Killing The Local Government System Softly

Eric Teniola
Eric Teniola

BY ERIC TENIOLA

In spite of the dwindling revenue to the Nigerian government, the thirty-six states of the federation and Abuja shared N113.5 billion in January.

In the same manner, the 774 local governments shared N85.4 billion. Akwa-Ibom State had the largest share of N10.7 billion followed by Delta State with N7.3 billion and Osun state with N255.2million.

On the allocation to local governments, Lagos State scored the highest with N5.4billion followed by Kano State with N4.7billion while Bayelsa State had the least with N972million.

Obio/Akpor local government in Rivers State had the largest share with N156.6million. None of the local government in the federation received less than N60million in January.

The question one asks is how come that none of the local governments is able to implement capital projects in spite of the money they collect. My guess to that question is the same as yours.

The truth is that some governors have hijacked the funds of the local governments and by so doing crippled the local government system in the country. Unfortunately, some ambiguities in the constitution allowed them to get away with it.

Section 7(1) OF THE Nigerian Constitution states that ”The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils 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 function of such councils”.

Yet, Section 7(6a) submits that “the National Assembly shall make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local government councils in the federation.”

But the confusion is extended further by Section 7(6b) which states that” the House of Assembly of a state shall make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local government councils within the state”.

This confusion also resurfaced in Section 162 (6) which establishes the State Joint Local Government Account for the Purpose of payment of “all allocations to the local government councils of the state from the federal account and from the government of the state”.

Section 162 (7) directs state government to pay local government councils its total revenue on the terms prescribed by the National Assembly. At the same time it gives the same power and function to the State House of Assembly in section 162(8).

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Furthermore, Section 8 (subsections 5 and 6) saddles the National Assembly with some functions before creation of a local government can become legal.

The implication of all the identified contradictions and ambiguities is that it is very difficult to constitutionally locate the locus of power on local government creation. That is the tragic situation we are now. Very sad.

As warned by Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel Adk, National President, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), at a workshop organized by the Centre For Democracy and Development on October 5, 2012,” it is sad to note that with the level of corrosive abuses and serial violation on the security of Local Government system by the 3rd republic politician in Nigeria, Local Government is fast sliding back into the events after the military takeover of 1966 and before the creation of states”.

In 1976, the sub-committee on the economy, finance and Devolution of power of the Constitution Drafting Committee headed by Dr. Pius Okigbo had made the following recommendations: (a) the federal government shall, each year, make provision for allocation of funds local governments, (b) such funds shall be passed to state governments for their local governments.

It is further recommended that in the Constitution of the State provision be made to make it obligatory that: (a) any monies allocated by the federal government to the Local government in the state shall be passed on by the state government to the Local authority; (b) the state government shall set up a Revenue Allocation Committee analogous to that of the Federal Fiscal Review Commission; (c) the State Government shall take all reasonable measures to ensure that the Local Government within its area has adequate funds to discharge the duties and responsibilities assigned to it under this Constitution.

Other members of the sub-committee were Dr. Y.B. Usman, Dr. S. Osoba, Chief Rasheed Gbadamosi, Dr. O. Oyediran, Dr. Ali Alhakeem, Chief I.I. Murphy, Dr. E. C. Edozien, Professor Sam Aluko and Dr. V.P. Diejomaoh.

Since 1976, the central government has been most concerned about the fate of local governments in Nigeria. On August 19 1976, General Olusegun Obasanjo as the military ruler by then set up a 10 – man panel under the leadership of Baraden Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, to look into the affairs of the local governments with the sole aim of improving the local government system in the country.

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On May 7 1984, Major General Muhammadu Buhari, as military head of state set up another committee on local government headed by the same Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki. The report was submitted in September 1984 but the white paper was not issued until Buhari was overthrown in 1985.

On May 11 1986, General Ibrahim Babangida approved the local government reforms as recommended by the Ibrahim Dasuki panel on local government councils. Those recommendations were far reaching one must confess.

That was the situation until Justice Nikki Tobi led Constitution Debate Co-ordinating Committee’s recommendations on the ambiguity on local governments formed part of Decree No 24 of May 5 1999 which was promulgated as the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by General Abdusalam Abubakar.

On assumption in office in May 1999, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo set up a committee on the review of the 1999 Constitution. The committee was led by Chief Clement Ebri, former governor of Cross-Rivers State. The committee’s recommendations as regards local governments were as follows:(i) Section 7 (1) and (2) be retained so that State Houses of Assembly have powers to legislate on the creation and other necessary powers of the local government councils in the spirit of true federalism; (ii) Section 7 be expanded to take care of the provisions made in this review to ensure the existence and proper function of local government councils; (iii) In line with the call for the security of tenure for elected local government functionaries, a new provision for qualifications and removal of the chairman, vice chairman and councilors has been recommended as a separate tier of government within the states; and (iv) In order to strike a balance between the demand by the local governments for financial autonomy through direct funding from the Federation Account and the need to ensure financial probity on the part of both the local governments and the state governments, it is recommended that Section 162(5) be amended so that all disbursements to the local government go to the state Local Government Joint Account as provided in Section 162(6).

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Other members of the Ebri – led panel are Dr. Shettima Mustapha, Air Commodore Bernard Banfa(rtd.), Chief Edwin Ume Ezeoke, Alhaji Abdulhamid Hassan, Hon. Barr. Sunday Kuku Iyakwo, Alhaji Iro Dan Musa, Barrister (Mrs.) Iyabode Pam, Alhaji Gambo Moh’d Saleh, Alhaji Isiaku Mohammed, Hajiya Basirat A. Nahibi, Dr. J.C. Odunna, Prince Valentine Ahams, Chief Alani Bankole, Alhaji Umaru Ahmed, Dr. Amos Adepoju, Barrister Mohammed Babangida Umar, Col. Yohann A. Madaki(rtd.), Dr. Stella Dorgu, Dr. Silva Opusunju, Barrister Edward Ashiekaa,Barrister Mika Anache, Barrister Adeniyi Akintola, Dr. Olu Agunloye and Dr. Maxwell Gidado.

Not satisfied, President Obasanjo on June 23, 2003 set up another panel to review the local government system. The committee was headed by the then Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako(1937-2003), a competent administrator and chairman of the Niger State council of traditional rulers and former member of the Constituent Assembly. Other members of the committee were Alhaji Liman Chiroma, Barrister John Ochoga, Professor Godwin Odenigwe, Mr. Augustine Udoh-Ekong, Professor Akin Mabogunje, Senator Tunde Ogbeha, Hon. Austin Okpara, Mrs. Abieyuwa Garba, Mr. Venatius Ikem and Alhaji I.B. Sali as the Secretary.

All these committees, including the Ahmed Talib Committee, the Oyeyipo Committee and the Dasuki Committee reports, advocated for one thing—direct funding for the local governments. To me the 1999 Constitution has been unfair to the local governments.

Now the National Assembly has embarked on its annual high cost spending ritual—amendment of the Constitution. The most urgent task is to ensure that we amend the constitution so that the funds of the local governments will reach them directly instead of being hijacked by some governors. Efforts must be made to ensure that the local governments function effectively.

It is not in the interest of the Central government or that of the state governments that the local government should die. It is not in the interest of anyone for the local government to cease to function.

Eric Teniola, former Editor of Punch Newspaper and a former director at the Presidency, lives in Lagos.

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