ABIA STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT ADMINISTRATION
One of the reasons for the establishment of local government council was to give the grass root the sense of belonging in any system of governance.
Constitutionally, the local government councils were designated to offer direct dividend of democracy to community dwellers particularly, rural areas.
In as much as the constitution provides the joint account of local government with state and supervisory role of state governors, it is not to make local government an appendage to state where governors and state houses of assembly will cow the local councils as if it is, their personal belongings.
The situation in south east particularly, Abia State is quite pathetic. In the last six years, the state has not deemed it necessary to conduct election to enthrone a democratically elected chairmen to administer executive functions on local government council.
Because of deliberate oversight on the side of the political leaders vested with the responsibility to ensure that local council operates with constitutional compliance, the governors have continued to hinge on that to flaw the rules thereby, made local government irresponsible to her constitutional responsibility.
My survey on the activities of Abia State local government council in relation to constitutional role of governor as provided by the constitution shows that the abysmal performance of local government in Abia State was totally blamed on the manner in which Abia State Governor is interfering in the local government affairs. This unpatriotic actions, has brought the expected performance of Abia State local government council to a miserable state. A situation that have thrown the immediate local government employees to periodic salary arrears.
The reason for this backlog of debt is not far fetched. The governor in his envious and covetous manner, damned constitutional consequence and mortgaged the local government monthly allocations by five months over the purchase and ownership of ship. Unfortunately, the amount fell into the hand of his political godfather who claimed he owed him for installing him as governor in 2007.
Abia state in all sectors of governance has not been fortunate since the advent of democratic government 1999. The worst affected is the local government councils. The governor of Abia State has reinvented the administrative pattern of local government to suit his personal agenda thereby, alienated the grass roots whose sole aim or sake was with the use of local government establishment, to better their lots.
How can local government council function effectively, when caretaker committee chairmen whose appointments and detects are solely determined and decided by the governor?
One of the laws to establish local government councils, states that, at the expiration of the administration of current executive chairman, a transition committee chairman shall be appointed by the governor subject to approval by the state house of assembly. The transition committee chairman shall hold office not later than three months during which a new executive chairman shall be elected and sworn in through electoral process.
This law was intended to give the grass root and indeed the electorates the sense of belonging and participation in the transitional formation of local council. Besides, it gives the people the right to demand for accountability, transparency, from the duly elected chairmen, in return, the duly elected chairmen and councilors will perform their constitutional obligations to the people they represents without fear or favor.
Now, in the absence of duly elected officers of the local government, it is governor's appointees in the name of transition committee that have been parading in the seventeen local government council of Abia State for six years now.
This undemocratic act, has grossly abused the constitutional right of the people to vote or be voted for. It has gone further to abuse the law establishing the tenure of office of the transition committee.
How can democracy we suffered to restore, run to have its practical effect on the lives of the citizens when there is total disobedience to constitutional provisions? The governors are advancing their corrupt practices with the use of local government funds.
The interference of governors on local government Affairs would not have been noticed if there was no joint account. This is why it is absolutely necessary to grant autonomy to local government. It is important that this is done and be done in earnest. Why it is necessary, is that, the thorough assessment of joint account regime, has shown that local government performance has continued to decline even with the huge monthly allocations.
The practices of local government autonomy has not been experimented to enable us appraise the two options to determine the suitable one. The beauty of democracy, is to allow the will of the majority supersedes the detects of cabal whose agenda is centered on using or subverting the laws of the land to advance their selfish interest all in the name of constitution.
Recently, one of the pressure groups. Such as: Nigeria union of teachers (NUT), came out in a press conference to declare their opposition to local government autonomy. It is indeed, unfortunate that the main reason to oppose local government autonomy by the NUT was the inability of the local council to pay Teachers Salary. To me, this reason is predicated on self-centeredness and it falls short of collective interest of the masses who wants local government autonomy, to make for effective performance of local councils.
Rather than calling for discontinuation of clamor for local government autonomy, the NUT, should call for strengthening, repositioning and enforcement of local government laws to make it easier to access their salaries as at when due.
The NUT, is an association whose interest is only centered on ways to advance her personal agenda, it does not conform to the collective Will of the people in quest to re-establish a local government that will have human face and quench the hunger for grass root development.
Why would a rational human being think that local government should continue to exist under the control of state officials knowing that it has already been converted to harvesting ground by the so called state governors?
The present caretaker committee recently inaugurated by Abia State governor, saw a family in one of the communities of Ukwa East Local Government Area, produced two slots for supervisory councilors.
Worried by this nasty development, the need to ascertain the reasons for using caretaker committees in place of elective position by the governor to run Abia State Local Government affairs was serious source of concern to us that wants democracy function in full scale.
