OPINION: Why state governors should allow local government autonomy

OPINION: Why state governors should allow local government autonomy

Editor’s note: The local government autonomy has been described as a panacea to the backwardness at the grassroots level across the state. It is believed that while the incumbent governor of a state concentrates on developing the state capital and some key local governments, other councils really suffer under-development.

In this article sent to NAIJ.com, a Lagos-based journalist, Muhammed Subair, explains why all the states of the federation should allow local government autonomy so that people at the grassroots would be able to enjoy dividends of democracy to the fullest.

The 1976 Local Government Reform by the military government had clearly spelt out the duties of local government administrations in the country.

The reform identified as governing at the local level through representative council, established by law to implement specific powers within defined areas.

That local government is adjudged the closest to the grassroots implies bringing forth dividends of democracy in terms of provisions of social amenities and good governance to the remotest part of the community.

But in spite of its closeness, little or nothing has been done by local government administrations to their respective communities in the area of developmental projects and good governance to the people.

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The fact which brings alive the reality that the third tiers of government is faced with problems of relevance and absolute dependence on the state for its survival.

But as Lagos residents walk to the poll this Saturday July 22, 2017 to elect council chairmen into the 20 local governments and 37 LCDAs in state, in the face of yet-to-be-granted administrative and financial autonomy to local government in Lagos and other states of the federation, how impactful these incoming chairmen would be in the area of service delivery remains a question begging for answers.

Although, local government administrations in most part of the states are marred with self-service and endless jamborees by party affiliates and politicians, but there is no denying their proactive nature, impact and closeness of council administration on the lives of the locals.

However, talk of capacity building and empowerment programmes for the locals, local councils are unequal. In spite of the financial constraint confronting local government administrations, bearing in mind the fears, needs and aspirations of members of the community, they see the need in catering for the community needs.

Maybe it is needless to say that in the area of economic empowerment, I have witnessed many of such gatherings in some local government councils within the South west region where items such as tricycles, pepper grinding and sewing machines, educational materials and other home appliances including cash donations to those with health challenges are presented to the needy.

The functions of local government council according to the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria among other functions include: "assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates; construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, parks, gardens ... or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a state; control and regulation of out-door advertising and hoarding, restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public."

Recently, Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos state launched the rehabilitation of 114 roads in the 20 local government councils and the 57 LCDAs in the state. However, it is worthy of mention that some of these roads are back street roads whose maintenance ought to lie with the council but are now being managed and maintained by the state government.

Just as drainages, streets and parks maintenance and many other functions of local councils are being taken over by men of Lagos state government agencies.

As laudable as these functions as assigned to local councils by the constitution are, there is no mincing word that local government councils are denied the political and administrative independence to act in accordance to it.

Under a democracy, local government council representatives are elected into office for a fixed period of time. But it is unfortunate that in spite of their elective status and right to a fixed term of office, council chairmen can hardly exercise administrative and political independence which found expression in their inability to embark on capital projects.

This is not surprising because many of these council chairmen in their journey to the position ride on the back of political godfathers and governors to actualise their dreams while in exchange for the position, they makes a rubber stamp out of them by taking control of government apparatus and the finances of the council.

On the financial autonomy of local government council, the constitution is not silent as section 162 subsection 6 of it clearly states that “each state and local government shall maintain a special account called the State Joint Local Government Account into which shall be paid allocation to the local government councils of the state from federation account and from the government of the state”.

According to the above section of the constitution, allocations to the local government councils are paid into the state joint local government account for onward transmission to the local government.

Again, using Lagos state as a case study, before the creation of an additional 37 Local Council Development Areas in 2003 by the former Governor Bola Tinubu of Lagos state, Lagos state had 20 local government councils which was recognised and funded from the federation account.

However, the creation of these LCDAs rather than simplified governance and promote development, it retarded developmental process and cause a strain in the finances of the pre-existing 20 local councils for the survival of the newly created LCDAs.

For the avoidance of doubt, the existence of local government councils is very vital not only to the accomplishment of the mega city status Lagos state is aspiring for but for also an increased political participation and community development.

Therefore, if the 774 local councils in the country are adequately funded and allowed to operate according to the dreams and objectives of each of the council head without the interference by the state, the challenges of bad roads, poor community electrification, lack of potable water, lack of social amenities and poverty could be solved.

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Also, to further entrench democratic principles in the country and at the grass root, local government councils as the third tier of government should be given both financial and administrative independence to be able to impact on their immediate environment but with a check on their excesses through the Ministry of Local government affairs in each state of the federation being free to administrate and appropriate the finances of the council should not be seen as an opportunity to embezzle public funds.

Lastly, as Lagos residents march to the poll to elect new council head, Lagos state government and other state government should create an avenue whereby council administrations would be seen by all to be working and not operate a shadow government.

The 774 local government councils in the country need to be independent both in administration and finance it is only with this that democracy and grass root participation could be meaningful.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of NAIJ.com.

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NAIJ.com had previously reported the APC governors said autonomy for the local governments would undermine the fundamental principle of federalism and push the country towards a unitary system.

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