By Michael Oche,
With most of the bills to amend certain sections of the 1999 constitution already voted for and against, the National Assembly is set to transmit the amended document to the state Houses of Assembly for their consideration.
But LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that members of the state assemblies are under intense pressure to tinker with certain areas of the amendment process.
Altogether, the two chambers of the National Assembly considered 33 sections of the document slated for amendment in the constitution of the federal republic of Nigeria (Fourth Alteration) Bill, 2017.
Among the major amendments passed are the abrogation of state/local government joint accounts and the existence of democratically-constituted local government areas as well as financial autonomy for the State Houses of Assembly.
Several issues, especially the issue of financial autonomy for state Houses of Assembly and local government autonomy, are two areas set to create a storm.
Most governors in the country who are opposed to autonomy for both the state assemblies and local government areas have benefited from the joint local government account.
The Senate, for the second time, approved financial autonomy for State Houses of Assembly to get their funding directly from the federation accounts rather than rely on the state government to be funded.
During the last constitution review, the National Assembly approved financial autonomy for the states, but in a turn of events, the state assemblies themselves rejected the autonomy by voting no to financial autonomy when the matter was brought before them as part of the process of constitution amendment.
The upper legislative chamber also approved the abrogation of joint accounts for states and local government and provided for local government to operate their special accounts called the local government account.
The Senate also approved the alteration that only democratically elected local government councils will be recognised and funded from the federation account.
During the last review, the State Houses of Assembly failed to get the required concurrence from at least 24 of the 36 states to vote in favour of local government autonomy.
Reacting on the pressure being mounted on lawamkers in the the various states to tinker with the process, the president of the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, urged the members of the state assemblies not to succumb but to go ahead and vote in favour of autonomy for both local government and state legislatures.
He said, “They should understand that this issue is not a political issue but a thing that has to do with development of the grassroots and the country. Besides, they are also the representative of these Nigerians who are at the grassroots and walloping in deprivation.
“There was pressure on the members of the National Assembly during the constitution review process not to grant autonomy, but they stood by Nigerians. So, we are calling on members of the state assemblies not to succumb to pressure. They should have the fear of God because if you look at the country, there is a lot of poverty and hunger at the rural areas and this is as a result of the non-functionality of the local government system”.
Khaleel said a functional and autonomous local government area will improve security and bring about development at the rural areas, even as he stressed that the level of awareness on the positives of autonomy.
His words: “Even some of the governors are no longer opposed to autonomy. From our advocacy, we recorded a lot of commitment from some of the governors to give their support to make sure that local government autonomy scales through. If local government gets autonomy, security will greatly improve and we will combat the issue of hunger and poverty which is more prevalent at the local level.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on Friday had called on members of the 36 State Houses of Assembly to be part of history by voting to give autonomy to the local government areas as part of the ongoing constitutional amendment process.
NLC President, Comrade Ayuba Wabba, while addressing journalists in Abuja said a lot still needs to be done as the amendment still requires a minimum of two-thirds of the 36 state Houses of Assembly, to finally scale through.
Wabba admonished all the governors of the 36 states to “sheathe partisan or insular considerations and support the amendments in the national interest”.
The NLC president called on all Nigerians whose supports are invaluable to rise, mobilize and support.
He said, “We should spare no efforts in ensuring that these amendments become law. Mr. President (President Muhammadu Buhari) has lent his voice in support of local government autonomy. The National Assembly has similarly spoken in support. Who could be against the people?
“The action of the National Assembly, in the light of the above, represents testimony to courage and unflinching commitment to democracy, as these amendments are a reflection of the popular wishes of the people.
“Without attempting to diminish the importance of the action of the honorable and distinguished members of the parliament, a lot still needs to be done. The amendments have to go to the 36 state Houses of Assembly for their concurrence. The minimum requirement for these amendments to qualify to become law is the concurrence of at least two-thirds of the 36 state Houses of Assembly.
“We therefore call on the members of the 36 state Houses of Assembly to be on the side of the people and history by displaying the courage of their colleagues at the National Assembly by giving their unqualified concurrence”.
Wabba said the 8th National Assembly has made history and shall be remembered for not bowing to the insular interests but popular wishes of the people.
He added: “Their initiative, we believe, is an improvement on the efforts of the previous assembly, which goes to show that government is not only a continuum. With tenacity and requisite experience at the National Assembly, we shall get our democracy right”.
He pointed out that if passed into law, the amendments will free-up the local government from the strangle-hold of state governments and widen the democratic space, as well as restore the lost glory of local governments.
Wabba said, while the local government system of government is the oldest form of administration, it is sadly the most abused and exploited in Nigeria’s post-colonial history.
He assured that autonomy will ensure that local government system develops as a third tier of government with the capacity to discharge its constitutional responsibilities to its constituents, deliver development to about 180 million Nigerians, stem rural-urban migration and lower crime rate.