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Nigerians demand local government autonomy for agric, rural development

By Femi Ibirogba, Head, Agro-Economy Desk
17 June 2019   |   4:19 am
Nigerians from all walks of life have called on the Federal Government and the state counterparts to expedite actions to make local government councils autonomous...

• The country needs total overhauling, says OAU lecturer
Nigerians from all walks of life have called on the Federal Government and the state counterparts to expedite actions to make local government councils autonomous to fast-rack rural development, strengthen agriculture, create employment and reduce rural-urban migration.

Underdevelopment of rural areas has deprived agrarian communities of good road network, basic healthcare facilities, rural electrification, potable water and other life-enhancing amenities in the new dispensation of democracy.

Data on morbidity from hospitals indicates that over 70 per cent of people going to hospitals for medical treatment are down with malaria, typhoid and other food and water-borne diseases that the local governments could be empowered to prevent by providing drinking water and enforcing environmental sanitation.

These challenges, in turn, have escalated rural-urban migration, unemployment, disinterestedness in agriculture, food shortages and inevitability of food import as well as rising criminality as a result of increasing rate of tragedy of unemployment.

Investigation conducted by The Guardian revealed that most Nigerians from all walks of life strongly support the move by the Federal Government to free the rural areas from underdevelopment believed to have been thrust on them by various state governments.

With the objective of ending the 20-year deliberate incapacitation of the local government authorities, the Federal Government took proactive steps to emplace their financial autonomy in May this year. The State Joint Local Government Accounts (SJLGA) has been a cash cow for governors, rendering the rural areas grossly underdeveloped.

Using the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), an offshoot of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the government set June 1, 2019 for commencement of the direct fund allocation to all local governments.

Section 162 (8) of the 1999 Constitution, however, empowers the states to distribute allocations to councils “among the Local Government Councils of that State on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the State.”

A directive from NFIU, ‘Guidelines to Reduce Vulnerabilities Created by Cash Withdrawals from LG Funds throughout Nigeria, Effective 1st June, 2019,’ reportedly emanated from pressure of sanctions from international financial watchdogs over financial abuse against the local government administration.

“Having realized through analysis that cash withdrawal and transactions of the State, Joint Local Government Accounts (SJLGA) poses biggest corruption, money laundering and security threats at the grassroots levels and to the entire financial system and the country as a whole, the NFIU decided to uphold the full provisions of Section 162 (6) (8)of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution as amended, which designated ‘State Joint Local Government Account into which shall be paid allocations to the local government councils of the state from the federation account and from the government of the state,” it had said.

Some counter arguments against local government autonomy has been that chairmen and councillors did not justify funds released to their councils in the past. That was a valid argument under the military-managed local governments.

A superior argument is that neither the coucillors nor the chairmen of local government councils are immune from prosecution while serving, unlike the state governors. Granted that they could misappropriate funds meant for development projects, they could equally be prosecuted and sentenced if found guilty of allegations. The right things must be done.

Farmers and academics demand LG autonomy for development
Mr Ibrahim Kabir, the national president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), while describing the purpose of the local government administration as “to bring development to the people at their doorsteps,” argued that the joint account devised by the states was to restrict local government administrators who in some cases abused their offices by misappropriating funds meant for the improvement of the living conditions of their people.

However, he said, with the deepening democracy, the people should be able to elect who would work for them and the funds meant for such should not be unnecessarily controlled by state governments which do not have the same controversy with the Federal Government, saying, “I welcome this development with all my heart.”

Professor Lateef Sanni, Deputy Vice Chancellor, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), while pitching his camp with the AFAN boss, said financial autonomy to the local authorities would afford rural communities the opportunity to upgrade and maintain rural roads. That, he added, would pave way for distribution of farm produce to appropriate places.

“This is very crucial to reduce youth restiveness, and stabilise the economy. It will create jobs mostly at the grassroots and reduce influx of people to the urban environments. Though, regular monitoring is needed to reduce misappropriation of such funds,” Sanni said.

Likewise, a former Coordinator of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programmes (WAAPP) Nigeria, Professor Damian Chikwendu, who is the current Team Lead, Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), told The Guardian that because the local government councils are the closest to the farmers, they should be empowered to do their work to improve on the living conditions of their people.

Professor Olawale Mashood Aliyu, Provost, College of Agriculture, Kwara State University, Malete, Ilorin, said: “I am in full support of financial autonomy of local government councils because they are closer to the people, especially in rural and agrarian communities.”

He added that that would facilitate timely provision and delivery of farm inputs to farmers. Peculiarities of each community would also be better met by local authorities than state governments, he insisted.

In the same vein, Professor Kolawole Adebayo, a former Regional Coordinator of Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (C:AVA), said: “Yes. I support financial autonomy for them. Until local government areas become financially and functionally autonomous, our political system will remain in infancy.”

Adebayo added that good governance, responsive and responsible leadership as well as meaningful political influence could only become part of the social fabrics “when that level of government becomes the breeding ground of such virtues. What we have at the moment is a rent-seeking political system where incompetence is veiled under ethnic and religious dubiousness.”

Chairman of the Agriculture and Agro-allied Group, Lagos Chamber of Commerce, Africanfarmer Mogaji, said he strongly believed that the local government would really not do anything meaningful with the about N100 million monthly allocations to them despite any autonomy, just like their state counterparts.

However, he added, “I feel that with this administration, when people know that they have about N100 million monthly coming to their local government purses, they will lay claim on it.”

Sitting on the local government money deprives development, he admitted, “and so, it is a welcome development because we will see direct development, separation of power and monitoring and evaluation, which I think is key for the diversification of the economy.”

Adebisi Moruf, a professor of seed Science and Technology and Head of Department, Plant Breeding and Seed Technology, FUNAAB, expressed the optimism that financial autonomy for them would bring development.

