National President of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, speaks to MOSES JOHN on the struggle for local government autonomy and its opposition by a sister union. Excerpts.LG autonomy and teachers If this bill is passed into law, primary school education would even be more autonomous than the local government, because the provision is very clear. Whatever percentage is expected to be contributed by both state and local government in a given state, it would be determined through an audit of the State Assembly.
Such would also be transmitted to the Federal Allocation Account Committee (FAAC) where such deductions from each state would be affected and set aside or transferred to a particular account or institution assigned by the law and that will be guaranteed for the payment of primary school teachers, not only salaries but also other teaching materials and equipment. So, they don’t have anything to worry about. I am saying this authoritatively because the national leadership of NUT and I were part of the process. If I am part of the leadership of NUT, I will be on the forefront by ensuring that this bill sees the light of the day. As at today, the primary school salary is hanging, nobody is responsible by law to pay this salary because the law did not provide where the teachers belong, whether they are staff of local government, state government or federal government.
They need to for instance, know where they belong. But the situation now is confusing, to the extent that deductions are made from local government funds hundred percent to pay teachers’ salaries, while the board that administers primary education resides in the state. So there is confusion, there is no synergy. But by this new provision, it is very clear that anybody can administer in as much as funding for primary education is coming from these two tiers of government.
So, it is much more clearer and it would be better for them. NUT concerns But I don’t think that there is any problem for NUT to be afraid about. May be they need to study the bill over and over again to see what NULGE was able to do for them. Like I have always said, primary education whether it is managed by federal, state or local government, it is still a local issue because primary schools reside in our communities, hamlets and it is the children of people living in rural areas that attend public primary schools. So, the teachers need to critically understand that.
We also feel that whatever concerns or worries teachers have is our problem, because our children are the ones they teach in the primary schools. So we are concerned about the plights of teachers and that is why we always want to carry them along. But primary education alone cannot solve the problem of rural areas because there are other aspects of inclusion that need to be carried along. We have agriculture, primary health care, security, revenue generation, we have other needs for environmental degradation. We have needs of other infrastructure like roads and these need to also be carried along because for you to have comprehensive community where everybody lives in harmony, all these social services need to be given the deserved attention they deserve. NUT position Sincerely speaking, if you want to understand clearly the position of NUT, you need to interview the NUT leadership. But I will like to make this information clear to you, that before we arrived at what we agreed at the National Assembly, the NUT leadership was adequately represented.
We had series of meetings with some NGOs, under the leadership of the NLC, we went to the National Assembly with the chairman of the constitutional amendment committee, who is the deputy Senate President. We interacted and agreed, so, I think that maybe there’s communication gap between the rank and fi les of the NUT and it’s the leaders that should sort that out.
While the national leadership was part of this process at national level, maybe there wasn’t transmission of this similar information to either state level of the leadership of the NUT and the local government level. That is why I urge you as journalists, to interact with NUT to know what are the real issues that up till now, some NUT leadership are still going against the autonomy even when the bill is also aiming at freeing primary education, not only in term of salaries but also other teaching materials. The proposed bill is very clear, because a provision is to be made through an audit of the state and transmit to FAAC to adopt a first line charge from each state, and transmit same amount as prescribed by the law of the state assembly, to a particular body assigned by either state or primary education board or national primary school commission as the case may be.
And that will be determined by the stakeholders in primary education of which NUT is one of the major stakeholder there. So I don’t think there is any reason whatsoever for any teacher or official of NUT to worry over the bill. Capacity I don’t think the excuse of capacity is adequate enough to be used against granting local government autonomy.
Even if there is issue of capacity, once it becomes autonomous, it will have the leverage to look outside the box and see what they can do to address the issue of capacity, that is if their assertion is correct. But as a leader of local government, let me make it clear that the capacity of local government workers cannot be a question. There is no qualification that you cannot find in the local government administration in Nigeria. We have engineers, medical doctors, lawyers, Ph.D holders. Even in NULGE today, I preside over a council with over 10 Ph.D holders as state president of NULGE. So, which capacity are you talking about?
So the issue is that state governments are using fl imsy excuses to deprive Nigerians the much needed functional local government they desire. It is selfish on the part of the governors for not allowing local government to function.
We look at examples of many other countries in the world, look at all federal arrangement in the world, they have local government and they are functioning. And let me make it clear that autonomy doesn’t mean local government will not have anything to do with state, we are talking about independence, free enablement for the local government to operate because it has a specified function. So, no matter how, inter- governmental mechanism will be in place.