With 774 local governments, just over 8800 wards, the third and arguably the most important level of government in Nigeria, local governments, the very thinking of this level of government existing mostly on paper: Raise all considerate Nigerians.
How could the system be effective? When the tripartite levels enshrined in our constitution have been ruined to the extent that some of the governors run the administration of local government, as a sole proprietorship, where local governments are subject to complete subordination with no accountability in many states by state legislatures charged with the responsibility of curbing the excesses of the executive branch of government.
Why would this level of government be effective when the main reason it is not autonomous is to maintain the status quo? But what is this status that some readers might ask? I certainly know that the vast majority of Nigerians are aware of what is currently available at this level of government across Nigeria. The fact that many local government areas can barely repair hand-drilling wells, in some even dig wells, has proven to be a Herculean task, no leader in good conscience would want this to continue, while we lack of drinking water in so many local governments.
A situation where local government areas cannot maintain our cemeteries let alone build new ones in a growing population, I doubt any thoughtful leader would want to see this continue. For crying out loud, this is our final resting place.
Travel the full length and breadth of Nigeria and you will be amazed at what the rural areas are up against. These are the areas where a large portion of all votes come from. These people have stood in the sun for hours to vote, but the only chance they can get from the presence of the government has been blatantly denied by those who are supposed to represent them. What mode of representation is it, if the representatives do not have the courage to present the atrocious ordeal of the people to the higher authorities?
A few months ago, an inter-tribal crisis erupted in one of the local government areas in Nigeria. The only security agency capable of pacifying the village was a considerable distance away. The traditional institution warned the boss of the local administration, financially and administratively “handicapped”. However, he went further to beg the security guards to go control the fight. Unfortunately, their Hilux vehicle was spoiled. Therefore, they only wanted a meager amount to fix it in order to act quickly on the raging crisis. The local government chairman told them point blank that the local government didn’t have a dime in their coffers. Wages had not been paid and it was not a big market day in any of the main trading villages in the council.
Probably he had accumulated enough debt not to have any in time, add to that the nonchalant attitude of some of our leaders. To be fair to him: the current status of local government in Nigeria gives it every chance of failing to live up to its responsibilities. This is unfortunately where governance has been reduced to where it is arguably most needed.
The security problem mentioned above is only one security problem among many, in fact more threatening: terrorism, banditry, kidnapping, etc. from the security challenges penetrating the vast mainland of the country to the lack of government presence at the local level, where it is closest to the people, especially the poor and vulnerable.
A system built on a tripod structure cannot survive on two simple pillars: it will definitely collapse. This is what we have seen over the years when they have taken local government away from the people and handed it over easily to governors, many of whom have devastatingly ruled it as their fiefdom, to the great dam of all patriotic Nigerians.
Thus, the high praise of the news of the National Assembly passing the bill to abolish the joint account and resuscitate the administration of local authorities, is well placed although it is not the first time that a project similar law is adopted. The 8th Senate and the House of Representatives did the same about five years ago. However, it never saw the light of day. The problem is not with the National Assembly. That’s what I understood in hindsight.
Where then is the problem? Without mincing words, the problem has always been at the State Houses of Assembly. With their support, we could have achieved the autonomy of local communities. Bureaucratic bottlenecks make the support of state legislatures a constitutional requirement for this to materialize. Unfortunately, they have been a stumbling block.
However, I have carefully followed this process over and over again. I have come to the conclusion that the State Houses of assembly are powerless given that a significant number of them can hardly go against governors even when they are wrong. I’m a big believer in due process, so supporting governors when they’re right is what I absolutely endorse.
I think seeing the inadequacy of state legislatures is what prompted Mr. President to defend the autonomies of the state assembly and state judiciary, which governors have effectively fought in court. , which led to the invalidation of his Executive Order 10 signed in June 2020. If Mr. President had succeeded, it would certainly have helped to obtain local government autonomy. Since it has not been effective: does that mean we should throw in the towel on our aspirations for productive local government in Nigeria? No, we can’t afford to do that.
What are we doing to make a difference? It is obvious that we have to change our approach. I had written two long articles affirming the importance of local government areas even when we weren’t facing such terrible security problems in rural areas as today. In these two plays in 2017, I chastised members of the state Houses of Assembly and made clear the limit of what any governor who was against local government autonomy could do to them. It appears that this has not been effective, as we have not yet achieved financial and administrative autonomy for this vital level of government.
Therefore, I will advocate for greater involvement of the electorate in the whole process, if we are really keen on disrupting the status quo. Nigerians in all states should follow the process carefully and find out who among their representatives in the state legislatures voted for or against the bill. This is imperative in order not to protect those who inadvertently or on purpose have decided to be against the masses for selfish reasons, we must be vigilant. Nigerians should do the needful at the polls by rewarding those who truly stand up and take care of themselves, to continue their good work in power. I believe that all things being equal, we will finally achieve the realization of the elusive autonomy of local governments.
Sansani writes from Turaki B, Jalingo, Taraba State.