By Oludotun Adetuberu
It is rather so sad that in 2021, Nigerians still debate whether or not the local government, the third tier of government, should be scrapped. The local government system was created with the ultimate goal of bringing government closer to the grassroots. It is aimed at accelerating development at the bottom-leveled tier through the holistic participation of the local population.
Several people have decried how the third tier of government has been deprived, denied and dragged down by the other superior tiers in Nigeria. I make bold to say that these power differentials and asymmetry that have accounted for reasons why those at the grassroots have continued to entirely suffer with no access to their deserved democratic dividends. Despite the popular endorsement of local government as a potent system to mobilise people for local participation in governance, what we have seen so far is that the state governments have taken over the statutory functions of the local government. The local government now suffers from paucity of funds, resulting in its inability to cater for its basic responsibilities. As an authority in the local government administration in Nigeria, It is necessary I align my voice with others that for our local governments to be efficient in administration and free from the unbridled interference – perhaps its hijack – by the state governments, there should be a clinical review of the constitution to making the local government truly autonomous, especially on issues of fiscal powers, functions and responsibilities. I opine strongly that the local government should be empowered to own the discretion and right to manage its resources by itself, just like the state government and the Federal Government, the second and first tiers of government.
The recent attempt by the House of Representatives to delist the local government as the third tier of government is not only shocking and disappointing, but such in the eye of the sane public is bereft of logic. It was as though in the minds of the proponents of the delisting, the third tier constitutes the bulk of the challenges Nigeria is faced with, hence the urgent need for its delisting or eradication.
For the records, 52.68 per cent of the FAAC distribution goes to the Federal Government, 26.72 per cent goes to the state governments, while the remaining 20.60 per cent for local governments is also hijacked by the state governments, therefore leaving the local governments at the mercy of the state governments. This is plus the fact that the state governments enjoy other means of funding. From the finance act 2020, 14 per cent goes to the federal budget, one per cent to the Federal Capital Territory, four per cent to the Federal Inland Revenue Service, being the collector, and 50 per cent goes to the state governments, and 35 per cent to the local governments. The 35 per cent for the local government is also hijacked by the state government. This should bother every right-thinking Nigerian.
Ideally, the local government is supposed to be the delivery authority on pre-primary, primary, adult and vocational education, agricultural and national resource development, primary health care, water systems, town planning, environment and public sanitation comprising the refuse collection and disposal, cemeteries and crematoria, and slaughterhouses, among other areas, as well as the parks and open spaces within the locality. It is very unfortunate, to say the least, that almost all of these core duties of the local government have been taken over by the state government. The local government has been paralysed, and no wonder there is increase in crime since every criminal is from a locality. I hold a strong view that the effort of the state governments and local governments are supposed to be complimentary. The reason most minor roads are bad in Nigeria, even in Lagos, is because the local government system is near zero in capacity and competence. The performances up and down the ladder are what is required for a working democracy that will allow everyone to benefit from its dividends. The leadership of the National Union of Local Government Employees was absolutely right when it warned the House of Representatives not to even entertain a debate of such matter, let alone giving it serious consideration. What we need is an amendment of the constitution that will grant autonomy, more importantly the financial autonomy, to the local tier, proscribe the State Independent Electoral Commission and allow local government elections to be conducted same time as the general elections. The present system that empowers the governors to principally direct the affairs and decide what happens at the local government level needs to be abolished. Whether politically, or in any other sense, it won’t still be correct to continue this way. It has not worked and no matter how we try, it will never work.
This current provision of the constitution which allows the state government to provide for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of local councils ridicules the expected autonomy the local government administrators should ordinarily enjoy since their decisions and relevance are determined by their governors. What we have today as chairmen of local governments are Special Assistants to their various governors on community mobilisation with no executive power to really make things work for the progress of their local councils. In granting a local council autonomy, the State Joint Local Government Account where monthly allocations are paid into should be split, with each tier receiving and absolutely responsible for the distribution of its resources (allocation). Rather than debate how the local government system would be delisted as a tier of government in Nigeria, the National Assembly is hereby advised that what is necessary is the amendment of the constitution to clearly establish the three tiers of government and declare the local government as an autonomous unit of the federation and clearly spell out the powers and functions of the local government.
Until greed crept in through the governors, the three tiers of government were designed to complement one another in the delivery of dividends of democracy to the citizenry. To therefore empower the struggling tier is the way to go. To suggest or attempt its delisting will only further rubbish our democracy. Strengthen the local government system and many of the challenges we are faced with, including insecurity and unemployment, will be thrashed.