Opposition camp squeals at creation of new LCDAs
Ajimobi, opposition at war over creation of 35 LCDAs
dateline: Tuesday, September 20, 2016. The Oyo State House of Assembly Complex wore the atmosphere of a war zone. Fierce looking security agents and armed policemen stood sentry, screening visitors to the assembly, just a shout away from the Governor’s Office inside the State Secretariat, Agodi, Ibadan.
The House was due to consider and pass into law a bill seeking to validate a state government gazette, No 23, Vol. 27 of August 13, 2002, for the creation of 35 additional local council development authorities, as appendages to the existing 33 local governments in the state.
Governor Abiola Ajimobi had on August 22, 2016, exhumed the gazette brought into existence by the administration of Alhaji Lam Adesina and approved the creation of the new council offices, as it were, to bring development closer to the grassroots.
However, it was envisaged that some aggrieved communities and interest groups who might feel shortchanged in the exercise would want to disrupt proceedings, hence the heavy security panoply. The bill had since been passed and is awaiting the signature of Ajimobi.
Under it, the 35 new council offices were distributed among the five political/administrative zones in the state thus: Ibadan with 11 now has 14 additions; Ibarapa with three now has two more; Oyo with four has four additional ones; while Ogbomoso with five before got seven more. Also, Oke Ogun which has 10 before now has eight added to its share.
But, the motive of government and wisdom in its decision have come under intense critical censure, particularly with regard to the timing. Stakeholders wonder why the step should be the priority of a government in this period of economic recession, when it owed workers’ salaries and had, had to stop virtually all developmental projects due to inability to meet obligations to contractors.
Chief Lowo Obisesan, a chieftain of the Labour Party in the state, noted: ‘’Is it the next thing to do by any sensible government in this time of recession, if not that there is an ulterior motive?
The idea itself may be good to generate more development points, but these structures are unsustainable now, given the numerous challenges and paucity of funds.
“You will need to establish new offices, staff them, appoint officers to manage them and prosecute the agenda of making them facilitate infrastructural development in the communities. How do you do all that, when you can’t even pay wages to the existing ones? These ones are not properly funded, there is a lot of infrastructural decay, no development project is going on. What is the rationale for it all?’’
That and apparent default of the governor to conduct local government election, due more than six years, have fueled suspicion, especially among political opposition, that the creation of the additional council was a ploy by the All Progressives Congress (APC) government to avoid or further delay the polls, which Ajimobi had earlier in March, this year, vowed would be held before the end of this year.
According to Dr. Nureni Adeniran, the Publicity Secretary of Accord Party, the government was probably counting on the opposition to go to court to challenge the exercise in order to use the ensuing litigation as a pretext for further postponing or not conducting the elections at all. He cited a precedence in which Ajimobi suspended conducting the polls based on a lawsuit by former members of the Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OYSIEC) challenging their purported wrongful dismissal. Adeniran, a lawyer said the suit had nothing to do with conducting the council polls, but the governor latched on it to justify his inaction:
“It is only this government that has willfully refused to conduct local government election which the people have been clamoring for, for close to six years. And this is antithetical to democratic norms and values, and so, we have decided not to give them room for that excuse.
“What the people need now is the election, so that our local communities can be run by the people they have elected and in whom they have trust, rather than by cronies of the governor.”
Besides the politics, however, the exercise has caused a lot of disaffection and rancour among the various communities in the state, as well as even administrative bottlenecks sure to rear their heads when they come into operation. Across the state, there are complaints of disparity in the allocation and distribution of the council offices as well as the siting of their headquarters.
In fact, barely a week after the passing of the bill, memoranda from the various zones, in particular, Oke Ogun, Oyo, Ogbomoso and Ibarapa flooded the legislative assembly, registering their disenchantment with the exercise and seeking redress. For instance, the exercise has not gone down well with the people of Oyo Federal Constituency who feel shortchanged in the entire exercise.
Said Kehinde Ayoola, a former Speaker of the State Assembly under the Lam Adesina government: ‘’Basically, our grievances are based on the lop-sidedness of the LCDAs which saw Ogbomoso, hitherto with five LGs getting additional seven LCDAs while Oyo zone, hitherto with four LGs got additional four LCDAs.
Our contention is that some villages that belonged to and are populated by the Oyos were annexed to Ogbomoso in the earlier local government creation exercise in 1996 under the military regime. Examples of such villages like Esinele and Ahoro Dada were carved along with Oriire LG in Ogbomoso, whereas they are Oyo villages.”
