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Local Government Autonomy Bill: A Catalyst For Grassroots Development

Grassroots development is extremely important in any community. The socio-economic wellbeing of Nigerians has faced series of challenges right from the creation of Nigeria in 1914 till date. Challenges ranging from poor infrastructural development to poor human capital development, especially in the Local Governments areas are constantly posing as obstacles to the progress of Local Governments.
Nigeria has 774 local government areas (LGAs). Each local government area is administered by a Local Government Council consisting of a chairman who is the Chief Executive of the LGA, and other elected members who are referred to as Councillors. Each of the areas is further subdivided into wards with a minimum of ten and a maximum of fifteen for each area.
The functions of Local Governments are detailed in the Nigerian Constitution and include:
Ø Economic recommendations to the State;
Ø Collection of taxes and fees;
Ø Establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm;
Ø Licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts;
Ø Establishment, maintenance and regulation of markets, motor parks and public conveniences;
Ø Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, drains and other public highways, parks, and open spaces;
Ø Naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses;
Ø Provision and maintenance of public transportation and refuse disposal;
Ø Registration of births, deaths and marriages;
Ø Assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State; and,
Ø Control and regulation of out-door advertising, movement and keeping of pets of all descriptions, shops and kiosks, restaurants and other places for sale of food to the public, and laundries.

A Nigerian Political Analyst, Nwaorga Faustinis Chilee acknowledges in his article written in October 2012 titled: “Nigeria: Local Government Areas Underdevelopment And The Need For Autonomy To Fast-Track Development” that one of the greatest challenges facing almost if not all the 774 local government areas in Nigeria is the generally perceived, known and alleged illegal deduction of funds of council areas by state governors. The deduction which is easily and allegedly facilitated by the present constitutional joint account maintained by State governments and their local government councils counterparts is an ill wind that blows no good to the local government areas; given the retrogressive trend or rather the stagnation of the council areas in terms of development. Truly, local government is the third tier of the administrative structure in Nigeria aimed at not only bringing the presence of government nearer to rural dwellers but also to provide certain social amenities to the council areas as enshrined in the constitution. Today most LGAs are mere offshoots of the state government. This was why Allwell Okpi observed in his report that though local governments constitute the third tier of government as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution, they have largely operated as appendages of the state governments; some of them are governed by the caretaker committees appointed by the state governors. Many observers in some quarters have argued that the poor or lack of development in most local government area is due to the interference of the state government or the 2nd tier of government in the administration of local government councils whereby the state government starve most LGA of fund which ought to have been used for development projects. Because of the abysmal, sickening and condemnable underdevelopment of local government areas, especially ones situated in rural areas, The Senate President, Bukola Saraki supported bills aimed at granting financial, political and economic autonomy among others to the 774 local government areas in Nigeria. In 2012, Hon. Uche Ekwunife sponsored the bill with the caption an Act to amend Section 7,162, of the 1999 Constitution and provision of political and financial independence for local government administration in the country. The second bill entitled a bill for an Act to Alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to ensure effective and efficient operations of the local government councils in Nigeria for social, economic and political development and for other matters connected, which was sponsored by Mohammed Shamsidin Ango Abdulahi, tries to amend Section 7, 313 and Sections 162 among others in the 1999 Constitution (amended) and gives political and economic independence to the all the local councils in Nigeria. The bills did not see the light of the day before the tenure of that National Assembly expired.  Saraki knows how essential these bills are and he has firmly stood by them in the 8th Senate and the National Assembly generally.  It is important to commend Saraki and the National Assembly for the bills and its eventual passage into law will expunge the complaint of stranglehold which state government have over the joint account. It is the positive view of most analysts, commentators, observers etc. that it is when this joint account is abolished by amending the 1999 constitution and by creating a separate account for the 774 local for direct sourcing of fund without the interference of the state government, will the local government councils heave a great sigh of relief and begin in earnest to deliver on its statutory responsibility and duty which will invariably bring rapid development to the rural areas. Anything contrary to this as being suggested in some quarters that a body should be created, perhaps at the state level to see to the direct disbursement of federal government allocation which accrues to the local government areas should be jettisoned, as this amounts to duplicity and waste of fund. The 36 State House of Assemblies  should therefore ensure the passage of the bills into law without minding whose ox is gored as this will give the council bosses freedom to use the federal government allocation amongst other funds available to them to impact positively their various councils
Saraki’s fervent desire has been for the Local Governments to experience significant development and in order for this to take place effectively, they must have autonomy. In order to ensure autonomy for the local governments in Nigeria, the Saraki led Senate sought to alter section 162 of the 1999 Constitution to abrogate State-LG joint accounts and empower each LGA to maintain its own “special account into which all allocations due to the council shall be directly paid from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.
Further, the Saraki led Senate voted to review the constitution to make democratic composition of local councils statutory. This would mean any local government without elected officials would not get federal funding. Saraki believes that this will help improve efficiency and delivery capacity of the local councils.
A lot of Nigerians have commended the Senate President, Bukola Saraki and the National Assembly for the enormous consideration given to the bill. One of such people is the Nigerian Labour Congress President, Ayuba Wabba.
 Wabba gave his commendation at one of his press briefings in Abuja. He said the National Assembly deserved commendations for voting overwhelmingly in favour of Local Government autonomy in spite of pressure from vested interest groups.
Wabba expressed optimism that if assented to these amendments will free-up the local governments from the strangle-hold of state governments and widen the democratic space as well as restore the lost glory of local governments.
“The Local Government system of government known by various names, is the oldest form of administration, and sadly, the most abused and exploited in our post-colonial history.
“Until progressive decline and bastardisation set in, the Local Government represented the centre of administrative excellence, clinical efficiency, training, education, development, tax administration and effective commodity boards.  Local governments also represented maintenance culture of infrastructure including roads, environmental sanitation, functional health facilities, low incidences of corruption and violent crimes.  The singular reason for this magical performance was that local governments were close to the people and ministered to their needs,” he said.
 The NLC president called on the governors of the 36 states “to sheathe partisan or insular considerations and support these amendments in the national interest.”

 By Terfa Naswem

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