A bill which seeks to delist local government areas (LGAs) from the Constitution has set council workers on edge, bringing to fore the debate over the place of LGAs in the political spectrum, ADEWALE AJAYI writes.
Before the recent introduction o f the Bill seeking to delist local government areas from the constitution, the expectation of local government administrators of better days seemed high with their morale boosted by President Muhammadu Buhari’s accent to a constitution amendment seeking to grant local councils financial autonomy in 2018.
By this action, they would receive their monthly allocations directly and not the handouts given to them by state governors because of the joint account system.
This proposed law came same time financial automony was being sought for state Houses of Assembly and the judiciary.
State legislatures were required to vote on it since two-third majority approval is required before it can be operational. Interestingly, the financial autonomy for judiciary and state assemblies was passed while that of local councils suffered set back as state assemblies voted against it.
As local government administrators struggled to cope with the shock of being denied financial authonomy, another blow seemed to come their way following the emergence of a bill, late last year, seeking to delist local government areas from the Constitution as sponsored by Solomon Bob (PDP, Rivers State).
Among other provisions, the bill which awaits second reading in the House of Representatives, seeks to remove the list of local governments from the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Expectedly the bill has since, sent the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) into combat mode, reviving the long and winding politics over the place of local government council both as a political and financial tool in the hands of power brokers.
Although the 1999 Constitution recognises local government areas (LGAs) as the third tier of government in the country, it only grants partial autonomy to the council areas.
While the debate over independence of local government councils lingers, governors have been accused of treating local councils as mere appendages of the state governments, leveraging on the Joint Account system.
They hold on to the monthly fiscal allocations to the various councils; determine who occupies the position of chairman and to some extent councillors; and determine the projects to be executed by the councils.
Several attempts by the National Assembly in the past to amend the constitution and severe the local councils from the apron strings of the states failed.
However, since the delisting bill was introduced, NULGE has began plans to stop its passage.
Speaking on the consequence of the bill, national president of NULGE Comrade Hakeem Ambali said the move is an attempt to frustrate local government administration adding that the masses and council workers will be the most affected.
The NULGE president who revealed that he has written to the House Speaker, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, over the bill, added “this is a challenging moment for all local government workers and even polticians. State governors gang up to threaten the genuine aspiration of the masses for the autonomy of local governments.
“Over 90 percent of Nigerians voted for local government autonomy, but the cabals frustrated it. They put up another move that local government administration should be delisted from the Constitution.”
Ambali stated that members of the union across the federation will stage protest at state assembly across the federation and also at the National Assembly.
If that move fails to yield desired result, he said, they will shut down all local government adminstration across the federation.
The union however took their agitation further when they visited former President Olusegun Obasanjo, appealing for his help on the matter.
Their decision to seek Obasanjo’s intervention was not strange considering that he, as military head of state, had overseen local government reforms.
As such it was not surprising, for pundits, that he related directly with local government chairmen during in his first term in office as civilian president in 1999.
His regular interface with council chairmen, at the time, swelled their influence much to the worry of state governors, hence the genesis of the conflict over the status of the local government and the joint account palaver.
Obasanjo shared in NULGE’s concern when he hosted its leadership. He said local government administration in Nigeria requires prayers because its current situation is not the intention they had in mind when they did the local government reform in 1976, adding that the councils have been incapacitated and cannot perform the role expected of them.
He noted that the problem started during the military era and exacerbated under civilian rule.
While the council workers protest the move to delist councils from the Constitution, some Nigerians feel their concerns are uninformed.
Commenting on the development, a House of Representatives member, Hon. Jide Jimoh, noted that the concept of delisting local government administration from the Constitution would help local government administration to be more efficient.
Jimoh, a former local government chairman, who represents Lagos Mainland Constituency, told LEADERSHIP that it would also allow states create as many local governments as they can finance.
He said, “It has been my position all along that local government areas should be delisted from the Constitution. There is no where in the world where we have the list of local governments in the constitution of any country. As far as I am concerned having local government areas listed in the constitution is an aberation. That does not erode the position of the Constitution that allows three tiers of government.”
Jimoh dismissed the fear that the proposed law would lead to scrapping of local government administration, saying “If Oyo State can create additional local government areas and service it to the benefit of humanity I don’t see any problem with it. Lagos State has done that and it has been successful.
“That does not mean local government can’t exist without listing them in the constitution of Nigeria, it is not acceptable,” he said.
Similarly, former secretary to Lagos State government during the Alhaji Lateef Jakande administration, Asiwaju Olorunfunmi Bashorun explained that the council workers are apprehensive because they are not informed on the issues.
He said: “Members of NULGE are not well informed, those who are protesting the Bill, they are not delistingthe names. Local governments are in the constitution to describe the state. The better thing to do is to use survey allocation to refer to local governments.What should be done is to allow the state create more local government areas”.
Bashorun who is also a lawyer explained that the essence is that states should be allowed to create more local governments and that when they so do, they need not go to the National Assembly to list it.
As the local government workers remain adamant on the bill, perhaps a proper judicial interpretation of their position on the constitution would suffice sooner than later.