The conversation on community development and effective service delivery in the local government areas has facilitated workshops where CSOs and community groups were trained on how to engage their local government officials. However, to take the conversation beyond CSOs and Community groups, Social Action organized a one-day National Dialogue on Local Government and Grassroot Development in Nigeria: Need for Autonomy and Accountability at the federal capital territory. According to Prince Edegbuo who gave the project overview and welcome address on behalf of Dr Isaac Asume Osuoka, he noted that about twenty trillion naira has been shared among the local government areas in Nigeria over the last 18-20 years. Sadly, these funds have hardly been used for the purpose of infrastructural development and other intervention purposes in the communities for which they were released. He also pointed to the fact that the local governments have gradually turned to a platform for settling political cronies and party loyalists while deferring the odds of credible democracy. This abnormality must be corrected, and autonomy returned to the LGA to foster development as funds are diverted because of the overbearing nature of the state Governors.
Speaking on “Constitutional and Legislative Challenges to Local Government Autonomy in Nigeria”, Barrister Eze Onyekpere clearly stated that the primary responsibility of the local government is to relate with the people and reflect their interest and be accountable to the people as the government is elected with a mandate to mainstream the constitutional aphorism of the security and welfare of the people. Ironically, this has failed as the Local Government Council and its activities are now been monitored, sanctioned, manipulated and abused by State Governments. The local government feed directly from the state and this can change if we go back to the 2014 constitution operation exercise.
The second Keynote speaker described the relationship of the local and state government as a master-servant relationship. He blamed the decline of the service delivery at the Local government level for the overwhelming corruption and weakness of the institution. Comrade Ken Henshaw, who spoke on Local Government and Public Finance Accountability, faulted the local government for operating without a budget and attributed their suffering to the abuse of the process and structure for electing local government officials. The speaker made recommendations and encouraged citizens to hold local government officials accountable.
The panel sessions gave room for government agencies, CSOs and participants and key interest groups to ask questions and suggest ways the Local Government can have autonomy and carry out its functions. The NULGE National President Comrade Akeem O. Ambali asserted that there has been a systematic destruction of the LGA governance by state actors. He proposed a political, financial and administrative autonomy of the local government as the current system does not support growth. The first Panel session facilitated by Jaye Gaskia focused on “The Independence of the third tier of government.” Other panellists were Hajiya Adamu Bello from ALGON, James Onu, the Head of Department, Legal Drafting and Advocacy, Dr Keshi Chuba who represented Deputy Senate President of Nigeria, Senator Ovie Omo. While Hajiya stated the challenges of ALGON, she demanded uniform tenor for all tiers of government and advocated for the setting up of Internal Revenue Mobilization Commission for the local government just like we have for the other tiers of government.
Speaking also, James Onu explained the issues of corruption and constitutional complexities in the Local government. Sensitization at the local level and demanding autonomy with one voice will bring about a realistic goal, he said. In his contribution, Dr Chuba condemned political favouritism and nepotism at the local government level.
The second panel session focused on community members who spoke of their diverse experiences in the Local Government Areas. All speakers unanimously agreed that the local government has not met the expectation and purpose of its creation. Facilitated by Che Oyinatumba, Panel members were Peter Adejobi, Faith Rtyehbo, Ozor Kingsley and Innocent Orji.
One of the prerequisites of the dialogue was to reach an agenda with appropriate and clear-cut procedures backed with an implementation plan with solutions proffered for the autonomy and accountability of the local government areas. The following resolutions were, therefore made:
- That a four-year tenor be allocated to local government councils as against the varying tenures fixed by different states
- NULGE, ALGON CSOs should engage in sensitization at the local level for the autonomy of the LGAs so they can speak with one voice.
- Citizens and anti-corruption agencies be more proactive in launching and following through on criminal investigations and misappropriation of funds at the local government level.
- Citizens should demand the publication of financial income and expenditure by all Local Government Areas and advocate for the publication of all allocations given to the LGAs
- Public hearings should be conducted at the local government level as part of the budget-making process
- Discontinue the use of the joint account by the state and local government and a dedicated account created for the local government for the remittance of funds directly from the FAAC account
- The local government should have political, financial and administrative autonomy.
- Local government councils to either adapt state-level development/perspective plans as policy frameworks for budgetary initiatives or develop their own plans such as the Local Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy Framework.
- The people take a bold step to hold the local government accountable for service delivery
One of the tools for gaining political legitimacy is national dialogue and to abate political apathy and encourage citizens participation in governance and political transition beyond the political elite, national dialogue has over time been employed as a negotiation mechanism. The inability for a sitting government to address prevalent issues and unwillingness to change the status quo necessities these dialogue as beyond the government, there are citizens, organizations whose core value is to ensure that the interests of the people are reflected on governance and Social Action is committed to this.
Giving the vote thanks, Prince Edegbuo, assured participants that the resolutions will produce actionable plans but however, it is our duty as Nigerians to demand autonomy, transparency and accountability as no governor or speaker is more powerful than the people who gave them the power.