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How emperor govs, ad hoc administrators collapse grassroots governance in 238 local councils

By Seye Olumide
01 September 2023   |   4:14 am
The near absence of democracy at the local councils has not only crippled development at the grassroots but questions the democratic credentials of several state governors, who prefer to appoint loyalists as administrators and caretaker committees...

The near absence of democracy at the local councils has not only crippled development at the grassroots but questions the democratic credentials of several state governors, who prefer to appoint loyalists as administrators and caretaker committees instead of conducting elections and allowing democratically elected officers to run the affairs of the people, SEYE OLUMIDE reports.

Ogun State governor Dapo Abiodun

Bizarre scenes in Ogun State this week, where 18 out of the 20 local government chairmen publicly prostrated before Governor Dapo Abiodun, signposts the reptilian obeisance that democracy has assumed at the grassroots nationwide.

By default, though contrary to constitutional provisions, the state governors are the alpha and omega of everything governance across their states. And across 13 out of the 36 states, elections now almost belong to a bygone era.

Out of 774 local governments nationwide, about 238 across 13 states are currently led by administrators appointed by the governors. The states include: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Edo, Gombe, Kwara, Osun, Plateau, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara.

Even where council elections are held like in Ogun, sitting governors have not also helped considering their overbearing influence and lack of transparency in the affairs of the councils, coupled with how they deploy the enormous state resources at their disposal to initiate policies and actions that consistently jeopardise democratic values at the local level.

The consequence, as captured by a research carried out by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja, showed that across the grassroots, health services are inadequate, there is limited potable water, primary education is in a comatose, teachers are either not available or protesting poor pay, and general absence of public infrastructure nationwide.

While the essence of local government is to bring democracy closer to the people, successive and emperor-like governors have failed to conduct elections at the local level, thereby eroding democratic governance.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité 
Public disavowal on conducts of sitting governors is not common. In Ogun state, the grumble went louder than usual. It began as an allegation that Governor Abiodun in the last two years withheld and diverted council allocations. The protest, led by the Chairman of Ijebu East Local Government, Mr Wale Adedayo, was received as a sacrilege, with backlashes, has again, affirmed the overbearing influence of governors on local governments.

Adedayo had petitioned the EFCC and ICPC to investigate how the Ogun State government had been shortchanging local councils in the last two years.

Although Abiodun said he was disturbed by the “baseless allegation” against him, Adedayo insisted that he stands by his allegation.

Adedayo also urged Nigerians and citizens of Ogun State, to find out from the local government chairmen, who prostrated before the governor, to explain what they did with the various allocations they claimed to have collected.

While prostrating before Abiodun, the chairmen had said at no time had the government interfered in the distribution and sharing of local government funds from the federation account and that in May, N4.5bn was shared by the 20 local governments. In June, N4.4bn was shared, while July also saw the sharing of N4.4bn. In August, N5.2bn was shared.

In a twist yesterday, councilors in Ijebu East Local Government Area slammed three months suspension on Adedayo over allegations of maladministration and financial mismanagement.

Seven councilors said the Legislative Council received various allegations that need to be investigated and directed Mr Adedayo to appear at its next sitting on Thursday, September 14, 2023.

It’s all about allocations
The crux of the local government problem nationwide is fiscal. The sharing formula of the statutory allocation from the federation account gives 52 per cent to the Federal Government; the 36 states get 27 per cent while the 774 local government areas are entitled to about 21 per cent.

However, most states appropriate 48 per cent accrual and grants to the local government at their own discretion, using the State Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA) provision set out in Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution.

The ambiguity of Section 7 of the constitution, which does not clearly define the autonomy of local government from the state as it stipulated between the central and state governments is another challenge.

According to Section 7 of the constitution, “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 functions of such councils.”

While the constitution guarantees democratically elected local governments, on one hand, the document also empowers the state government to ensure the existence of such councils under a Law on the other hand, of which the governors have continued to take advantage of to muzzle local governments.

Many have been wondering why a constitutionally elected governor would lobby the state Assembly to sack or suspend another constitutionally elected local government chairmen, their vice and councilors, only to replace them with either a caretaker committee or administrators.

A former member of House of Representatives, Lanre Odubote wondered why it is constitutionally impossible for a president to remove an elected governor by fiat, except by declaring a State of Emergency, which must be approved by the National Assembly, but a governor can easily remove local government chairmen?

The governors have done this on many occasions despite several court judgements against it.

The Guardian findings revealed that many factors are responsible for the governors and ruling party’s desperation not to allow the normal democratic process to take place at the local government level.

One of the factors is that the local government structure is the political life wire of major ruling parties and incumbents, especially for those seeking re-election and the one that is planning to plant a successor. Hence, they do anything to remove elected council chairman and or councillors, who are mostly from their political leaning, and impose their loyalists.

