Urgent need to salvage local government administration

The collapse of local government administration into that of the state governments by many governors is a disregard for constitutional provisions giving vent to local government.

The collapse of local government administration into that of the state governments by many governors is a disregard for constitutional provisions giving vent to local government. It is also a disservice to the envisaged function of the third tier of government as one closest to the people at the grassroots. Unless the anomaly is corrected, the dividend of democracy may remain elusive to the majority of Nigerians.
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Since 1999 when the current democratic dispensation was reset, local government administration across the country has suffered innumerable woes in the hands of democratically elected governors. The 1999 Constitution at Section 7(1) guarantees the existence of democratically elected local government councils. The Constitution thus mandates the government of each state to comply with relevant statutes on structure, composition, finance, and function of such councils.

Equally, Section 7(3) states that it shall be the duty of the local government council to participate in economic planning and development of the local government area via a Law to be enacted by the House of Assembly of the State. In other words, the local government area is a development zone for the people at the grassroots.

The Constitution also recognises the need for periodic elections at the local government, charging the State Government to ensure that every person, who is entitled to vote or be voted, is allowed to participate. However, as many as 17 states have reportedly substituted elective local government administration with caretaker committees in 323 local councils; making it a sad reality that local government administration in the country has suffered a great deal in the hands of elected governors, who see the third tier of government as an extension of their private fiefdom.

After the local government elections that ushered in this dispensation in 1998/99, governors that are elected since 1999 have had to tamper with periodic elections in councils. They hold irregular and often sham elections and prefer caretaker committees whereby they impose their stooges as administrators. In states where council elections manage to hold, so-called state independent election commissions appointed by governors have been most disappointing. At such elections, a ruling party feels no qualms or shame to declare a 99 per cent victory for itself, leaving opposition parties out in the cold.
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In the management of their finances, councils do not enjoy the so-called autonomy guaranteed for their finances. The Constitution at section 7(6b) provides for the National Assembly to make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local councils in the Federation. States as well are to make similar allocation of public revenues to local government councils, being councils’ share of Internally Generated Revenue as well as sundry taxes.

In reality, states have taken over statutory allocations to councils and also taken over Councils’ revenue generating functions as outlined in Schedule 4 of the Constitution. Thus, the capacity to develop has been taken away from councils making them perpetually dependent on state governments.

The current case in Ogun State, where Governor Dapo Abiodun and embattled Chairman of Ijebu East Local Government Wale Adedayo are embroiled in allegation of fund diversion has become the classic example of lack of transparency and accountability in the administration of local governments. It may as well provide a clue to why the third tier remains underdeveloped.

The suspended council chair, Adedayo, had accused the Governor of persistent withholding of statutory allocations from the Federation Account to the Council, which he claimed had crippled the developmental activities of the Council.

In a petition he addressed to former governor of the state and leader of All Progressives Congress (APC) Aremo Segun Osoba, Adedayo wrote: “Your urgent intervention is sorely needed to convince the Ogun State Governor, Prince Dapo Abiodun, that the statutory Federal Allocation to Local Governments in Ogun State should be allowed to reach each of them as envisaged by the 1999 Constitution. Since we (Ogun State Local Government Chairmen) got on board in 2021, it has been zero Federal Allocation to each local government. The 10 per cent of the state’s Internally Generated Revenue, which the Constitution also stipulated should go to the local governments, has not been given since Abiodun got into office.” Weighty allegations!

Although the Ogun State Government has denied diverting local government funds, there is need, nevertheless, for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to painstakingly investigate the allegation. Interestingly, the complainant’s fellow council chairmen have, rather than bond to defend their autonomy and release of statutory allocations, went to grovel at the feet of the Governor in a most subservient gesture which again speaks volume of the hold by governors on their local governments.
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It is a shame as well that Adedayo’s colleagues in Ijebu East did not make any sense out of the chairman’s solo move to liberate the Council. Instead of taking advantage of the petition to demonstrate solidarity, the Council legislators suspended Adedayo for three months and reeled out a list of misdemeanors, which he is to answer before he is restored back to office.

While financial crimes agencies investigate these allegations, the councilors actions are not in any way helping the cause of councils, given that the comatose condition of local governments is trite; and they have in consequence failed to discharge even routine duties assigned to them by the Constitution. The councillors’ conduct is cheap and lacking character where they were expected to demonstrate valour. Why did they wait until Adedayo’s petition against the governor before they realised he too had acted improperly regarding the finances of the Council?

From reports emanating from other states across the country, the situation is not different from that of Ogun. Governors do not see local councils as development areas to help spread economic growth.  The local government remains the kernel of governance because it is home to the masses of Nigerians. Governors should therefore respect their oath of office and allegiance to the constitution, and allow Councils to thrive and be developed.
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Concerted efforts should be made to ensure that the constitutionally recognised mode of local government administration is the standard in all states. This guarantees their financial autonomy, free, fair and credible periodic elections and an end to the fraudulent habit of using ad hoc and unelected caretaker committees to run councils.

Considering its importance as the closest tier of government to the people, it is also desirable that a high educational qualification, preferably a minimum of Higher National Diploma (HND) or Bachelor’s degree should be demanded of those who seek to manage councils’ affairs. Local government administration should not be left for people who lack the knowledge and character requisite to understand and take appropriate actions for councils’ administration.

Moreover, civil society organisations, the media and other accountability bodies should henceforth pay more attention to operations in their respective local government areas.

In the past, the Ministry of Finance under Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala published allocations to all tiers of government for Nigerians to see and track. There should be a return to that era such that local governments in turn will publish what they earn as well as their expenditures. This will also serve to monitor councils and identify corrupt leaders in that arm.
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