Local Govt – To be or not to be
Since the new political dispensation dawned in 1999, we have witnessed various issues concerning local government areas, popularly called LGAs. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria enumerates 774 local government Areas for the 36 States of the nation and the Federal Capital territory. Specifically, Section 3(6) states that 'There shall be 768 Local Government Areas in Nigeria as shown in the second column of Part I of the First Schedule to this Constitution and six area councils as shown in Part II of that Schedule.'
If you combine Part I and Part II of the mentioned first schedule, you get the entire list of all LGAs by state. One may question the foresight of enumerating not just the states, but also the LGAs and Area Councils in a living document like the constitution, but that is military wisdom for you.
Also, since the last general elections of 2011, several governors have either dissolved existing LGAs elected executives or blatantly failed to hold local government elections. The reason range from incompetence of LGAs, ineffectiveness of LGAs, lack of accountability, to innocuous ones such as failure to handle security challenges.
The most obnoxious disregard for LGAs and due process has been the case of Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, who not only dissolved duly elected Local Government Council members, but ignored a subsistent court order mandating that he bring back the councilors that he illegally fired. Section 7(1) of the constitution is unequivocal in stating that 'The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.' Until the constitution is amended to remove this section, any governor that does not hold local government election is clearly violating the law.
During the on-going national confab, the issue of the existence and autonomy of local government councils could not be ignored. The pertinent committee has recommended that Local Government Areas should not be part of the federating unit and that states should decide how many local government areas, if any, they need.
Another committee has recommended upward change to the revenue allocation formula for LGAs. Money is an issue between the state and LGAs as some Local Government Chairmen have claimed that the governors do not give them enough to even pay salaries. . Section 7(6) of the constitution provides for joint allocation whereby the funds for LGAs are combined with the ones for the particular state and controlled by the state because Section 162, subsections 5-7 states that '(5) The amount standing to the credit of Local Government Councils in the Federation Account shall also be allocated to the State for the benefit of their Local Government Councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly. (6) Each State shall maintain a special account to be called "State Joint Local Government Account" into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State. (7) Each State shall pay to Local Government Councils in its area of jurisdiction such proportion of its total revenue on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly'
In Delta State, the Secretary to the State Government, Comrade Ovuozourie Macaulay, recently brokered peace between NULGE and 8 local government chairmen, whose workers were on strike because of non-payment of salaries? As stated above, this alleged mismanagement of funds is one of the proffered reasons for elimination of local governments.
The counter-argument is whether the federal government can choose to not hold state elections because of alleged mismanagement of funds by governors or any other unconstitutional reason. We don't even have to talk about local government being the ones that take government down to the people at the grassroots. Part of the eleven functions of the LGAs as listed by the 'constitution includes construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities', which they need money to do.
In fact, the constitution, under Part II - Concurrent legislative list, allows both the National Assembly and State House of Assembly to regulate LGA elections. Sections 11 and 12 respectively state that 'The National Assembly may make laws for the Federation with respect to the registration of voters and the procedure regulating elections to a local government council' and 'Nothing in paragraph 11 hereof shall preclude a House of Assembly from making laws with respect to election to a local government council in addition to but not inconsistent with any law made by the National Assembly.' In other words, the National Assembly can step in and stop the current relegation of LGAs by most state governors, assuming they want to do so.
The Constitution allows the establishment of State Independent Electoral Commission
empowered to 'to organise, undertake and supervise all elections to local government councils within the State.' So, I was elated when Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) released a statement stating that on Tuesday, May 13, 2014, there will be announcement to stakeholders about a veritable timetable for the conduct of local government elections in all 25 local government areas of the state. I applaud the gesture by DSIEC Chairman, Mr. Moses Ogbe and await the conduct of the elections because LGAs are indispensable parts of the three-tier of the government mandated by law.
If we want to be a civilized nation, we must abide by the law and the supreme law of the land is the constitution.
*Akpodiete is an ordained reverend, author, Computer Scientist, Educator, Consultant, lawyer, Political Analyst & Social commentator. He has a Doctorate degree in Jurisprudence from the US. He has lectured Law, Ethics and Security & Intelligence Studies at the University level here in Nigeria and US. He also writes for a state daily newspaper & national monthly journal. He currently divides his time between Nigeria and USA where he runs an international capacity building firm. Contact him on 08138391661 or [email protected],
Delta State Governor Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan with Deputy Gov. Prof. Amos Utuama, SAN; INEC Chairman, Prof. Jega and DSIE Chairman, Moses Ogbe at a recent seminar organized by the Delta State Independent Electoral Commission (DSIEC) in collaboration with the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in Asaba