By NBF News
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Critical stakeholders in the Nigeria project gathered in Lagos recently to re-evaluate local government system in Nigeria and how to make it achieve its set objective. NDUBUISI ORJI who was there reports

Journalists, members of the academic community, politicians and other stakeholders in the polity gathered  at a Public Lecture  in Lagos last week to brainstorm on how to make the third tier of government in Nigeria work for the poor. The event was the Wole Soyinka 3rd Media Lecture series. The event which  was put together by the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism and the Orderly Trust Society has as its theme ' Re-evaluating Local Governance in Nigeria: What responsibility for the Media.'

The Director, United Nations African Development and Planning (UNIDEP), based in Dakar, Senegal, Professor  Adebayo Olukoshi, who was the Guest Speaker  set the tone for the day's discourse. In a scintillating   lecture he  said the local government in Nigeria has done everything but work for the poor, which in the first place should be its primary focus.

He said the third tier of government has not been able to live up to its billing due to several factors. The professor of African Politics posited that ' the role and place of local administration in the overall architecture of  post-colonial governance has been marked by twists and turns that could be said to comprise an admixture of progress and regression.'

He went on to enumerate the challenges that have dogged the local government system in Nigeria to include ' Failure of post-independence governments to depart radically from the colonial logic of local administration; adverse impact of prolonged military rule on the Nigerian federal system, including the over-centralization and concentration of power in the federal centre; absence of substantive autonomy for local governments, and their effective subordination to other tiers of government within an overall structure of power that consigns them to a residual position. Inadequacy of mechanisms of accountability in the local governance system through which officials could be held responsible by citizens for their performance.

His verdict was that 'Local government has not only underperformed but has been dysfunctional. It has  not being sufficiently accountable to the citizenry and politically has not served as effective site for the exercise of everyday democracy'

Taking a cursory look at the various efforts to reform the local government sytem to make it more functional, Olukoshi said all the past efforts have merely addressed the symptoms of the problem rather than the problem itself.

Also, while responding to calls for more autonomy for  the third tier of government, the Ahmadu Bello University trained political scientist said such autonomy must be backed up by accountability. According to him, anything short of that will be counter productive. 'The question of autonomy without responsiveness and accountability becomes a recipe for corruption,' he noted.

But ultimately, he said the key to making the local government more functional and responsive to the people was an active citizenry.  'We can no longer afford to sit and wait for a few  individuals. No democracy functions if it does not have active citizens. The quest for democratic governance in Nigeria does not belong to political parties.'

Besides, Olukoshi said the media has a critical role to play in the emergence of a functional and responsive local government system.. But also critical is the necessity for the media to give visibility and voice to local communities through the reporting of their concerns and, where viable, the opening up of opportunities for community journalism. An investigative media anchored in the aspiration of communities for a system of governance that is democratic and developmental is a prerequisite for the flowering of an active citizenship and an enabler of everyday democracy.

'Investigative journalism is a powerful tool of governance precisely because in holding power accountable and keeping it constantly reminded that sovereignty belongs to the people, it is both a tool of empowerment of the self and others.

'In holding power accountable, investigative journalism also empowers the citizenry, nourishes the public policy process, and complements other forms of citizen action to make the democratic ideal a living, everyday experience.

The Head of of Political Science, Lagos State University, Dr Abubakar Momoh said the major challenge of the third tier of government in the country is that it is tied to the apron strings of the various state governors. A development, he said has made local government alienated from the people, as those who run it see themselves as accountable to the governors rather than the people.'

'The most fundamental problem of local governments is that most of them owe their allegiance to state governors and state officials who are their benefactors and not the people of the community. Hence, the issue of service to the people or inclusion of  the people is seen both as an anathema and an unacceptable intrusion. Hence, the problem of the local government with respect to participatory democracy arises from the mindset of local government politicians and officials and their disposition to democracy and their beholding attitude to state politicians.

'Their attitude is also because many of them look up to higher political positions which they believe can only come through if they were beholding to state Governors and Godfathers. Momoh added that 'With this entire taking place, local government-community engagement does not take place. Local government-community dialogue takes place in form of a monologue-a top bottom order or instruction. That is, local government officials simply assemble key community officials and 'pass' information to them; they do not create room for dialogue over such information. Neither do they allow local participation in decision making; they are not sensitive to community demands and how to input and process them in process new decisions/policies at local government level. This creates alienation, disempowerment and disinterest in political participation at the local government level, on the part of the people. However, the local government officials prefer this form of political apathy of the communities, as it gives them political space to continue with their arbitrary and unchecked form of administration.'

Speaking at the public lecture, National President, Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON), Mr Felix Akhabue said it is unfortunate that the local government is subject to the whims and caprices of the state governors and state Houses of Assembly. Akabhue was represented by Lagos ALGON chairman, Mr Hafiz-Ipesa   Balogun.  He said governors with expectation of a few have substituted elected council officials with caretaker committees, who they hire and fire at will.

According to the ALGON boss in the  entire country, only 11 states have elected local government officials. According to him, the local government in the rest 25 states are administered by caretaker committees hand-picked by the governors. He said in such situation, it becomes impossible to effectively deliver service to the people.