Also in Oke Ogun, it was reported to be a tussle among communities in Kajola and Iwajowa council areas over the location of the council office secretariat.
Perhaps more fundamental a flaw found in the exercise is the creation of the LCDAs across boundaries of more than one local government area. Ideally, observers noted, one or more council office(s) should have been created out of a local government for easy funding and administration. However, in this instance, some of the LCDAs fall across two local governments, which means the two substantive councils will have to share responsibility of funding and administering them. An example is Omi Apata, which according to a former local government chairman, was created out of Ido and Ibadan South West local governments. In addition, another LCDA, Ibadan West was carved out of the same Ibadan South West!
‘’It is a recipe for confusion, because they were using the 2002 template of the Lam Adesina administration, which intended to create completely substantive local government authorities. So if allocation comes from Abuja now, how do the parent councils resolve the problem of how to share and contribute to the maintenance of these LCDAs?’’ querried the former council boss.
Watchers of events in the state blamed the groundswell of disenchantment and likely crisis on the state government’s indiscriminate and wholesale adoption of the 2002 law, without any attempt at revising it or subjecting it to fresh plebiscite to gauge the views and aspirations of the people.
Hear Ayoola again: ‘’The government claims it only pulled out a gazette that contained these LCDAs from the archives since 2002. However, 2002 to 2016 is 14 years and surely changes would have happened in both the spatial and demographic composition of these areas in that period. If this is so, why did the government not inform the people beforehand so that complaints could be laid by aggrieved communities?”
However, Ajimobi’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Gbade Ojo, absolved his boss of blame. According to him, the governor merely acted on the recommendations of a panel he set up to review the 2002 exercise. He noted that the findings of the committee was that the 2002 gazette was still valid, as it was based on a referendum which took into consideration an aggregated interests and aspiration of the communities in the state: ‘’Repealing that law will in itself be an illegality and since government is a continuum, we are justified in upholding it.’’
He denied that the creation of the LCDAs was to induce a legal challenge as a means of forestalling the conduct of council elections, reminding all that the governor had assured that the polls would hold. He, however, said the decision to fix the time table and date of election were the sole prerogative of the OYSIEC:
‘’The opposition are irreverent critics of government’s policies and programmes. We don’t listen to them. The creation of the LCDAs has absolutely nothing to do with local government election.”
The governor’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yomi Layinka, noted that in any such exercise, there would always be agitations by some people who may feel their desires are not adequately addressed:
“What is important in all this is transparency and objective to be fair in the dealing. Now, the House of Assembly is there as a stakeholders forum for representation and aggregation of the views of the members’ respective constituencies. The communities, one expects would use their representatives to negotiate, while looking at the bill.”
On the likely administrative problem that could arise from the creation of the LCDAs, Layinka while admitting that no exercise was likely to be 100 per cent perfect, said necessary corrections and adjustments would be made as they were identified along the way.
He said, for instance, that the local governments usually jointly met to decide on the sharing of allocation, saying in like manner it should not be difficult for them to agree on disbursements to the LCDAs:
“It should be assumed that these LCDAs will, as they are meant to be, productive centers and so should be able to sustain themselves in terms of revenue generation. The idea behind creating them was to release energy. So, it is a challenge for them to be inventive and resourceful.”
However, critics lampooned the assembly, which should have corrected the perceived lapses for doing a shoddy job by passing the bill, without judicious review and input from members’ constituencies. Rather than do this, the House merely called for fresh memoranda from the aggrieved communities for creation of additional LCDAs.
The Speaker, Michael Adeyemo, could not be reached as at press time. However, a member of the panel raised by the House to look into fresh agitations, Segun Olaleye (aka Radical) defended its decision: ‘’For the House to tinker with the bill in a fundamental way means the whole process had to start all over again. It means moving round the communities to get their views, conducting a referendum. This requires a lot of time and logistics. Where is the money to do that? But, we have set up a committee to look into fresh demands and memorandums of those who felt aggrieved.”
But is that not putting the cart before the horse?
Obisesan believed so. He described the move as a smokescreen meant to deceive the people, as according to him, nothing concrete would come out of it.
He said since the APC had a majority in the House further reinforced by the solidarity of members of the Labour Party, whose leader and governorship candidate in the 2015 election, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala defected to the ruling party, it could do as it wished. He regretted that this was a betrayal of the people’s genuine aspirations and interests.