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Local government autonomy, the NASS doth-no-wrong


Senate President Bukola Saraki at the National Assembly PHOTO: TWITTER/NIGERIAN SENATE

Abrasive verbal conflicts often arise on account of differential meanings we assign to either the word or the word group. Vagueness of meaning leads to cloudiness of thoughts. Ambiguities cause similar problems. Note that the thought process is the seed bed of dissensions, schisms, fallacies and heresies. Our thoughts are what find expression in our words and our words get implemented and enforced by what we do, in our actions. How often misused words generate misleading thoughts, misconceptions and binary conflicts. Yet conflicts may be a thorny-route to a desired destiny or dream. Our words and discourses are thus not very accurate ways of signifying or expressing reality.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed pointed out the overt crisis in the theory of restructuring when he said “today restructuring means many things to many people. To some people restructuring is about giving to each state power and control over its resources. To some, it is just transferring some items from the exclusive list to the concurrent list (i.e. devolution of powers).

To some others, it is the creation of state police. Some are saying it is the implementation of the 2014 National Conference agreements advocating the creation of 18 more states. But restructuring must be seen in the context of praxis oriented democracy. Democracy is a service.

Note that because restructuring is a generic term, the thrust can be on all and more of the above uses. We have tinkered with revenue allocation at one time or the other. Attempts have been made to reform, the electoral process the judiciary, the police and now the local governments. These are all subtle forms restructuring can take. I have before now defined restructuring as “a strategic growth, and development tool used to reframe the power perspectives of institutions and levels of government”. The levels of government referred to are the participant significant political economic and social units namely the federal, state and local governments.

It is in this context of restructuring, the autonomy (self government) granted to the 774 local governments must be seen.

So what impression does Mr. Ray Ekpu want to create in the grand masters column, The Guardian, page 9 dated 8/8/2017, titled “Not So Sir” when he vehemently remarked that local governments should be the responsibility of states not federal!! Said Mr. Ekpu, “each state has a ministry of local government. Local governments are local and should belong to state governments!!” But I must tell Ray that the Federal Government could and may have a ministry of local government and chieftaincy affairs. The autonomy merely confers self governance. It does not make the local governments to belong to either the federal or state government. The autonomy merely formalises their recognition as a significant and participant political, economic and social unit by the Assembly of the representatives of the people of Nigeria.

That is why power and resources have been directly devolved to them in the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1999 CFRN). When Mr. Ekpu remarked that the constitution is clear on the federating units, he failed to read beyond chapter 1 Section 2 (2). He would have discovered that the same 1999 CFRN in schedule 4 (sections 1 and 2) recognises local governments not only as significant political economic and social unit, but also as a participant units.

“Ray Ekpu’s federalism has a rigid vertical political motif. But an ideal federalism should be a flexible mosaic or alignment of contiguous interdependent howbeit disparate significant political units. This is because federalism is a team arrangement to render service to the people at locations where it will be cost effective and efficient. Thus the emphasis is on unity of objective, effectiveness and efficiency not subordination as Ray Ekpu thought. This proximate layering of institutions of trust should be empowered by the National Assembly to enable them to effectively and efficiently discharge the duties, functions, and responsibilities assigned to them by the constitution. The critical success factors are effective devolution of powers and resource allocation by the relevant committees of the NASS (or their appointee). Devolution of powers is so critical that the NASS would need to consult experts to provide a comprehensive list of responsibilities, functions and duties that can be performed by each level of government based on unity of objective, cost effectiveness and efficiency parameters as aforesaid.

Mr. Ekpu should have known that local governments, and city governments are subsumed in the two collaborating levels of government mentioned in chapter 1 section 2(2) 1999 CFRN. If it is not so, how could the 1999 constitution assign duties and functions to an institution that does not exist or when it is not a significant and participant political unit as Ekpu blandly argued?!!

Ekpu and associate members of the old school of federalism failed to appreciate that federalism is not necessarily vitiated or emasculated by the multiplication of levels of government and collateral institutions created to render service to the people, so long as the scheme of devolution of powers brings government services home and nearer to the people. So in giving local governments autonomy, the NASS doth-no-wrong!!. Distinguished Senator Ike Ekweremadu may have seen that the local governments in Nigeria, in spite of being significant political units, were merely mentioned as foot note to the 1999 CFRN.

The NASS merely affirmed the autonomy of the local governments to free them from the strangle hold of rapacious state governors. The NASS did not devolve new duties, functions and responsibilities beyond the ones enunciated in chapter 7 schedule 4 1999 CFRN. The actual devolution of powers is in the pipe-line. When the powers of each level are agreed they will be devolved.

Mr. Femi Orebe (in the Nation, Sunday 30th July 2017) also abrasively commented on the recent constitution reviews by the National Assembly.

Mr. Orebe is also a member of the old school who thinks that restructuring means a return to regionalism and parliamentary system of government. Femi Orebe bought into the wrong-headed arguments of the late sagacious politician and legal luminary, uncle Bola Ige, that in a federal set up the Federal Government must have nothing to do with the creation or running of local governments. Said he, “Nigeria is the only federation in the whole world where the federal government decides how, where and when a local government must run. In all civilised countries and all democratic countries it is the state, regional or provincial government that legislates on local governments”.

Mr. Femi Orebe failed to see that the levels of government (federal, state and local) are a creation of the constitution. He failed to appreciate that it is not the Federal Government that is unilaterally reviewing the 1999 CFRN. It is the assembly of the representatives of all the tribal nationalities and significant political units in Nigeria. It is not the state or local government reviewing the 1999 CFRN. So clearly, it is wrong to insinuate that the federal government is unilaterally reviewing the constitution to favour itself and its institutions.

Since one of the numerous principles underlying our democracy is majoritarianism, decisions taken in the National Assembly are reached on the basis of pooling or voting wherein “the nays or the ayes have it”. It is wrong to blame any representative when decisions are given against our wish or desire. I agree with the Senate President, Dr. Olusola Saraki, that since issues of this nature are not one-off but, ongoing. There is opportunity to do further research and more public enlightenment to enable representatives and members of their constituencies to understand the critical issues involved. This will enable representatives at both National and State levels to close ranks and vote in a way that will engender “greater happiness for the greater number” advocated by J.S. Mill. In this, a lot of interstate lobbying, parleying, interest articulation and aggregation is involved.

The three levels of government may collaborate to serve the people better since power and resources will have been domiciled nearer home and away from the central government. This self-rule granted to local governments will strengthen our federalism economically and politically.

• Uwalaka is the National coordinator of Leaders Inculturation Foundation.

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