Secondly, local governments have always served as conduits for the state governor to misappropriate funds through the joint account.

It was also discovered that governors used local councils to settle their political cronies in terms of contracts and other benefits. It therefore means nothing to the governors if democracy does not thrive at the local government level for their selfish purposes and interests.

Democracy without elections
Investigation shows that from 1999 till date, the only time Anambra State conducted election at the local government level was in January 2014. That was at the twilight of the administration of former governor, Peter Obi.

The elected executives served for only two years.

The implication of the development is that governance had run in the 21 councils in the last 22 years without elected council executives. The government in power in the state had appointed those who occupied offices in the councils as administrators.

The last elections into the 14 local governments in Zamfara State were conducted in 2019 under the APC-controlled government. The tenure of the elected chairman and councillor must have elapsed, while elections into the third tier of government have not been conducted in Sokoto since 2021

For 13 years, local government elections were not conducted in Bauchi State until October 2020.

Lagos has been consistent in conducting council polls since 1999, except on a few occasions where it uses caretaker committee pending when the election is organised. But the irony is that the party in power always won the entire chairmanship and the ward councillors elections.

Another way of destroying democracy at the council level is the desperation of governors and ruling party leaders, to tailor the chairmanship and council primaries towards foisting their choice candidates.

Oyo State governor Seyi Makinde

The 1999 Constitution has been totally helpless about the nature of undemocratic processes. For instance, in 2019 when the incumbent governor of Oyo State, Seyi Makinde was elected for his first term, he immediately sacked all council chairmen and councillors elected in the 2018 local governments elections conducted by his predecessor, the late Governor Abiola Ajimobi of All Progressives Congress (APC).

Makinde, who is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), considered it inexpedient to govern alongside existing elected local government chairmen and councillors, who are not on the same political platform with him.

He conducted a fresh local government election in 2021 and all his cronies won the 33 local governments chairmanship positions.

Oyo State Independent Electoral Commission (OSIEC) has since commenced preparations for the 2024 local government elections. The state conducted council polls in 2004, 2012, 2018, 2022, and the coming one in 2024.

Osun State governor Ademola Adeleke

Governor Ademola Adeleke of Osun State recently did the same when he sacked all the elected local government chairmen and councillors elected during the administration of his immediate predecessor, Gboyega Oyetola, and replaced them with caretakers.

Similar scenario is currently playing out in Plateau and Benue states after the 2023 elections when on assumption of office, governors, Caleb Mutfwang and Hyacinth Alia, respectively, dissolved existing democratically elected local governments officials.

Mutfwang dissolved the 17 local government councils in the state, citing failure of the chairmen to give a proper account detailing their revenue and expenditure profile, while Alia anchored his decision to suspend the 23 council chairmen on the recommendation of the state House of Assembly, which accused them of corruption.

For the 44 local governments in Kano State, APC cleared all in the election that was held in January 2021. Unfortunately, the former ruling party lost Kano to the NNPP in the last gubernatorial election. The tenure of the local governments is expected to lapse next year.

Elections were conducted in Nasarawa State local governments in October 2021 of which APC won all 13 seats and every councillor position. Another poll for the council will be held in October next year.

IN Ogun State, local government elections were conducted in 2004, 2007, and 2016.  Former Governor Ibikunle Amosun had set up a caretaker committee in charge of the council, but the incumbent Dapo Abiodun suspended Amosun’s administrators and put up his own caretaker committee before he finally conducted elections in 2021.

IN Ondo State, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu resumed office in 2016 and dissolved the elected councils to set up a caretaker committee, until he organised another local council polls in 2020.

In December 2021, the ruling APC in Ekiti State under former Governor Kayode Fayemi swept all 35 chairmanship seats and 176 of the 177 councillors seats in the local government elections. Recall that Fayemi, when he became governor in 2018 after defeating the then ruling party PDP allowed existing local government elected officers to stay in office, but they were allegedly compelled to defect before suspending them. But in 2021 when Fayemi finally conducted another council polls, he ensured that his loyalists got elected.

Ekiti State Governor, Abiodun Oyebanji

Governor Abiodun Oyebanji didn’t suspend council chairmen since they are all of the same APC family.

Enugu State appears to be the only one that has maintained regular conduct of elections at the local government council level every two years since 2007 in the southeast region.

Other states in the zone had either experienced staggered elections or failed in the conduct of the exercise and preferred “Caretaker Committee” or “Transition Committee” for the local governments.

The last time Imo State conducted a local government election was in 2019.

About a year to the exit of the then governor, Rochas Okorocha in the state, his administration superintendent over an election of council chiefs, but on the enthronement of Emeka Ihedioha on May 29, 2019, he sacked those elected during Okorocha’s administration and replaced them with Transition Committee members.

