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Let LGAs live – Leadership

By The Citizen
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The debate on the status of local governments has reverberated at the ongoing National Conference. Its Committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government has recommended that the 774 local government areas (LGAs) be expunged from the constitution as a third tier of government. It has also recommended that they be transferred to the states  as part of an effort to strengthen a two-tier arrangement as well as enhance grassroots administration in the country. The committee has also recommended that the states' executives should determine the number of local councils they need in their states.

We agree with the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE)  that local governments, being the closest administration to the people, are harbingers of accelerated and socio-economic development, poverty alleviation and rural democratic mobilisation. LGs were originally designed to play this role. And, in the late 1970s and early '80s, they attracted quality people who saw the LG system as an opportunity to lift the rural poor from squalor and poverty. But the godfathers who drafted the constitution and decided that LGAs, instead of getting their allocations directly from the federation account, should operate a joint account with the states set in motion the process that whittled the influence and effectiveness of the LGs and now threatening their existence altogether. Because the states are like the senior partner in the arrangement, they have consistently insisted on controlling the purse strings as a way of reining in that tier of government. Not satisfied with that, they started controlling the whole set up by bastardising the system through filling the offices undemocratically - appointing instead of electing the officers of the councils. Today, LGAs as a tier of government exist only in name. This was not the intention of those who designed and carved out that tier of government and included it in the constitution. What the system needs, and urgently too, is a total restructuring that will restore to it the roles the constitution makers intended. Abolishing it as is being suggested should not be an option.

Not to be forgotten is that the composition of the LGAs in the country is lopsided and runs contrary to the norms of justice, equity and good conscience bearing in mind that the nation's revenue sharing formula is three-tier - federal, state and local government. As a result, some states are pitiably short-changed in the sharing. This is what the Conference should focus its attention on. The Conference should also be more concerned with consolidating on the gains of the local government structure rather than succumbing to the pressure and dictates of the state governors who see the local government allocation as their out-of-pocket money to be dispensed in accord with their whims and caprices.

We also urge the Conference to tread softly on this issue because of its unemployment implication. This is not the time to adopt any policy that is capable of eroding jobs