Local government autonomy: Is the wait over?

With 774 local governments, slightly more than 8800 wards, the third and arguably most important tier of government in Nigeria, the local governments, the very ponder of this tier of government chiefly existing on papers: make every considerate Nigerian hackles rise.

How could the system be effective? When the tripartite tiers enshrined in our constitution have been ruined to the point that some of the governors run the local government administration, as their sole proprietorship business, where the local governments are subjected to complete subordination without accountability in many of the states by the state legislatures saddled with the responsibility of checkmating the excesses of the executive arm of government.

Why would this tier of government be efficient when the primary reason it is not autonomous is to maintain the status quo? But what is this status some readers may enquire? I definitely know the vast majority of Nigerians are aware of what is presently obtainable in this tier of government across the length and breadth of Nigeria. The fact that numerous local government areas can barely repair hand pump boreholes, in some even digging wells have proved to be an herculean task, no leader in all conscience would want this to continue, when we lack portable drinking water in so many local governments.

A situation where local government areas cannot maintain our cemeteries let alone build new ones in an increasingly growing population, I doubt any thoughtful leader would want this to continue. For crying out loud, this is our final abodes.

Travel to the length and breadth of Nigeria and you will be astounded what the rural areas confront. These are the areas where chunk of all votes come from. These people stayed in the sun for hours to vote but the only chance they can get of government’s presence has been flagrantly denied by those who purportedly represent them. What manner of representation is it, if the representatives cannot muster the courage to present the people’s harrowing ordeal to higher authorities?

Few months ago, an inter-tribal crisis broke out in one of the local government areas in Nigeria. The only security agency with the capacity to pacify the village was a considerable distance away. The traditional institution notified the local government boss, who was financially and adminstratively ‘handicapped’. Still, he went further to beg the security agents to go and control the strife. Unfortunately, their Hilux vehicle got spoilt. Therefore, they wanted just a meagre amount to repair it for prompt action on the raging crisis. The local government chairman told them point-blank that the local government didn’t have a dime in their coffers. Salaries had not been paid and it wasn’t a big market day in any of the main commercial villages in the council.

Probably, he had collected enough debt that he won’t get any in time, add that to the lackadaisical attitude of some of our leaders. To be fair to him: the current status of local government in Nigeria gives him every opportunity to not live up to his responsibilities. This is sadly what governance has been reduced to where it is unarguably needed the most.

The above-mentioned security problem, is just one out of many, indeed more menacing security challenges: terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, etc. By now many Nigerians must have agreed with experts, leaders, and laymen like me, who have linked the current security challenges penetrating the expansive terra firma of the country to lack of government presence at the local level, where it is the closest to the people, especially the poor and vulnerable people.

A system built on tripod structure cannot survive on twain plain pillars: it will definitely collapse. This is what we have seen over the years when they took away the local government from the people and readily gifted it to the governors, who many of them have devastatingly run it as their fiefdom, to the chagrin of all patriotic Nigerians.

Thus, the high commendation the news of the National Assembly passing the bill to abolish joint account and resuscitate local government administration, is well-placed despite this not being the first time similar bill was passed. The 8th Senate and House of Representatives did the same about five years ago. However, it never saw the light of the day. The problem isn’t at the National Assembly. This I have come to understand with the benefit of hindsight.

Where then does the problem lies? Without mincing words, the problem has always been at the State Houses of Assembly. With their support, we could have had the local government autonomy realised. The bureaucratic bottlenecks make the state legislatures’ support a constitutional requirement for this to materialise. Sadly, they have been a stumbling block to it.

However, I have intently followed this process over and over again. I have come to the conclusion that the State Houses of assembly are helpless being that a substantial number of them can hardly go against the governors even when they are wrong. I am a staunch supporter of due process, hence, supporting the governors when they are right, is what I absolutely approve.

I think seeing the inadequacy of the State legislatures is what prompted Mr President to champion the State Houses of Assembly and States Judiciary autonomies, which the governors effectively fought against in court, this led to the invalidation of his Executive Order 10 signed in June 2020. If Mr President had been successful, it would have definitely aided in getting the local government autonomy. Since that hasn’t been effectual: does that mean we should throw in the towel on our aspirations for a productive local government administration in Nigeria? No, we cannot afford to do that.

What do we do to make the difference? It is apparent that we need to change approach. I had written two lengthy articles asserting the significance of local government areas even when we were not facing as dreadful security concerns in the rural areas as now. In those two pieces in 2017, I admonished the state Houses of Assembly members, and clearly stated the limit of what any governor that was against the local government autonomy could do to them. It seems that hasn’t been efficacious, as we are yet to get financial and adminstrative autonomy, for this vital tier of government.

Hence, I will advocate more involvement of the electorate in the entire process, if we are truly desirous of disrupting the status quo. Nigerians in all states must follow the process keenly and know who among their representatives at the state Houses of Assembly have voted for or against the bill. This is imperative in order not to shield those who inadvertently or by design have decided to be against the masses for self-serving reasons, we must be vigilant. Nigerians should do the needful at the polls by rewarding those who truly stand and care for them, to continue their good work in office. I believe all things being equal, we will finally get the elusive local government autonomy actualised.

Sansani writes from Turaki B, Jalingo, Taraba state.

Related content you may like