Former President Olusegun Obasanjo yesterday described state governments still opposing the Local Government autonomy Bill already passed by the National Assembly as enemies of the people at the grassroots.
The former President maintained that there would not be any meaningful grassroots development unless the Bill is assented to by the states which have over the years incapacitated the LGs.
Obasanjo made his position known yesterday while playing host to members of a non-governmental organisation: Friends of Democracy which visited him at his residence in the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Abeokuta, Ogun state.
The group had visited the former president with the purpose of enlisting his support for the LG Autonomy Bill which had been passed by National Assembly but still requires the nod of not less than 24 State Houses of Assembly.
But addressing the group, former President Obasanjo emphatically stated that many councils could not perform their statutory functions because they have been “incapacitated financially” by the state governments.
He also accused many state governments in Nigeria of stealing the LGs’ funds through what they call the joint accounts, thereby making grassroots developments difficult since they have been rendered incapacitated.
“From what we know, by design, most states have incapacitated the Local Government. They have virtually stolen the Local Governments’ money in what they called Joint Account. They were to contribute 10 percent but they never contributed anything.
“So, what we have across the country are Local Government Areas that have functions, but cannot perform the functions. They have staff but most of them cannot pay the staff and we keep getting excuses upon excuses.
“I see no reason if the Federal Government allows the states to enjoy their autonomy except in the case of state of emergency.
“The Bill passed by the National Assembly requires 24 State Houses of Assembly and like I am told only 9 States have signed it. I am proud of those states because they are what you will call progressive states that really believe in democracy.
“My own state (Ogun) is one of them. I will say kudos to Ogun state. In the South-South, only Bayelsa and Cross River States have signed it. Kudos to those two states. In the North-East, it’s only Bauchi. In the North-West, it’s only Sokoto. In the North-Central, we have four states, Kwara, Niger, Plateau and Benue. I will say kudos to the executives and the legislature of those states.
“But we must say those state executives and the legislatures that have prevented the bill from being passed, they must be taken as the enemy of the people and they should be treated as such. If you enjoy autonomy from the federal government why don’t you want local government to enjoy autonomy?
Going down memory lane, Obasanjo explained that the LG Reforms carried out during the Murtala/Obasanjo military regime in 1976 was meant to empower the councils as third tier of government “and not an appendage to the state governments”.
He expressed regret that state governments which are autonomous have been opposed to the agitation of granting autonomy to be councils in Nigeria.
“When in 1976, we brought in Local Government Reforms, it was meant to be third tier of the government and not meant to be subjected to whims and caprices of any other government.
“Just the same way that the state government is autonomous from the Federal Government, so also is the Local Government is meant to be autonomous from the state government, ” he said.
The former President however, urged leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) to rise and demand for the council’s autonomy in the interest of the people at the grassroots.
“Again, I will say leadership of NLC and NULGE who have always fought for the interest of the people should know that the interest of the people at the local government will be best served if the LG’s have autonomy which is meant that they should have,” he said.