Saturday, 9th December 2023

The gradual death of local government system – Part 2

By Eric Teniola
04 August 2023   |   1:42 am
There is need to maintain the peculiarities of the Nigerian situation which largely require a high degree of certainty in the nature of institutions, which the Constitution establishes, and the regulatory framework for such institutions.

Eric Teniola

There is need to maintain the peculiarities of the Nigerian situation which largely require a high degree of certainty in the nature of institutions, which the Constitution establishes, and the regulatory framework for such institutions. To do otherwise, is to leave too much room for speculation, manipulation and possible chaos. I believe that the safeguards which have been built into the system will guarantee that the development of the States and Local Government Areas will remain a joint undertaking by the two tiers. 

It should be considered the need to establish a system of Local Governments which recognizes the internal diversity of the nation within a true federal structure in which only the states are the federating units. I believe also that the safeguards which have been built into the system will guarantee that the development of the states and local government areas will remain a joint undertaking by the two tiers with adequate autonomy reasonably satisfactory to each level.

Having thoroughly analysed the situation, I am convinced that only states can be, the federating units in our circumstances. In reality, what Nigerians are asking for is not a federation of Local Governments with the federation of States, but a true federation in which states are the federating entities. There are some ambiguities in the current 1999 Constitution which must be amended so as to save the local government from total collapse. 

Section 7(1) states that ”The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall subject to section 8 of this constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and function of such councils”.

Yet, section 7(6a) submits, “The National Assembly shall make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to Local Government councils in the federation. But the confusion is extended further by section 7(6b) which states that” the House of Assembly of a state shall make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local government councils within the state”. This confusion also resurfaced in section 162(6) where it established the State Joint Local Government Account for the Purpose of payment of “all allocations to the Local Government councils of the State from the Federal account and from the Government of the State”.

In Section 162(7) it directs State Government to pay Local Government councils its total revenue on the terms prescribed by the National Assembly. At the same time it gives the same power and functions to the State House of Assembly in section 162(8). Further, section 8 (subsections 5 and 6) saddles the National Assembly with some functions before creation of a local government can become legal. The implication of all the identified contradictions and ambiguities is that it is very difficult to locate constitutionally the locus of power on local government creation. That is the tragic situation we are now.

The need to reform the local government has been on the table for some time. 
Since 1976, the central government has been most concerned about the fate of local government in Nigeria. On August 19, 1976, General Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR as the military ruler by then, set up a 10-man panel under the leadership of the late Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki (December 31, 1923- November 14, 2016), to look into the affairs of the local government with the sole aim of improving the local government system in the country. 

On May 7, 1984, Major General Muhammadu Buhari GCFR set up another committee on local government, headed by the same Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki. All his life, Alhaji Dasuki has been involved in the local government system. 

Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki had his education at the Dogondaji Elementary School, Sokoto Middle School, Kaduna College, University of Oxford, England; member, Sokoto Native Authority, 1943-1945, cashier and clerk, Gaskiya Corporation, 1945-1953, administrative assistant , Northern Nigerian Government, 1953-1956, assistant administrative officer, Pankshin, Plateau Province, 1956-1957, deputy secretary, Northern Nigeria Executive Council, 1957-1958, diplomatic officer, Nigerian Embassy, Bonn, 1958-1960, head of Chancery and first secretary, Nigerian Embassy, Khartoum, 1960-1961, justice of the peace, Plateau  Province, 1962, permanent secretary, Northern Nigerian Ministry of ;Local Government, 1962-1965, Permanent Secretary, Northern Nigerian Ministry of Trade and Industry, 1965-1968, chairman, Northern Nigerian Marketing Board, 1966-1969, chairman, Nigeria Railway Corporation, 1969-1977, appointed director, United Arewa Stores, 1969, also director, Gusau Oil Mills Ltd. 1969, secretary general , Jama’atau Nasril Islam, 1971, director, Zamfara Textiles Industries, 1971 and chairman, North-West Trade Development Company, 1972 chairman (also co-founder), Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), 1979-1989; chairman, Northern Nigerian Society for the Blind, member, Board of Governors, Institute of Administration, Ahmadu Bello University; traditional title: Baraden  Sokoto, also Sultan of Sokoto, November 1988 enthroned as the 18th Sultan of Sokoto.   

The report was submitted in September 1984 but the white paper was not issued until General Buhari was overthrown in 1985. On May 11 1986, General Ibrahim Babangida(81) GCFR approved the local government reforms as recommended by the Ibrahim Dasuki panel on local government councils. Those recommendations were far reaching I must confess.

That was the situation until Justice Nikki Tobi-led Constitution Debate Co-ordinating Committee’s recommendations on the ambiguity on local governments formed part of Decree No 24 of May 5 1999, which was promulgated as the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by General Abdusalam Abubakar (81) GCFR.

President Olusegun Obasanjo GCFR on June 23, 2003 set up another panel to review the Local Government system. The committee was headed by the then Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako (1937-2003), a competent administrator and chairman of the Niger state council of traditional rulers and former member of the Constituent assembly. Other members of the committee were Alhaji Liman Chiroma, Barrister John Ochoga, Professor Godwin Odenigwe, Mr. Augustine Udoh-Ekong, Professor Akin Mabogunje, Senator Tunde Ogbeha, Hon. Austin Okpara, Mrs. Abieyuwa Garba, Mr. Venatius Ikem and Alhaji I.B. Sali as the Secretary. All these committees including the Ahmed Talib Committee, the Oyeyipo Committee and the Dasuki Committee reports, advocated for one thing—direct funding for the local governments. To me the 1999 constitution has been unfair to the local governments.

It is very urgent that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR to act in order to save the local government system from total collapse. Expectedly, he is to convene his maiden meeting of the National Council of States where he will discuss urgent national issues. The local government system should be part of the issues to be discussed at the meeting. 

In the interim, Section 7 (1) and (2) of the Constitution should be retained so that State Houses of Assembly have powers to legislate on the creation and other necessary powers of the Local Government Councils in the spirit of true federalism.

Section 7 of the Constitution should be expanded to take care of the provisions made in this review to ensure the existence and proper functioning of Local Government Councils.

In line with the call for the security of tenure for elected Local Government functionaries, a new provision for qualifications and removal of the Chairman, Vice Chairman and Councillors is hereby recommended as a separate tier of Government within the States.

In order to strike a balance between the demand by the Local Governments for financial autonomy through direct funding from the Federation Account and the need to ensure financial probity on the part of both the Local Governments and the State Governments, it is recommended that Section 162 (5) be amended so that all disbursements to the Local Government go to the State Local Government Joint Account as provided in Section 162(6).The gradual death of the Local Government System in Nigeria must be halted.
Teniola, a retired Director at the Presidency, wrote from Lagos.