks responsible for any breach of the instructions. The step has attracted reactions, the workers and the people on one side are happy over the developments and they should be because they are aware they have been unjust victims of capricious behaviors of many state chief executives.
The Local government system was conceived to bring government and development closer to the grassroots, unfortunately midway it turned out to be the cash-cow of rapacious state governors and state legislators who seized on a minor constitutional provision of states providing guidance to affairs in the local government to turn the concept of autonomy for the Local government up-side down and to virtually highjack to themselves huge funds often allocated to the third tier of government.
The joint account regulation in the constitution was another loop-hole exploited by those who had their eyes on the Local government funds and it served them well. All manners of white-elephant projects were often raised and huge sums deducted for what the enemies of our country termed “Joint Projects”, which were never done; the situation moved from worse to ridiculous. With officials of the supervising ministry at some points demanding for salary bills from the local government only and nothing more; and even with this salaries were hardly paid in many instances for months running, sometimes even up to a year.
So we can all see why Nigerians and the workers in particular are happy and the state governments hesitant in accepting the change.
The state governors say they are constitutionally mandated to supervise the Local governments, insisting that that is the internment of the constitution when it made a provision asking the state through the House of Assembly to make rules for the good operations of the local government system and that the provision of joint account was indicative of both working together on some projects. The truth is most Nigerians are crafty and in the quest for undue advantage we stop at nothing to seize loopholes or misinterpret very clear provisions of the law. It is on this basis we say, if it is not in the constitution or in any other law then our behaviors are not wrong. Only few want to create the right conventions, this is why our public institutions have become victims of the evil thoughts of many leaders across the country. The local government system has been e of such.
The intention of the creators of local government especially those who inserted it into the constitution, would not have been to create a full institution that would be subsumed into another full institution; that would have been to create a monster, because it would have been a body with two heads. The local government institution as we have it in our country may not have a replica elsewhere as some political scholars have tried to make out. But like I would always argue anywhere, nothing suggests we would perish if we wear our thinking cap, become creative and produce something that can contribute to civilization and which the world can learn and emulate from us. If the creators of Local government did not want the system to stand on its own, they would have taken to what the British colonialists did, carve out the areas and christen them “Administrative Divisions” of the states and in that case all funds due for a particular state would go to them and the states in turn decide what to do with them. But that is not the situation in this case, the local governments are constitutionally recognized and they participate in revenue allocation as entities of government.
The provision to make laws for the good administration of the local governments is not a daily or weekly, or even monthly affair, it is a provision in terms of emergency and this conclusion can be reached by the fact that the local governments are supposed to be run by elected chairmen and counselors, the former forming the executive and the later the legislative arm. It is the absence of these two that makes the constitution of caretaker committee a rape on the people, betrayal of the constitution and aberration of the highest order. The joint account provision is to allow the state to have an idea of the amount of funds circulating around its sub-system and nothing more. It was not intended that the state government become the disburser of the funds. Doing so and stealing it, is not just stealing it is treason.
The Buhari administration must be commended for this move, yet it must be reminded that what it has done is the kick-off; a lot still needs to be done to truly return autonomy to that tier of government. For a start it should create units that should sniff around local governments to ascertain if these monies actually get to them and if their officials at that level acknowledge openly receipt. This is because there are reports of many Local government officials denying such payments. The state governors are still lurking around trying to find creative means of having a hold on those funds. The Federal government should create zonal auditors to audit project costs as some of the officials are beginning to raise jumbo projects and attaching ridiculous costs to them. The Federal government through the Economic & Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should be ready to make quick example of council officials who this early would want to make a joke of this serious effort to return sanity to that tier of government. Constitutional amendment is necessary, the laws should be spelled out in a straight manner, joint account should go and National Independent Electoral Commission should take over the responsibilities of conducting elections into the local government system. There is also need for enlightenment so that the rural populace can know the importance of electing capable men and women who can give them a classical leadership.