EDITORIAL: Time To Resolve The LG Autonomy Issue

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It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand why states are afraid of an autonomous local government administration. The impression being created in the process is that the allegation that they steal the allocation of that tier of government from the Federation Account because they are the supposed senior partner in the joint account arrangement is true.

Since the struggle for autonomy for local governments started, states have been the only obstacle to its actualisation. The National Assembly has just passed a major amendment that will abrogate state/local government joint accounts and ensure the existence of democratically-constituted local government areas. Already, speculations are rife that the Governors, who have the State Assemblies in their pockets as stooges, are beginning to mobilise to obstruct its passage as required by law. The same perfidy happened during the last review as the State Houses of Assembly sabotaged the process and the required concurrence from at least 24 of the 36 states to vote in favour of local government autonomy could not be attained.

As this argument goes, we conjecture that part of the fear of the governors for standing against an autonomous local government structure is essentially political. They are afraid that an autonomous, democratic local government arrangement as opposed to the present caretaker committees, will be a threat to their hegemonic control of that level of government that is closest to the people. The Governors are apprehensive that the blackmail and back-stabbing that is their relationship with the federal government could be meted out to them by an autonomous local government.

A former governor confessed this much when he said that the prospect of an opposition local government administration will hamstrung the smooth running of the state government. We are unable to understand how that is possible. Many of these states’ governments are controlled by parties not in government at the federal level. That situation, to all intents and purposes, has not derailed the federal government. Or in any way, hampered the smooth running of the administration. This fear is responsible for the unyielding resolve by the governors to continue to have the local governments tied to their apron strings.

But that fear, in our opinion, is misplaced if the intentions of the governors are genuine and noble. But that is not the case. It is a verifiable fact that, on the surface, these governors emerged through a democratic process. But in the running of the affairs of the state, they display the worst form of autocracy that is so debilitating in its dimension. They want to be dreaded. They insist on having every resource in the geographical area, including allocations to the local governments, under their control to be disbursed at their personal whims and caprices. They want to be the only visible political figure, the Lord of the Manor of sorts. For them, a fund- starved local government is a weak, meek and malleable local government. The governors are not concerned about the extent of damage this tendency on their part is causing to the growth and maturity of democracy in the country.

Curiously, in our view, they have been able to master the skills of making a nonsense of every move to reverse the status quo. But the time to stop all that is now. The local governments themselves will have to fight for their own existence. They can only get assistance such as the one being extended to them by the National Assembly.

The Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) and Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) are in a position to spearhead the struggle. This is the time for clear thinking and strategizing on how best to go about it. It is an uphill task considering the fact that the Governors and the state Assemblies are working hand in glove to frustrate any and every effort to remove chocolate from their mouths. Nevertheless, the goal is achievable.

We are enamoured by the fact that they, at NULGE, are sufficiently informed, enough to appreciate the reality that this issue is not just political to the extent that it involves the money at the disposal of the State governments and they will always want to have more regardless of the harm such acquisitive propensity is likely to have on development at the grassroots and the country. It is obvious that the Assemblies are too engrossed in the struggle to stuff their pockets to have the time to remember that they are also the representative of these Nigerians who are at the grassroots and wallowing in deprivation.

However, we urge the State Governors and the Assemblies to have a rethink for the sake of the much talked about suffering common man and realise the immediacy of resolving the matter.