GRANT LOCAL GOVERNMENTS POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL AUTONOMY; ACTIVISTS URGE NASS
Social and development activists in Nigeria have called on the Federal Government and National Assembly of Nigeria (NASS) to grant local governments in the country financial, political and administrative autonomy as a matter of urgency. This call was made on Monday during a one day virtual Town hall meeting on, “Addressing Obstacles to Local Government Independence in Nigeria” organized by Social Development Integrated Centre, Social Action with support from the United Nations Democracy Funds.
Speaking at the event, Comrade Akeem Ambali, National President of NULGE said the major obstacle to Local government autonomy in Nigeria is the lacuna in Section 162(6) of the 1999 constitution as amended; “Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State”.
Operating a joint account with the state, according to the Comrade does not favour the local government as the state political actors cash into this opportunity for private enrichment. “The heavy corruption, greed and insatiable appetite for immense wealth by state political actors are major obstacles to achieving LG independence in Nigeria”, he said. To address this bottleneck situation, local governments should be funded directly from the federal allocation.
Comrade Ambali suggested a bottom-up approach to governance in Nigeria. Along with financial autonomy, the local government should be given political and administrative autonomy. Rather than the state electoral commissions, Independent National Election Commission (INEC) should be allowed to conduct unbiased and transparent elections for local governments.
He further stressed the need for community policing and the entrenchment of Local Government Service Commission to ensure quality assurance and a proper audit system in LG operations. These strategies would not only break LGs from the shackles of the state governments but also strengthen democracy tenets in Nigeria and create employment opportunities at the grassroots, Comrade Ambali asserted.
In her summation, Comrade Hauwa Mustapha, a development activist, said it is sad to note that the local governments are seen as appendages to the states, rather than as a tier of government. This dis-functionality has led to a breakdown of governance and facilities, reduction in human capital and extreme poverty at the grassroots. She, therefore, called for a proper definition in the constitution on the roles and power of local governments as a tier of government. She also called for a collective movement for local government autonomy in Nigeria. This movement she stressed will advocate for citizens’ rights at the grassroots, gender empowerment, fiscal and resource control and an accountable Local government system.
Other members of the panel, Barrister Che Oyinatumba of Kubwa Express and Dr Udy Akpan of Youth for Change Initiative also called for behavioural and structural changes in Nigerian local governments. According to them, a lack of accountability in the local government will continue until its structure is unattached to the State.
Participants also suggested that pressure be put on the state Houses of Assembly to assent to bills regarding local government autonomy.
Responding to this, Prince Edegbuo of Social Action said the campaign for local government autonomy continues and hinted that a massive campaign will be launched on Twitter. Edegbuo, therefore, encouraged all to join Social Action and partners in this “storm” as well as other social and traditional media campaigns for local government autonomy. This he believes will give room for accountability of the local government system and improved service delivery.
While the moderator of the event, Comrade Jaye Gaskia thanked panellists and participants for their contributions to the program, he reminded all that local government autonomy is a must and so is inclusive governance. He, therefore, urged all to rise up and defend the local government.