By Ray Morphy |
A bill for the removal of local government as a constitutionally recognised and funded tier of government in Nigeria was recently considered in the House of Representatives. Sponsored by Hon. Solomon Bob (PDP, Rivers), the Bill was read for the first time on November 24, 2020.
According to its explanatory memorandum, the “Bill seeks to remove local government as a tier of government in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and vest their creation, powers and funding exclusively in the state Houses of Assembly in accordance with the principle and practice of true federalism in a culturally diverse and territorially extensive country like Nigeria.”
Expectedly, the local governments and local government workers are up in arms against the bill. And rightly so! The Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, has threatened to shut down the 774 local government areas in the country over the plan by the National Assembly to remove the local government as the third tier of government from the constitution. The union said that it would be left with no other option than to shut down the 774 council areas if the lawmakers went ahead with the proposal.
National president of NULGE, Comrade Ambali Olatunji who made this known while speaking to a journalists in Abuja, warned that the union would not hesitate to mobilise its members on a mass protest to the National Assembly to resist what they described as “anti-people plot.”
According to him, “We also know that this is a serious challenge to local government, and we are saying this, very soon if we engage them (NASS) and the leadership is not doing what is needful, we might direct our members to shut down the country in all the 774 local government, but we hope that they will not allow it to degenerate to that level. Once you delist local government as a tier of government, it shows that you have killed local government. Even, now that the local government remains a tier of government, the governors are pauperising local government and there are a lot of swindling of local government funds.
“That’s why they are not allowing democratic elected leadership at the local government level. What they are doing is to appoint their cronies as caretakers in local government so that they will continuously impoverish local government.”
As the NULGE noted the local government has been pauperized and impoverished by the state governors. Even the election of local government officials through the State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) has become a sham where seats are merely allocated to the ruling party in the states.
Let us admit that in most local governments there is very little going on, but that cannot be the fault of the local governments as the state governors have usurped their powers and their funds.
The constitution gives a lot of responsibilities to local governments. These include; consideration and making of recommendations to a State Commission on Economic Planning or any similar body; Collection of rates, radio and television licenses; Establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm; Licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically-propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts; Establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences; Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, streets lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a State; Naming of roads and streets, and numbering of houses; Provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal; registration of all birth, death and marriages; assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State; and Control and regulation of movement and keeping of pets of all descriptions; out-door advertising and hoarding, shops, kiosks, restaurants, bakeries and other places for the sale of food to the public, laundries and licensing for the sale liquor. Moreover, apart from the aforementioned exclusive functions, local government is also empowered by the same constitution to provide and maintain primary, adult and vocational education; the development of agriculture and natural resources other than the exploitation of minerals, the provision and maintenance of health services!
It is worthy to note that these roles are performed exclusively by the local government as enshrined by the constitution of the country. But on the other hand, some other roles are concurrently played with the state government. Among these includes primary education, agriculture, health and other functions that may be conferred on local government by the House of Assembly of the State.
In view of this, it can be observed that the roles and responsibilities of local government are quite enormous and demanding.
Sadly local governments have not been able to effectively perform their constitutional responsibilities due to the following reasons; Existence of triple laws: technically, local governments in Nigeria operate under the three levels of legislative frameworks. There are Act of National Assembly, Laws of State Assembly and the Byelaws of Legislative Councils. These triple laws regulating the affairs of the local governments render them powerless and cannot decide what is goo for their people. This is one of the constitutional hitches affecting the smooth operation of the local governments in Nigeria.
Absence of democratically elected local government councils. The 1999 constitution provides that the system of local government should be based on democratically elected local government council and each state of the federation is expected to recognise its existence. The constitution made it clear that the affairs of the local government should be piloted by duly elected persons based on the wishes of the people. But unfortunately, there is an adverse application of the constitutional provision. Looking at those that are saddled with the powers or responsibilities to run the affairs as chairmen of the local governments, they are not elected by the people but instead they are appointed by the state governors. Therefore, the issue of appointing caretaker committee to head the local governments by the state governors has become the order of the day. Most or almost all the states in Nigeria have reduced the tenure of local government chairmen from four or three years to two years. It has been the practice of the state governors when they come on board to appoint loyalists to serve as caretaker chairmen. Some governors may be in power for eight years but they will only allow election may be once or at most twice for the whole period of their tenure. They end up appointing cronies as caretakers. The caretaker chairmen only last if they dance to the tunes of the government but were they act contrary to governor directives, they will face the consequences of being sacked.
Abuse of Joint Account established by the 1999 Constitution: The constitution provides for the establishment of State Joint Local Government Account in each state of the federation where funds from the Federal Account are lodged before disbursement to the local government councils. This arrangement has been hijacked by state governments to starve local governments in their jurisdiction the needed funds for project implementation and rural development.
Given the aforementioned encumbrances to local government administration, what should be the major concern of National Assembly is how to make the local government work. Such moves like amending the constitution to abolish local government joint account with state government is needed. And abolishing state independent electoral commissions and transferring that responsibility to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) so that true representatives of the people can be elected as local government chairmen and councilors.
The strengthening of local governments is the way to go. Therefore, the National Assembly should not pass the bill to abolish local governments. It is not in the overall interest of citizens.