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FINANCIAL AUTONOMY FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENTS.

By Usman Mohammed Chenche
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It was last week Thursday that I read through the pages of national

dailies on a very good news that was emanated from the National

Assembly that a Bill seeking for Local Governments Financial Autonomy

has passed the Second Reading. I strongly believe that the action is

predicated on calls by well-meaning Nigerians for financial autonomy

to be granted to constitutionally recognized 774 Local Government

Areas in the country.
I am very optimistic that this government is fully committed to ensure

a very effective local government system that would serve as a

catalyst for rapid infrastructure, economic, security, political and

socio-economic development at grassroots level is entrenched.

The Bill, if passed into law, would pave way for job creation,

poverty eradication, political and socio-economic development at the

grassroots level. For many years, local government allocations has

been hijacked by various state governments due to absolute absence of

a truly local government system in our democratic system.

According to Section 7 subsection (1) of the 1999 Constitution of

the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended, allows for an elected

administration in the local government councils but in practice, most

of the councils in Nigeria is administered by appointed chairman or

caretaker committees. Only few can be said to be under fully

democratically elected officials in Nigeria and even those with

elected officials and administrations have their finances under direct

control of the state governments. Niger state is a clear example to

this effect. As a result of this umbilical cord, you will found no

visible development in constitutionally and practically recognized 774

local government councils in Nigeria. Their road is as dilapidated as

ever. There is nothing to shows that there is grassroots government in

Nigeria and one would be convinced that it is the third tier of

government that supposed to be closer to the people but unfortunately,

the nation's councils exists only on papers and in reality, they are

not a centre of rural development and good governance.

Constructionally, local government is supposed to be the third tier

of government. And as a third tier government, all constitutionally

recognized 774 local governments are supposed to be politically and

financially independent. For many years, state governors do not

ascribe to this independence. As a result of this, all the state

governors have done all within their power to ensure the emasculation

of the councils so that they can use and manipulate their federal

allocations just as they like as the case maybe in Niger State where I

hail from.
It is undoubtedly that one instrument that gave the governors such

underserved power of total control of the local government councils,

is the unconstitutional operation of State/Local Government Joint

Accounts. Once this umbilical cord is broken, the council chairmen's

can be in better position to develop their areas of jurisdictions. But

under uniform account platform, State surely have direct projects for

councils and disbursed their funds just the way they like. Niger State

is a typical example to this effect. This is the reason why officials

at the local government level are largely appointed instead of

electing them by the electoral process. And even in some states where

elections were held in their local government councils, the party in

power always ensured that its candidates won all the available seats.

They do this in connivance with electoral officers of the State

Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs). This scenario is obtains

because SIECs officials are appointed by the state governors, who

expect them to be totally loyal to them and their party. With SIECs,

it is very difficult for the opposition party to win an election at

the council level. This is the reason why many state governments have

despite constitutional provision for elected administration in the

country. So also with SIECs in place, the outcome of the council polls

are predictable. We applaud the National Assembly for coming forth

with this important Bill that will restore financial autonomy to the

local government councils. It is indeed, a bold step but necessary

initiative that will instill confidence and give verses to the local

government councils in the country.
Let the National Assembly expedite their action on the Bill and

pass it into law so that the President can assent to it. But the new

initiative should not in anyway be an invitation for local government

chairmen to become emperors. To resist such or any attempt to kill the

Bill, the Legislators should ensure that the structure of the local

governments is clearly defined so that the State governors would not

at anytime make any immoral attempt to encroach on their activities.

Let them not succumb to pressure and lobbying from governors to stifle

the Bill. This Bill is of national interest and importance.

Local Governments Autonomy should not stop at finances only; it should

be extended to cover elections into the councils chamber as well. For

many years, SIECs has failed to live up to the public expectation

where conduct of council elections is concerned. In all its elections,

the party in power in any state usually consumed all the available

council seats. In all ramifications, this is not good for our young

and vibrant democracy. Perhaps, the Independent National Electoral

Commission (INEC) will in future saddle with responsibility to handle

the council elections just the way it handle all other polls in the

country. All the elected local government officials should have a

uniform tenure across the federation. We say this because the State

Independent Electoral Commission (SIECs) as experience as shown, are

more often loyal to the governors that appoint them.