The local government system in Nigeria appears to have suffered neglect since 1976 as a result of the abuse of the democratic process by state governors. MOSES JOHN, in this analysis, chronicles the position of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) on the matter.
The local government system which is the third tier of governments was created to bring government closer to the people in the rural areas, but what is seen of recent appears like is an appendix of the state governments which often imposed their cronies instead of allowing the citizen to elect their true representatives.
This is not as if the state governors are not aware that the local councils should be independent because there were reforms that were ignored. Maybe this should have reduce this rural-urban migration when government is truly closer to the people.
In 1976, during the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the reform intended to institute an enduring, viable local government councils, create a system that could serve as a catalyst for the development of the areas covered and to guard against the situation where the state government has continue to encroach upon what would normally have been the exclusive preserves of local government.
The 1976 reform was seen as a revolutionary approach to the structure, functions, powers and staffing in the local government councils, so that the third tier of government can be independent.
However, the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) which is the major stakeholder for a while now has been agitating for the reform of local government system because the main essence of setting up the local government in Nigeria and the various reforms which were not implemented in the past.
The National President of NULGE, Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, who spoke in Abuja during the inauguration of a seven-man committee to harmonize memoranda received from the 774 local governments, said the union was resolute to ensure that the National Assembly consider independence for local councils in Nigeria in the forthcoming constitutional amendment.
Members of the committee are Comrades Godwin Ayandi as chairman, Leo Nka, Adekomi Jacob, Abdulmumuni Bapayo, Aliyu Haruna, Abubakar Yakub and Comrade Muyiwa Cole, who will serve as secretary.
Comrade Khaleel urged the committee to do a god job and said the union’s agitation was due to the challenges confronting the local government system which range from diversion of fund, hijacking of statutory functions, imposition of undemocratic structures (caretaker committee) to run the affairs of the local government contrary to Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution, imposition of undesirable projects, abuse and non-compliance with relevance constitutional provisions that guide the operation of the State Joint Local Government Account (JAAC), illegal and sundry deduction from local government fund through the same account and over deductions of primary school teachers’ salaries and shifting the sole responsibility of running primary education on local government - all which have violated the system and made it redundant.
He remarked that efforts in the past to correct these anomalies and restore sanity in the system were frustrated by the state governments which usually use Section 7 of the Constitution to justify their ulterior motives against any move to strengthen the local government system.
The NULGE boss noted that the intervention of Federal Government with respect to local government administration demonstrated clearly the structural inadequacies and imbalances in the 1999 constitution.
He said: “The concept of bringing governance closer to the people through a third-tier participatory form of government has not materialised in Nigeria. Lack of capacity of local government to fulfill the aspirations of their communities is caused by lack of adequate resources, including inappropriate fiscal base, the usurpation of its power to raise internal revenue and the manipulation of the state joint local government account.
“The creation of local government caretaker councils is directed towards enhancing the powers of state governors and creating an empire for them, rather than promoting the idea of bringing government closer to the people to aid participatory democracy, good governance and effective service delivery.
The appointment of caretaker committees to run local governments is manifestly unconstitutional as the present structure of local government does not guarantee service delivery, security and poverty eradication.
“These and other realities in our local government across the nation have turned our councils to a caricature of local government system where all manner of experiment, both political and administrative, is carried out.
There is no state in the Federation of Nigeria where one form of illegality or the other is not committed with funds of local government, through over deduction of primary school teacher’s salary, spurious state/local government joint project, sponsoring of elections, taking over the statutory functions of local government and handing them over to cronies and consultants, non-payments of pensioners and non-utilisation of training fund despite the mandatory deduction of stipulated percentages for these purposes.
“As we speak,” he said, “only NINE out of 37 states of the Federation have elected representatives running the affairs of their local Governments. This is central to the whole problem because it is by planting stooges called caretaker committee, who neither have the mandate of the people nor the moral strength to resist the excruciating control of the state government that perpetuate the rot.
“ The Supreme Court ruled on April 5, 2002, that the responsibility of funding of primary school education rest with the state government, but despite this judicial interpretation on whose responsibility it is to fund primary education as contained in the 4th schedule of the Constitution by highest court in the land, only two states - Delta and Rivers - are complying with the judgement.
“In Imo State, local government workers have to embark on series of industrial actions to get their accumulated salaries paid, while their five years arrears of all statutory allowances are fast becoming bad debt.
Between the month of July and August, 2011, the national secretariat of the union literally relocated to Ekiti State to address the disengagement of senior staff of the local government in the state for failing to pass a promotion examination, before we succeed in getting some of them back to service, we had lost quite a number of them due to untold humiliation. These are officers who used the most useful part of their lives to serve their motherland.”
According to Khaleel, the drive to maximally control the local government councils is taking another dimension now, with senior officers in the councils, who are Directors of Administration, Finance and others, being removed or deployed while lesser officers who are not qualified for such positions appointed to replace them.
The intention, he said, is to intimidate them in the face the diversion of local government fund by state government. He listed Ekiti, Abia and Kano states as places where this occurs.
“In Lagos State all manners of gazette, policies and laws are being produced on daily basis. If is not to take over the collection of revenue from our members, it will be to deploy some cadres to state government boards and commissions. In Plateau State, staff of the local government are being deployed and restricted to serve only in the local government of their origin.
This strange policy is being implemented in brazen violation of the extant Unified Local Government Law. Also the local government staffers are being singled out for exemption in the implementation of the new minimum wage while their counterparts in the state civil service have since enjoyed the wage increase,” he said.
Comrade Khaleel said that without prejudice to the memoranda from the state chapters and submission to the committee, the union area of interest in the proposed constitutional amendment are:
Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution - to restore the autonomy of local government and guarantee its status of the third tier of government in Nigerial; amending Section 162 of the constitution by scrapping the joint state and local government account; restoring the constitutional recognition of the Local Goverment Service Commission as provided for in the 1979 and 1989 Constitutions to guarantee the public service of the local government system; re-introduction of the career public servant to serve as secretary to the local government and to function as its accounting officer and the office of the auditor-general for local governments to be constitutionally guaranteed and protected to be able it to function effectively.