UNTOLD AGONIES OF LOCAL COUNCILS, BY ALGON BOSS
We have had a lot of challenges as far as local government administration is concerned. As a local government chairman and as the National President of ALGON, I have seen all the problems from every nook and cranny and we have been making efforts to see how we can get out of the problems, which local governments across the country are currently facing.
The local government institution has been structured in a way to fail. I am sorry to say this; because the structure in the local government is ridiculous. The constitution provides for a third-tier of government but the local government is not really treated as the third tier of government.
The Federal Government has its executive arm as well as its legislative arm that legislates for the executive; so also at the state level. But the situation is different at the local government level. The local government has its executive and at the same time has its legislators but the legislature at the state level has more powers than the powers bestowed on the legislature at the local government level. So, the legislature at the state level legislates for the local government.
There are times that you will find out that for a local government to do any project, the council chairman has to go to the state to seek approval. If the governor does not like his face or he does not have interest in the project, he may not approve it for him. So, who is to blame if the project is one that would have touched the life of his people or raise the living standard of his people? Are we going to blame the chairman or the governor or the state government? So, that is our major problem.
Poor revenue generation
As you know, the revenue sharing formula is disadvantageous to the local government. Whereas a single tier of government, the federal government, is taking 54 per cent of what we have in the federation account, 36 state governments take about 26 per cent and the entire 774 local governments take about 20 per cent of the federation account and we expect them to perform miracle. How will this happen?
Apart from that, the ability to generate funds among the three tiers of government, is very weak at the local government level. The juicy ones and those that are easy to collect are shared between the state and the federal government.
The ones that are very difficult to collect, like the rates from motor-parks, where we have to pursue Agbero (garage touts) from one end to the other; bicycles licence, wheelbarrows licence, cemetery fees and abattoir charges are left for the councils. And how much are we going to raise from these areas? So, councils find it difficult to raise funds to be able to pursue their responsibilities.
Overload of responsibilities
Also, the federal and state governments, at times, shirk away from their responsibilities as spelt out by the constitution. You discover that local governments end up buying cars and vehicles for the Nigeria Police to enhance security because they want the lives of their people to be secured. But primarily, that is not the duty of the local governments.
State governments are supposed to pay the teachers' salaries. Yes, the local government is supposed to play a participatory role in the running of primary and adult education but the state government will shirk away from this responsibility and give the adult education to the local government. All the local government councils in Nigeria today pay the salary of the primary school teachers, which, actually, is not their responsibility.
So, with the little resources available to the local government, the state government is still putting some of its responsibilities on the local government and same also goes to the federal government. So, the responsibility of the local government is too much. All federal parastatal, be it INEC, Police, National Population Commission (NPC) and all that; go to the local governments for funding.
The state Houses of Assembly are not even helping issues. Every now and then, they want to come and exercise their oversight function on the local government, which is an avenue for them to take money from the lean purse of the local government.
Joint LG/State account
The joint account is even the worse. Yes, it is a provision of the constitution that there should be a joint account. But how can they call it joint account? It is a way for state government to control or to further trap and manipulate the local governments. When you say joint account or I say I owe something jointly with you, we are in partnership. You will be a signatory, I will be a signatory.
Have you ever found anything out about the joint account? No local government is a signatory to it. It is only the state government that is the signatory to it. There are some funds that would come to the local government and the state government would keep them. Many former governors have been arrested by EFCC and other anti-corruption agencies in connection with local government funds. They would not release money that come to local government when they were in charge.
So, I don't see that account as a joint account. It is a state account. The state governments are supposed to take the allocation and give the local government its own share, but they will not. We say the labour of our heroes' past should not be in vain but it is becoming in vain.
The purpose of that joint account, as I know, is that once whatever is coming from the federation account goes into that account, state governments are supposed to add 10 per cent of their internally-generated revenue to it. It was envisaged that money coming from the federation account will not be enough to run the local governments.
Not only that the state government will not share the money as expected, it will not also contribute the required 10 per cent. Rather, it will bastardize what is coming from the federation account by different deductions and all that. If the state government so wished, it will send the balance to the local governments at its own convenience.
ALGON versus Governors' Forum
Most of the governors see ALGON as a threat but we are not supposed to be a threat. We are supposed to be partners in progress. ALGON is still there as it was when it was formed in the beginning. But just like I said, local government is like the creation of the state. So, the governors are becoming conscious everyday of the cooperation and togetherness of the chairmen. So, probably they try to discourage it.
I even know some states where their governors would not allow them to participate in ALGON activities. What is wrong in sharing ideas? If some groups host local government chairmen from other states and your chairmen want to participate, why should they be denied the opportunity? So, they (governors) are afraid that probably our togetherness or cooperation may create problem for them, which is not supposed to be. We are supposed to be partners.
I think we have one objective which is to develop our people. If that is our aim, I think we are supposed to work in partnership. ALGON is ready to work in partnership with our governors. Our governors too are our brothers and with the way the constitution places them, they are even our masters.
To me, I don't see local government as the third tier of government. Local government is the creation of the state governments, so they are our masters. Local governments are always built as parastatals and departments just like we talk of ministries. Local government is like ministries in some states. It is only in few states where state governors give them recognition that you will see them as separate organ of government.
Illegal removal of council chairmen
It also buttresses what I have been telling you all along that, local government third tier of government, is not being given that recognition. Just like a ministry where the state government can sit down and say a person in the ministry is not doing well or he has done this and that or cook up an allegation against such person, and before you know what is happening, the person is suspended from office. That is the way state governments are also doing to the local governments.
But, it is wrong. The president of this country cannot just sit down in his office and watch the National Assembly removing a state governor. So, also it is not a good thing or a good system for state government or a House of Assembly to sit down and see that a chairman is removed from office, if we see the local government as the third tier of government. It is totally wrong.
Then, find out why in any state governed by a particular party, the local government chairmen in such states will come from the political party where the governor comes from; all of them. Are they saying other parties do not exist in that state, that it could not win a local government nor even a councillorship position? So, it is not true.
So, you can see that the system is structured in a way that the local government is being more of an affiliation to the state.
We have taken action. We have written memos. We have called for constitutional amendment. We have written to the committees in charge of all these issues. We have addressed them times without number. But the problem we have is this. Constitutional amendments do not end with the National Assembly.