By Peter Ibrahim
Historically, local government evolved as an institution to provide essential services to the people, especially those at the grassroots. Regrettably, this tier of government that is closest to the people, has had a tortuous history in the country. To say the least, their operations and performances have come under severe criticisms, with some critics calling for their scrapping, arguing that the huge resources allocated to them do not correspond with the services that they deliver.
One of the major problems bedevilling local governments is corruption and systemic abuse. This is manifest in reckless public spending, scandalous recruitments of staff, resulting to over bloated workforce that gulps a large chunk of their resources.
In Kaduna State for example, prior to the Malam Nasir El-Rufai APC administration, the 23 local government councils merely existed to pay salaries and allowances, with nothing left to render services and execute projects for the people. As at 2015, 15 of the 23 LGAs could not meet their salary obligations without monthly support from the state government. Needless to say that they were unable to carry out their statutory functions.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai, whose governance agenda was predicated on Making Kaduna Great Again, focused on carrying out critical reforms to re-allocate resources towards serving the people. Recognizing local government councils as the foundation for democracy, he took a very bold step to free them from the heavy burdens that made them ineffective.
Consequently, their over bloated workforce was shed off as unwanted personnel, mostly recruited scandalously without recourse to the manpower needs of the councils, was trimmed down. A Staffing Order was implemented for LGAs in November 2017, reducing their staff strength to 6,896, excluding primary school teachers and health workers. By that Order, all the generic local government councils are required to have a total of 281 staff each. By this Order, the recklessness of the past has been checkmated as no area council can employ additional staff without the approval of the State House of Assembly.
The state government also restructured the traditional institutions, reverting to pre-2001 status of 77 districts and 1429 village units. Before the pruning down, there were 390 districts and 5,882 village units created in 2001, thus putting their salary burden and sundry maintenance costs on their respective local government councils.
As of today, all the local government areas have become solvents and are able to pay the monthly national minimum wage of N30,000 and execute projects without encumbrances. As a result, they are constructing rural feeder roads, drainages, culverts, primary health centres, skills acquisition centres, as well as connecting communities to the national grid and implementing numerous programmes for their people.
While commissioning various projects executed by the council chairmen of Ikara and Zangon Kataf in July 17th July and 18th September 2019 respectively, Deputy Governor Dr Hadiza Balarabe was elated that LGAs have started executing capital projects that impact on the lives of their people, due the reforms. Earlier, at a town hall meeting held in Sabon Gari local government on 31st January 2019, the Council Chairman, Eng. Mohammed Usman, gave good a good testimony of the reforms. He admitted that, “Sabon Gari was among the 8 LGAs unable to pay salaries without the support of the state. But with the reforms carried out by El-Rufai, we are prompt in paying salaries with much in our coffers to execute projects for the rest of the citizens”.
Besides cutting down the work force, the state government also enacted the Local Government Reform Law No 3, 2018 that ensured that all the 23 LGs run a presidential system. In addition, it is mandatory for the area council to make their budgeting process opened for citizens’ participation to ensure that resources of the local government are spent on programmes that align with the people’s aspirations. The law also stipulates that 60% of their annual budget should be for capital projects.
With these reforms, Governor Nasir El-Rufai has made local governments in Kaduna state the real administrative units that they are supposed to be. Indeed, they pay salaries as and when due, execute developmental projects and are not mere conduits to siphon public funds.
Ibrahim is a Special Assistant on Media and Communication