The case for autonomy for local governments in Nigeria received a major boost when the Conference of Nigerian Speakers voted in favour of the dispensation. Rising from their meeting in Yola two weeks ago, the Speakers identified local governments as the veritable instruments for meaningful development at the grassroots and therefore affirmed the need to entrench them in the country’s body politik after due consultation with stake holders nationwide.
According to the Chairman of the Speakers’ Conference who is also Speaker of Kebbi State House of Assembly Alhaji Ismail Abdulmumini Kamba, the Conference is poised to conduct a public hearing on the issue of autonomy for Local Governments in order to harness more inputs from the Nigerian public. The Conference draws membership from the country’s state assemblies and the Yola meeting had the Speakers of all of them in attendance.
Given our commitment to the development of the country along democratic principles we cannot agree more with the position of the Speakers. Their stand is even more poignant given that the Constitution grants their respective chambers the exclusive responsibility for making laws for the administration of local governments in the country. They therefore enjoy the Constitutional competence to address the matter at stake and should therefore be taken seriously especially over their concern for the weaknesses of the local government system.
In their endorsement of autonomy for local governments, the Speakers will find good company in many Nigerians who rightly see the issue as perhaps the most deleterious of the factors that define the degenerate state of the country’s local government system. Whereas the Constitution defines a local government as an elected entity, the reverse is the case most of the time in most parts of the country. For instance it is believed that over 85% of the 774 local governments in Nigeria are run by sole administrators who are routinely appointed arbitrarily by respective State governors to execute the personal agenda of the latter. Besides the forgoing it is on record that a wide cross section of the country’s local governments have had no elected leaders for many years. The Federal Government has also not helped matters as it routinely allocates statutory funds to the non-elected local governments in flagrant breach of the Constitution.
Another factor that accentuates the lack of autonomy for local governments is the State and Local government joint account which is often operated in their disfavour by the respective state governors. This particular issue effectively denies the local governments the resources to execute any statutory function within their areas of jurisdiction. The cumulative effect of these two factors along with others translate into the institutional docility of the third tier of governance.
That is why the position of the Speakers qualifies as a wake-up call for all patriots and sundry stakeholders in the country’s democracy project as without the viability of this tier of governance; hardly will the country enjoy the dividends of democracy. In this regard falls the imperative for various actors to play their role as is expected of them. For instance the Speakers Conference should press on with their advocacy which may require more than lip service to succeed. This contention is with respect to the position of a cross section of state governors who are diametrically opposed to the autonomy for local governments.
Just as well is the need for the National Assembly to identify with the welcome advocacy of the Speakers Conference and fast track the bill on local government reforms, in order to provide the legal framework for the advocacy. For meaningful reform of the local government system all parties in support of the advocacy should work towards the abolition of the joint account and cessation of statutory allocation to unelected local governments.