The governor by our finding deliberately shunned conducting local government elections because it remains the conduit through which he is comfortably settling his political associate and supporters especially those who funded and supported his re-election in 2011. This is revealed through the caretaker regime whose tenure of office is Bench marked on one year. This one year, is enough period to pave way for caretaker committee and their associates to recoup their expenses.
The official monthly allocation from federated account to Ukwa East local government council varies between 80 to 100 million in addition to internally generated revenue (IGR). If this amount is entirely left in the hands of the local council without encumbrance, the local council would have been competing with the state in terms of social developments.
The Abia State governor has been spending local government allocations on frivolous things. One may ask, for six years in which local government elections have not been held in Abia State, which gave the governor the opportunity to control local government funds, the local government funds are channeled to where? This question is coming on the heels of absence of local government developmental projects.
The governments in all sectors are playing politics with future wellbeing of our national life. Proportionally, all the arms of government have been constitutionally provided with supervisory role to check and prosecute non-compliance to constitutional provisions.
Why is it that some states are using elective positions to run local government affairs and some are not? Why is there no harmony or balance in democratic drive of our nation?
I think our political leaders particularly those who operates in the areas where this culture of impunity is prevalent, should not have business around the corridors of power. Hence, by their constitutions rascality, they have declared their weakness and incapacitation in defending democracy as well as justify the trust reposed on them by the people.
THE FOLLOWING CONSTITUTIONAL MEASURES HAVE BEEN OUTLINED TO GIVE THE PEOPLE AN OVERVIEW OF HOW A DEMOCRATICALLY FUNCTIONAL LOCAL GOVERNMENT SHOULD SET-OUT:
Foundation: The local government system was founded on the principle of common interest of the community in the area, traditional association of the community and administrative convenience.
“According to Part II, section 7-1 of 1999 constitution: “The system of local government by democratically elected local government council 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 council”
Sub-section 2. The person authorized by law, to prescribe the area over which a local government council may exercise authority shall:-
a. Define such area as clearly as practicable; and
b. Ensure, to extent to which it may be reasonable justifiable, that in defining such areas, regard is paid to:
(i) The common interest of the community in the areas.
(ii) Traditional association of the community and
(iii) Administrative convenience.
It shall be the duty of a local government council within the state to participate in economic planning and development of the areas referred to in sub-section (2) of this section and to this end, an economic planning board shall be established by a law enacted by the house of Assembly of the state.
The government of a state shall ensure that every person who is entitled to vote or be voted for at an election to a House of Assembly shall have the rights to vote or be voted for at an election to a local government council.
With special reference to fourth scheduled part 1 of 1999 constitution, where the functions of local government system were fully outlined, which includes amongst others:
Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightening, drains and other public highways. Provisions and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education, development of agriculture and natural resources, provision and maintenance of health services, and such other functions as may be conferred on a local government council by the House of Assembly of the state.
The above stated constitutional provisions have no doubt, given the people the overview of how an organized system of local government council should be maintained. But most of the state governors have grossly abused this privilege honorably and consciously offered to them by the constitution.
“This is the case of a dog eating off the bone hung around its neck”
How can a local government council participate in economic planning and carryout development in its area when there is no functional elected local government council?
How can governor of a state function as executive chairman of the state council and at the same time executive chairman of local government council?
It is counter productive and total interference to the highest order.
How can a local government council implement its constitutional functions as provided in the constitution when there is no elective position in place? Can Abia State Governor, be sincere to himself and the public that he has actually delivered in the functions of local government by the manner in which he's handing its affairs?
A tour of the local government areas of the state will expose you to nothing but deplorable state where no infrastructure is provided to the credit of local government councils.
The allocation of the least local government council of Abia State put together in six years of absence of election is amounted to 7.2 billion yet nothing on ground to show for this huge amount. The governor has been sitting on this allocation which is one amongst all local government areas in the state.
The anti-graft agencies should set machinery in motion to probe the appropriation of Abia State local government funds. This way, Governor T.A Orji of Abia State should be arrested once he is free from immunity clause to account for all the monies receives by him for local government council of the state in the past six years as well as those who have been affected in one way or the other for misappropriation of local government funds.
It becomes imperative because, the absence of executive functions in the local government councils of Abia State has continued to generate reactions especially in the face of bane to economic and social development of respective areas.
These actions are not healthy to development of local government councils; it can not improve in the participation of the people in the democratic growth and movement of our nation.
The earlier Abia State governor is called to order to as a matter of few weeks, conduct a credible election in the seventeen local government areas of Abia State, the better for the people to regain their relevance in the local government administration as well as participation.
COMRADE HENRY O. NWAIGWE,
Is a front line Human Right and youth activist.
A programme coordinator of Foundation for Environmental Right, Advocacy and Development (FENRAD) And a founding member of, Ohuru Youth Grand Alliance (OYGA) and Ndoki Youth Federation (NDYF).
Ukwa East LGA Abia State.