The Senate, in a recent resolution, asked President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, to withhold funds to Local Governments that do not have elected chairmen. This resolution was sequel to a motion by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Abba Moro, who lamented the inability of some state governments to conduct elections into the councils
We are persuaded by the importance of this debate that also involves the Judiciary to make reference to the provisions of the constitution. Section 7 (1) of that constitution which dwells on Local Government System was specific when it said: The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed….
In making reference to this legal provision, we feel obliged to agree with the resolution of the Senate on this issue of withholding of funds to councils with unelected leaders. Analysts, on the subject, make reference, also, to some judgements of the Supreme Court on the matter. While we accept that those judgements are relevant at this point, it is also pertinent to observe that those decisions of the apex court were based on the fact that the local governments, at the time of the Supreme Court judgement, were elected and not handpicked by a politician of whatever status.
We have consistently argued on this page in favour of local government autonomy because that is the crux of the matter. For reasons that are too obvious, the state governments are obdurately opposed to it. They are unarguably haunted by their own indiscretions. The governors’ forum, a constitutional aberration, has become a hugely powerful pressure group that has been influencing and even obstructing some policies of the federal government they consider not sufficiently in favour of their own political interest.
It is on record that some state governments, even within the same political platform, have worked against their own presidential candidate and got away with it. The point here is that some state governments see themselves as powerful enough to determine the flow of electoral fortunes in their various enclaves. They are scared stiff that an autonomous local government structure, with powerful chairmen, may give them the same treatment.
For the avoidance of doubt, this newspaper is not against such pressure groups because of their capacity to keep the feet of the federal government effectively on the fire provided they remained within the ambit of the constitution. At this time, in our view, that is not the case. And that is why we are of the opinion that the National Assembly should declare the Governors’ Forum as unknown to the constitution.
Still and even with that faux pas, the federal government was magnanimous enough to allow such arrangement in its relation with the states. Why are the states unwilling to extend the same courtesy to the local governments? The problem, as we see it, started with the mistake whereby the states and local governments have a joint account controlled by the states. With that situation in which they started seeing themselves as doing the local governments a ‘favour’ by allocating funds to them based on their whims and caprices, they also used that as an opportunity to interfere with the democratic process in that tier of government.
Presently, it has become fashionable for state governments to dissolve duly elected local government structures and replace them with characters they consider easily amenable to them. No president has ever contemplated dissolving a state apparatus. The closest Nigeria has come to that was the declaration of state of emergency in Plateau State that made it possible for President Olusegun Obasanjo to remove Governor Joshua Dariye from office. And even then, Nigerians saw it as a direct threat to democracy. And since then, it has not happened again.
For some governors, replacing duly elected local government chairmen with their appointees, has come to be perceived as a show of the power they assume they have over the local governments. It would have been funny, if it were not tragic and anti-democracy. By that move, the appointed chairmen answer to the governor, a godfather, who did them a favour and not to the people, the ultimate and unassailable bastion of democracy. That, in our considered opinion, is unacceptable.
Therefore, we are compelled by this phenomenon that is so harmful to democracy, to posit that those appointed chairmen who did not emerge through a democratic process must not be granted access to public fund. The governor, who appointed them, should find other means to fund their operations.
The Senate, for once, should stand firm by using every legislative facility at their disposal to call these recalcitrant governors to order, withhold the funds due to the local governments affected until democratically elected chairmen are sworn in. Nigerians have decided, positively, on democracy, no power drunk politician must be allowed to tamper with it at any level. We know that the election may, eventually, be manipulated but it will be more desirable than the one man show that is a deviation from democratic principles and practices.