Ihedioha’s handpicked council leaders were in office for about seven months when the Supreme Court nullified his election and announced Hope Uzodimma as the rightful occupant of the office in January 2020

Uzodimma, upon his swearing-in on January 15, 2020, quickly sacked those appointed by Ihedioha. Although the court had ruled in favour of those elected chairmen under Okorocha and ordered that they be restored to office, Uzodimma, who appointed his men as Sole Administrators in the local governments, ignored it.

For Abia State, ex-governor Okezie Ikpeazu conducted the last council election on Friday, December 18, 2020.

When their tenure elapsed earlier this year, he made a futile attempt to conduct another election. As it is, the state is running with a Transition Committee in the councils.

Although opposition party members described the last attempt as a “one-man show”, Ebonyi State held a local government election in July 2022.

Those who emerged from the process currently occupy the various offices in the councils, while it is expected that there will be another election next year.

IN the South-South, Bayelsa State is planning to conduct its local government elections this year. The state governor, Douye Diri, said the state government was actually waiting for the 2023 general elections to be concluded before commencing the process for the council polls.

The tenure of the last elected local government chairmen and councillors expired on August 14, 2022, and the councils have been operating without elected council bosses since then.

In the past few months, the governor had come under intense criticism from the opposition and concerned stakeholders over the inability of his administration to conduct council polls.

In Edo State, the government is planning to hold council polls in September this year while in Cross Rivers State, the previous administration announced plans to conduct local government elections on May 24, 2023. Not much has been heard following the expiration of that tenure. The last local government conducted in Rivers State was held on April 19 2021. The incumbent governor is yet to come up with modalities for a fresh election into the council.

The pattern is not different in the Northern region where the governors also wield enormous powers over the local governments. Kwara State has not conducted council elections since 2019. The governor of Plateau State has since dissolved the elected council’s officers.

However, the House of Representatives in 2012 came heavily on erring state governors, with an order to immediately conduct the elections. A motion, which was also raised by the legislators to suspend the release of allocation to such local councils, was later annulled, as it was described as unconstitutional.

The sponsor of the motion, Friday Itulah, claimed that the system of appointing caretaker committees to head the councils is alien to Nigeria and a violation of Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution. He warned that if the practice by the erring governors was not checked, it might bring the country to a lawless state.

Many had criticised the joint state and local government account, saying it has always encouraged governors to manipulate funds belonging to the councils.

Another ill bedeviling the local government administration is the non-existing role of the councillors. Some observers said councillors have been playing no roles other than canvassing votes for the ruling party contrary to their constitutional functions.

Speaking on the development, a former member, House of Representatives, Lanre Odubote, said, as long as the 1999 Constitution remains unattended over the issue of autonomy for local governments, “nothing can stop the governors from doing whatever they like. Till tomorrow no council chairman can stand up to the governor otherwise the State Assembly will be deployed to deal ruthlessly with such chairman.

“I also imagine how many councils are receiving its allocation directly from the federal allocation and even when they do, I doubt if they can administer such a fund without the directives of the state. It will also be difficult for any governor and political party to take their eyes away from the local governments because that is what they use to mobilise for elections.”

Odubote said, “As things are, the National Assembly must have to amend the constitution to spell out the autonomy of local government like it is spelt out between the federal and state government.”

A group under the auspices of ‘Priority Complex Problem’ (PCPs) facing the country, proposed that the 10th National Assembly must look into amending the constituency towards granting total autonomy to local governments. They said this is necessary since the state governments have hijacked the constitutional roles of the councils.

The Convener, Professor Taibat Lawanson, said, “Part of the problems facing the country is that the roles of local government have been taken over by the state government.”

The don noted that the collection of tolls or levies at the parks by the states, which ordinarily is the statutory responsibility of local government. He said nothing should stop the National Assembly from legislating to grant total autonomy to the local government.    The state government has taken over the roles of local government because the councils are not able to perform.

“Local governments should be allowed to perform their function as stipulated by the constitution,” he said.

A former National Legal Adviser of APC, Dr Muiz Banire, said, the idea behind the creation of local government, which was essentially to bring governance and benefits of democracy nearer to the people at the grassroots, has been defeated.

Banire said local governments are treated with utter disrespect, disdain and insensitivity by state governors and the Federal Government, saying that council strategic roles in social and economic development at the local level are not appreciated.

According to him, “Many local government chairmen merely view their positions as that of regular disbursement of public money to state governors, traditional rulers, political mentors, their so-called godfathers and/or patrons/hangers-on. Hence, all forms of development that ever take place at the local level often come from either the state or Federal government.”

However, the legal practitioner’s view on autonomy is that the state electoral body should be stripped of the responsibility of conducting elections into councils.

Another lawyer, Chief Anthony Dania, advocated for the cancellation of the joint account of the state and local government just as he insisted on autonomy for local government as the best for this country.

He said the idea of governors short-changing the local government is bad.