By Okechukwu Onuegbu
The local government area (LGA) is among the three constitutionally recognised tiers of government as provided by the 1999 constitution of Nigeria. Other tiers are states and federal government. There are 774 local government areas across 36 states of the federation and Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
Among the functions of local government area governments are to make economic recommendations to the state; collection of taxes and fees; establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm; establishment, maintenance and regulation of markets, motor parks and public conveniences; construction and maintenance of roads, streets, drains and other public highways, parks, and open spaces; and provision and maintenance of public transportation and refuse disposal.
Whereas the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is charged with responsibilities of conducting elections into the 36 states executive and legislative chambers including the National Assembly and Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Council Area, states are to replicate it for LGAs through their respective states independent electoral commissions (SIEC).
Another challenge confronting the LG administrations is state/LG Joint Allocation Account (JAAC) which made it impossible for the third tier of government to access funds accruing to them from the Federation Allocation Account (FAAC) without passing through states. This has led to abuse of power.
Perhaps this contributes to delays in conducting LG elections across the country. In the five Southeastern states, to be specific, only Enugu, Abia and Ebonyi states have been conducting LG polls for the past four years. Imo state last held LG election into 27 local government areas under Governor Ikedi Ohakim few months to the 2011 gubernatorial polls.
Rochas Okorocha, who succeeded Ohakim, in his maiden state broadcast on Monday, June 6, 2011, dissolved the elected 27 council chairmen and 645 councillors. Okorocha said the dissolution was because the “system is characterised with corruption and indiscipline”, assuring that “an audit committee would be constituted to review the activities of all the local governments.” But he neither made public the audit report nor conducted election into that third tier of government till July 2018, when PDP, APGA and several political parties pulled out.
Like Okorocha, his successor, Governor Emeka Ihedioha, less than one month in office, sacked the council chairmen and their councillors, saying it was in accordance with the provisions of sections 4, 5, and 6 of the Local Government Administration Law 2019 (as amended) and S.73(3) of the Imo State Local Government Administration Law No 15 of 2000 (as amended). Ihedioha appointed interim executive or Transition Committee members in their place.
In Anambra state, last LGA election was conducted by former Governor Peter Obi on January 13, 2014, two months to end of his 8-year term. Obi ran his administration with Transition Committee Chairmen and members. In a similar vein, the incumbent governor Willie Obiano, who took over from him on March 17, 2014 is either renewing or appointing chairmen and members of Transition Committee after three months. The recent one was done just last week. Most, if not all these TC officials, are usually members of the ruling political parties. The effect is depriving interested persons opportunities to either contest or support the emergence of their candidates as councillors and chairmen.
There is no doubt that these and others increased agitations from concerned citizens for the LG to be granted full autonomy. This included the 1976 LG reform, which made local governments the third tier of administration, the 1979, 1989 and 1999 reforms. Also, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), and civil society organisations is relentlessly demanding for the abolition of state joint account and State Independent Electoral Commission, SIEC.
NULGE national president, Ibrahim Khalil, at a public function, accused governors of emasculating and rendering the local government system incapacitated, through interference and manipulation of SIEC and the state local government joint account. But the LG Autonomy Bill passed by both chambers of National Assembly suffered set back as only 9 instead of 24 states house of assembly required to pass it did pass it into law.
Former senate president, Bukola Saraki, who spoke at the 40th anniversary of NULGE, regretted that the bill suffers delay noting that “the National Assembly fully appreciate the importance of governance at local government level. Yes, it strengthens local government administration, but more importantly it provides for governance that is accountable, which is a prerequisite for sustainable development.
“One therefore reasons with the idea of local councils having better proximity to the people, as their autonomy will in turn better serve the grassroots and avail Nigerians of the much-desired dividends of democracy. If we are to curb insecurity, provide jobs for our teeming youth and boost economic activity through diversification, we must enable local governments operate independent of the state and with their own budget and levels of accountability.
“As I have stated on several occasions, it is our joint responsibility to ensure that there is a symbiotic relationship between the states and local governments if we are to prevent unwarranted disadvantage to the third-tier government in Nigeria. A cordial and symbiotic relationship between second and third-tier government will make possible the necessary checks and balances that should further serve to deepen the fabric of our democracy.”
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had in 2018 described state governments still opposing the Local Government Autonomy Bill as enemies of the people at the grassroots. He said, “From what we know, by design, most states have incapacitated the local government. they have virtually stolen the local governments’ money in what they called Joint Account. They were to contribute 10 percent but they never contributed anything. So, what we have across the country are local government areas that have functions, but cannot perform the functions. They have staff but most of them cannot pay the staff and we keep getting excuses upon excuses.”
President Muhammadu Buhari, who on July 11, 2018 signed into law, operational guidelines of the Nigeria Fraud Intelligence Unit (NFIU), recently urged states government to conduct LG elections, insisting that his administration would on June 1, 2019 start paying LG allocations directly to LG accounts. Reports confirmed that the federal government marched its words to action by making the payments to LG as promised.
The NFIU Bill is in line with the requirements of Recommendation 29 of the Financial Action Task Force Standards and Article 14 of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption which effectively separated NFIU from EFCC under which it had been operating hitherto.
But speaking in an interview, Comrade Dede Uzor A. Uzor, Chairman, Board of Trustee (BoT), Human Right, Liberty Access and Peace Defenders Foundation (HURIJE), noted that respective South East governors decided not to conduct the statutory local council election because of endemic corruption associated with the administration of local council areas and its financial activities.
“Let us use Onitsha South as a case study. Onitsha south receives an average of N200 million per month but the rate of development in Onitsha south cannot be compared with the amount accruing to the local council area. That’s corruption.
“That’s a serious threat to the development of democracy and rule of law. It shows that they have been infected with corruption virus. Yes, the federal government warn both the state and local government over an intended violation, but since the state governments who are infested with corruption virus will not allow or respect our extant laws,” Uzor.
He, however, advocated for enactment of laws to give local government autonomy outside an executive order implied by the federal government.
Also affirming the needs to grant LG autonomy and also conduct elections into the third tiers of government, the Chairman, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Youth Wing, Mazi Chukwuma Okpalaezeukwu, said that granting LG autonomy would enable division of labour to maximize impact, satisfy the purpose and enhance efficacy.
“LGA autonomy is a necessity for maximization of impact and efficacy of governance at all levels; LG, state and federal. Conducting LG elections will help to reshape and develop the Southeast geopolitical zone. The federal government should also be commended for paying directly to LG accounts. The state house of assembly should pass laws including the LGA autonomy because it is good to all,” he maintained.