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Issues As Governors Sack LG Chairmen

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In spite of continued public agitation for local governments to be autonomous, state governors keep stifling the third tier of government which is closest to the grassroots. BODE GBADEBO reports.

It is now a norm and ironically not an aberration. Regardless of the provision of Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) which provides for a system of local government by democratic means, many of the state governments have continued to set up caretaker committees to oversee local government administration, thereby denying the grassroots population of the benefits of democratic rule.

Before now, the creation of the contentious State Joint Local Government Account has rendered the local governments totally dysfunctional as they depended completely on the state governments for funds needed for their development. It is noteworthy that the disbursement of funds to this tier of government is also at the whims and caprices of governors, which depends on political affiliation and loyalty.

Another issue that is seldom mentioned during public discourses on the plight of local governments in Nigeria is the incessant and illegal dissolution of elected local government councils by state governors. This is done often times in order to plant political loyalists as caretaker chairmen.

Consequently, many have called for the amendment of the ambiguous Section 165 of the 1999 Constitution with a view to abolishing the State Joint Local Government Account and making the Local Government Councils both politically and financially independent.

It will also be recalled that to address the issue of local government autonomy, three Bills were sponsored during the lifespan of the 7th National Assembly.

The Bills sought to amend Section 7, sub-section 162, of the 1999 Constitution, which borders on political and financial independence for local government administration in the country. The Bills also sought to amend Section 7, sub-section 313 and Section 162 of the constitution so as to ensure an effective operation of the local government system.

The Bills basically aimed at correcting the ambiguity in certain sections of the constitution, as well as establish a guaranteed four-year tenure for local government chairmen and other elected council members.

It is a common knowledge that the  preponderance of views on the several attempts at amending the 1999 Constitution were in favour of local government autonomy. However, despite the public agitation and demand, state governors and their accomplices in the State Houses of Assembly have, for selfish reasons and regardless of party affiliations, continued to frustrate attempts to grant autonomy to local governments.

Even with the advent of the ‘change’ government in 2015 under President Muhammadu Buhari, nothing changed until 2019 when the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) came up with a decisive guideline to ensure financial autonomy for the local governments.

The guidelines, which have since become operational since June 1, 2019, was resisted by the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF), citing constitutional infringements on the part of NFIU. However, the latter got the support of the last Senate in the 8th Assembly under the leadership of Senator Bukola Saraki to implement the guidelines in favour of finanacial autonomy for local governments.

Also, reacting to issues on local government autonomy, President Buhari had once lamented about the gang-up and conspiracy against the noble idea.

“Apparently, it is corruption that led to the relegation of local governments to the grip of state governments over the years, thereby distorting and demeaning the real status of our federalism, with regards to devolving governance. A once vibrant tier of government, which occasioned development at the grassroots, has gone into oblivion, due to obvious reasons,” President Buhari said.

Meanwhile, some new governors, who were recently sworn-in on May 29 are treading the same path of strangulating the local governments in their states. They came up with different reasons to back their actions against the government at the grassroots.

Governors of Kwara, Oyo and Imo states have rather started their administration on a stormy note as the trio had either outrightly dissolved elected local government councils or suspended them, a development that is brewing tension in their respective states.

In Kwara State for instance, on Tuesday, Governor Abdulrahman AbdulRazaq ordered the suspension of the 16 local government chairmen and councillors in the state for six months based on a recommendation by the State House of Assembly over alleged misappropriation of N33 billion by the council chairmen.

With the commencement of direct payment of monthly allocation to the local governments’ purses, Kwara political stakeholders have expressed worry over the suspension order, saying it will hinder development in the state since it is only properly constituted local councils that can now access funds.

This is against the backdrop that the suspended Kwara local government chairmen have a subsisting judgement of the State High Court in their favour coupled with an existing Supreme Court ruling against illegal tampering with elected local government councils.

Although the suspended 16 local government chairmen and councilors have consequently filed a contempt of court charge against GovernorAbdulRazaq, the State House of Assembly and the office of the Attorney-General of the state.

Speaking with journalists in Ilorin on Wednesday, state chairman of ALGON, who is also the suspended chairman of the Oyun LGA, Joshua Omokanye, said that their suspension, which was occasioned by a petition, violated fundamental human rights.

Omokanye, who was flanked by the 15 other embattled chairmen at the press conference, said that they would “remain resolute and assert our constitutional and legal right to remain in office and continue to function as the duly and democratically elected local government council chairmen in Kwara State.”

In Oyo State, it appears Governor Seyi Makinde otherwise known as GMS, came to power with a fury of some sort. Barely 24 hours after assuming office, he sacked all the 33 chairmen of local governments and local council development areas (LCDAs) as well as boards of parastatals and corporations.

The decision was conveyed in a statement by his Chief of Staff, Chief Bisi Ilaka, on May 30.

The statement reads: “His Excellency, the Governor of Oyo State, Oluseyi Makinde, has directed as follows: That all local government authorities, local council development authorities be dissolved with immediate effect.”

“That embargo be placed on all local and state government accounts until further directives,” the statement added like a military fiat.

But, Oyo State chapter of ALGON immedidately rejected the dissolution of elected local government councils, describing it as illegal  and hasty. It vowed to use all legal means to reverse the directive.

A statement by ALGON chairman, Prince Ayodeji Abass-Aleshinloye, reads: “It has come to the notice of  ALGON Oyo State branch that the new governor of Oyo State has purportedly dissolved all democratically elected local government in the state.”

“This to say the least, is unconstitutional, unwise, unexpected and too hasty for a new government that is yet to find its feet,” he pointed out.

Also, in Imo State, the new governor, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, who was a versatile federal lawmaker and former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives in the 7th Assembly, approached governance of the state on the same note like his counterparts in Kwara and Oyo states.

But unlike Governors AbdulRazak and Makinde of Kwara and Oyo states respectively, who gave excuses for their actions against elected local government councils, Governor Ihedioha didn’t give any reason for suspending the 27 local council chairmen along their vice chairmen and all councillors for six months.

Stakeholders are of the opinion that unless drastic measures are put in place to guarantee and safeguard local government autonomy in the country, grassroots development will be elusive as good governance and development will be restricted to the centre and state capitals only without them trickling down to ordinary Nigerians at the lowest level of the Nigerian federation.

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