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SENATE WOOS STATES, LOCAL COUNCILS

By NBF News
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Penultimate Tuesday, Senate President David Mark concluded inauguration of 55 committees, save for the Selection Committee which is automatically constituted with the composition of the Body of Principal Officers.

It was a no mean feat for the Senate President who ensured that he personally inaugurated each committee, quite unlike in the Sixth Senate when he delegated some principal officers to perform the task.

A review of the inaugurations is perhaps a pointer that the nation's upper legislative chamber intends to achieve its  agenda through some if its standing committees.

On resumption of plenary on September 13, 2011 after a six-week recess, the Senate President specifically set out the legislative agenda for  the next four years. Call it the Senate rolling plan for 2011-2015 and you may not be wrong.

In that address, Senator Mark specifically noted that while it is given that the National Assembly would tinker with the 1999 Constitution again, he affirmed that lawmakers would definitely not shy away from discussing contentious issues.

The Senate President said that the National Assembly would consider creation of more states, tinker with the existing revenue formula (which is presently skewed in favour of the Presidency, to the detriment of states and local governments that have been clamouring for the review for over 10 years now), abrogation of joint states and local government accounts as well as autonomy for local governments.

The Senate President threw out a poser when he asked, rhetorically whether autonomy for local governments would make them function effectively than what obtains now.

Shortly after, the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal announced separate 47-member committees. Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu presides over  that of the Senate while Honourable Emeka Ihedioha chairs that of the House.

Perhaps, the most relevant committee that would drive some of the proposed constitutional amendment appears to be the States and Local Government Committee chaired by Senator Kabiru Gaya. The Senate President alluded to this during the inauguration of the committee penultimate Thursday.

Mark observed that the Gaya-led committee has an enormous responsibility in helping to correct ways  the two tiers of government were being treated in the country and advocated  for a new order, considering the enormity of their responsibilities.

He noted that many issues relating to the two tiers of government needed to be attended to, adding that should creation of new local councils sail through in the fresh amendment of the Constitution, the people who are directly affected should be involved.

'There are various issues arising from the relationship between the state and the local government authorities. Some of these challenges may require constitutional amendment to resolve.

'On the issue of local governments creation, if a state decides to create 100 local government on their own, that is their problem but they have to bring the matter to public hearing for everyone to contribute,' the Senate President said.

Former governor of old Kano State, Senator Gaya specifically requested that the committee be made an ad-hoc committee of the National Assembly Constitution Review Committee (CRC).

Doing this, he argued, would effectively drive the agenda as enunciated in the agenda outlined for the legislature by the Senate President, who is also the Chairman of the National Assembly.

The Gaya-led committee would definitely face stiff opposition from both state governors and some local council chiefs; those who would not want any scrutiny of their activities. The responsibilities of the committee include, liaising with states and local governments, on matters relating to the administration of states and local governments, boundary issues, inter-state relations, among others. The committee serves as a link between the federal legislature and state governments and Houses of Assembly and local government authorities.

This committee shall strive to ensure that the following are achieved: autonomy  for  local governments, creation of more states and local governments, review of revenue formula to ensure more funding to the states and reduce that of the federal government, boundary issues, development of communities at international borders and states to be responsible for welfare of prison inmates.

Gaya frowned at the pervasive practice by some state governors who appoint caretaker council chairmen rather than conducting elections, as he noted that it is anathema to the 1999 Constitution.

'Of late, we have been seeing some states appointing caretaker chairmen. That's unconstitutional. Caretaker chairmen are unknown to the Constitution,' Gaya said.

'The yearnings of Nigerians for the creation of more states cannot be over-emphasised. This committee shall work closely with the states and the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) to ensure that this noble objective is achieved. Therefore, the committee should be considered being an ad-hoc committee to the CRC for proper liaisons with the states.

'The system of local government administration as provided in section 7 of the constitution is the democratically elected type. That system cannot be otherwise, given the fact that Nigeria is a democratic state.

'In a situation, where elected local governments become appendages of state governments or are kicked out and replaced with caretaker committees is unconstitutional. Our democratic structures must be protected and upheld by observing the rules.

'There should be provisions in the constitution for the independence of local government authorities to give them the enabling power to perform as the third tier of government.'

The committee has also joined the fray in calling for a reduction of the federal government huge chunk of the country's revenue.

'Considering the fact that about 70 per cent of the Federal Government's allocation from the revenue sharing formula goes to recurrent expenditure and only 30 per cent for capital, the share of the federal government should be reduced and transferred to the state and local governments since they are closer to the people.

'We must objectively consider the crises they have before them given the problem of paying the N18,000 minimum wage and other issues. The committee may consider conducting a public hearing on the revenue sharing formula', its chairman hinted.

Gaya argued that giving more money to local governments would likely accelerate development.

'In 1992, we were paying local governments their allocations directly. We even gave them loans directly. I remember that the Kano International Market was built with a loan of N6 million. We even had auditors who audited accounts of local governments annually, all to make sure that they executed their budgets as promised.'

'I'm an advocate of local government independence; allow them to be independent and give them money directly. If you do that and at the end of the day they don't perform, then remove them.'

Last month, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced plans to commence delineation of constituencies.

Supporting the move, Senator Gaya noted that it would be a welcome relief for Nigerians living along border lines.  'We are not unaware of the ethnic and tribal differences and tensions created as a result of boundary disagreements and tussles. The re-constituted CRC of the Seventh National Assembly, we believe, will help in solving some of these contentious issues.

'The plight of Nigerian communities at the country's borders has become an issue of serious concern. The desire of this committee is to ensure that there is adequate budgetary allocation for the provision of social amenities to these communities extending to about 15 kilometers to the border.

'These are Nigerians and therefore cannot be ignored. Twenty-one Nigerians states are at the border of Nigeria having communities with a population of about 20 million. The people there are living in great danger and poverty, lacking the basic social requirements of life.

'A situation where children of Kenu village a border community in Kwara State, cross to attend schools in Benin Republic by boat or canoe is quite unfortunate.

'There was even a time that 43 school children died in a road mishap on their way to school. If the community had one, that could not have happened. Again, in Borno State, Banki is a community at the Nigeria-Cameroun border. Even though they share a common market, yet the Nigerian side is totally neglected whereas the Cameroonian side has the basic necessary social amenities.

'It will interest you to know that even the Chief of Banki on Nigeria's side got electricity connected to his house from Cameroon; which is quite unfortunate. Should they be catered for, this can encourage even the communities to help in checking the influx of illegal aliens into the country by alerting the securities at the border posts.'

To address these contentious issues, the states and local governments committee should find it expedient, the cooperation of leaders of the two tiers of government, particularly state governors. Daily Sun findings however revealed that  the NASS CRC cannot start work on fresh amendments because of dearth of funds which would be addressed in the 2012 Appropriation Bill.