“It is very essential and long overdue. State governors should allow them to use the financial resources allocated to them for the immediate benefits of their communities. Financial autonomy of local governments will enable them to carry out their responsibilities in the areas of health, education, rural infrastructure, agricultural development and social services to the people that brought them to power.”

Financial autonomy, he said, is a panacea for agricultural development and services towards sustainable food security. It would enhance them in the provision of agro inputs such as fertiliser, seeds, herbicides and insecticides to resource-poor farmers at subsidised prices.

Above all, he added, it would help in the empowerment of local farmers and youths, especially in the areas of agro-processing of farm produce, packaging, value addition to farm produce, post-harvest management and storage facilities.

“This will enhance better life for the local farmers, and improvement in standard of living of the farmers will greatly be enhanced. Finally, federal allocations to them should not be at the prerogative of governors. Local governments should be allowed to utilise their funds for the development of their communities,” he submitted.

Agribusiness men, experts demand speedy LG autonomy
An agricultural export promoter and consultant, Mr John-Bede Antonio, expressed support for complete autonomy for local government authorities.

He believed that independent candidates should also be allowed at local government elections.

“In addition, elected officers of local governments should be paid according to the ability of the local government to generate revenue and not uniform salaries across states,” he suggested.

Mr David Ayodele, another agribusiness consultant and service provider, said financial autonomy is a core principle of any federal system of government, allowing the federating units to remain financially independent from the other, while remaining interdependent on matters as stipulated by the constitution.

“I duly support financial autonomy for local governments which is the closest tier of government to the people and hence accountable. With the autonomy, informed priority setting and need assessment will be institutionalised while agriculture and rural development will become more participatory, focused and strategic to meet the goals,” he said.

Government agencies also declare support
Dr Olabisi Awoniyi, Assistant Director, Commercial Agriculture and Training, Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority, Ilorin, said the LGA as the third tier of government is the closest to the people and its seat is within the reach of the rural people.

“They were created to bring government closer to the people and initiate community economic planning efforts for the rural dwellers. But a lot has happened in the recent past, accounting for various economic woes that have befallen the LGAs staffs and the rural people. Local government administrations have failed to bring economic growth to the people, especially the rural farmers,” he explained.

One of the reasons for the failure, Awoniyi said, is non-availability of funds due to lack of financial autonomy, explaining that “state governments deprive the LGAs of funds and fund due to them are diverted to other uses. LGAs lack fund to develop agriculture, which is the mainstay of the economy of the rural people.”

He argued that though mismanagement of past funds provided to the LGAs was part of the woes that had befallen the tier of government, efforts must be made to discourage this and financial mismanagement should seriously be punished rather than be used as an excuse to stop financial autonomy of LGAs.

He concluded that LGAs should be given financial autonomy to fulfill their mandates of bringing economic development to the grassroots.

“According to the former Minister of Agriculture, at least N100 million for each LGA was high-jacked by states every month, depriving them of funds for agriculture and rural development. What a great development that would have happened in over 700 LGAs in the country if LGAs were to be financially autonomous,” he said.

Contrary views
Dr Chijioke Uwasomba, an associate professor at the Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife, expressed pessimism about autonomy and development of local government in a system that needs total overhauling.

He added that the way the LGAs were created in the first place did not promote equity and justice, saying that a situation where Lagos State has only 20 LGAs while Kano, with less population than Lagos, “is today a 40-something local government state is unacceptable.”

“No. I do not support financial autonomy for LGAs, neither do I indulge state governors in their reckless mismanagement of funds meant for LGAs in particular and the welfare of the entire citizens of the state. My take is that LGAs should be under the control of the states. The Federal Government shouldn’t have any role with the LGAs,” he submitted.

Jigawa, which was created out of Kano, he added, has over 30 LGAs. Ditto for many states in the North. LGAs should be a matter for state governments under a new arrangement.

“The current arrangement allows states to do what they like with LGAs funds. There is so much inequity in Nigeria. State governors may be hijacking LGA funds because they also know that the current structure of the entire governance of Nigeria does not encourage good governance and prudent management of resources,” he added.

Uwasomba said the former agriculture minister, Audu Ogbeh, who had been around many governments for a long time, knows why state governments are acting in the manner that they do.

“As one who is close to the powers that be, he should be concerned that Nigeria is such a mismanaged country in all material particulars. The status quo in today’s Nigeria not only at the local government level, but also at all levels does not in any way give optimism. States and local governments will naturally change and become responsible when Nigeria’s structure is re-tooled in an equitable and honest manner. Nigeria is a lie.

“Stories of hijacking of LGA funds will continue to make their rounds until a proper local government system is put in place. The urgent priority is to restructure the entire system,” he said.

Dr Olufemi Oladunni, Executive Director of the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Ilorin, Kwara State, equally expressed reservations about financial autonomy for LGAs, saying, “does the constitution allow the ĹG to exist without the state? We need to put emotions and politics aside and address the relevant portions of the constitution for amendments where necessary.”

As the “closer-to-the-people” and development arguments resonate throughout the comments and discourses of Nigerians, it is safe to conclude that the majority of Nigerians demand that governors should desist from incapacitating the local government administration by giving them what is statutorily allocated to them and add at least five per cent of the internally generated revenue.

State governments and assemblies should also demand three-year development plans across rural areas of each local government and these should be monitored and evaluated constantly to engender even development in the rural areas.

Experts suggest heavy investments of local government resources in farm settlement developments, shared farm processing facilities, storage facilities, farm road grading and construction, land clearing and preparation equipment and quality seeds/input procurements, as well as improved healthcare facilities and water for farmers and rural dwellers.

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