By Dr.Muiz Banire
Recent agitations about the need for local government autonomy have exposed a sore point in our concept of public administration. It is clear that the desire of principal actors in Nigeria of what they want to call ‘federalism’ is at variance with the constitutional stipulation of what federalism means. By Section 7 thereof, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), contemplates a local government system as an independent structure as regards being democratically elected in its councils. Accordingly, the Constitution mandates the government of every state, subject to Section 8 of the Constitution, to ensure the existence of the local government councils under a law, which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.
Unfortunately, this provision of the Constitution has been observed more in the breach by most state governments in Nigeria. The recent pronouncement and body language of President Muhammadu Buhari insisting on local government autonomy has not gone down well with many governors. In fact, the decisions of the various courts of the land, the Supreme Court in particular, insisting on guaranteeing local government autonomy, have been flatly rejected by potentates who masquerade as governors of the states in Nigeria. It is unfortunate that what the Constitution regards as the third tier of government has been turned to mere administrative departments by some governors whose clamour for progressiveness can only be seen as mere hypocrisy. It is indisputable that the functions of the local governments have been provided for in the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution, meant to be expansive and not restrictive, as the word “includes” used in the provision of Section 7 of the Constitution is meant to be so interpreted. Rather than state governments creating more functions for the local governments councils in their states to enable them to be more functional, some state governments have taken over most functions of their local governments by enacting terrible laws that confer constitutional functions of the local governments on the states.
By this the areas of influence, legislative competence and financial capacity of the local governments become weakened to the extent that some local governments only pay salaries of their workers and can do no more than that. Disappointingly, the Houses of Assembly of states are complicit in this unconstitutional practice of castrating the local governments. They are the ones who enact laws by which the capacities of the local government councils are reduced, if not totally obliterated. The local government councils are, therefore, unable to generate any substantial revenue and, thus, remain eunuchs that the Constitution does not contemplate them to be. With respect to security of tenure, the most violated tier of government is the local government.
The governors have rather reduced this government structure to a mere appendage of state governments, as the governors dissolve them at will and toy at pleasure with the tenure. In some states, holding local government elections is an anathema that the governors as gods have forbidden. Rather than hold elections to ensure democratically elected local government structures decreed by the Constitution, these governors only appoint caretakers and impose their lackeys on the people. At the expiration of the tenure of such caretakers, they get re-appointed by the same governors, who carefully select their loyalists within their own political party, thereby denying members of other political parties and the public at large the right to participate in how they are governed. This is against the provision of the Constitution in Section 14(c), which provides that “the participation by the people in their government shall be ensured in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution.”
Whereas the Supreme Court has, in so many cases, declared caretaker committees appointed by governors to be unconstitutional, the practice continues unabated and, disappointingly, some states have not witnessed local government elections in so many years.
These tyrants, who claim to be democrats, dissolve elected local government executives and impose caretaker committees on them, believing that no one has the power to challenge their iniquities and even when challenged, it will take years before the matter gets to the Supreme Court from which decision there is no further right of appeal. By that time, the tyrant believes his own tenure as governor would have expired and he does not see any sense in behaving in accordance with the laws of the land. The quality of persons imposed as caretaker committee members of local government councils by state governors is even a shame to modern system of governance. Some governors would rather appoint touts and thugs to become councillors and local government chairmen in order to be worshipped as gods by these unworthy beneficiaries whose intelligence quotient cannot even administer a mere household.
Even where elections are held under the ‘partial’ state electoral commission, the emergence of thugs as local government executives has become a fait accompli as governors ensure nomination of miscreants as party standard-bearers for election into local government councils. It is as sure as thunder after lightning that these delinquents would pilot the affairs of the local government areas for a tenure as the elections will definitely be rigged by the governor. That is why the ruling party has been winning elections into all the local government councils in their states, as if the opposition parties have resigned their roles as political parties. No wonder a state in which opposition parties have seats in the House of Assembly would produce no winner of local government elections from any other political party except the ruling party.
Some Houses of Assembly are so insensitive that they make laws that make people who are even eligible to contest and become House of Assembly members to be ineligible to contest and become elected local government officials. Such conditions, like production of three years’ tax clearance certificates as part of the qualifications to contest local government elections are not only illegal, they are grossly unconstitutional. Once it is the provision of the Constitution in Section 7(4) that any person who is qualified to vote and be voted for in a House of Assembly election shall be qualified to vote and be voted for in a local government election, the imposition of tax clearance certificate as a condition to contest and become a local government executive, is definitely unconstitutional as the Constitution has clearly stipulated the requirements for qualification to contest a House of Assembly election which do not include production of tax clearance certificates.
This unconstitutional requirement is anti-democratic as it renders fresh graduates who are yet to secure employment but possesses administrative acumen or other people who are not yet earning incomes and are, therefore, not subject to taxation, unqualified to contest and become local government executives.
As regards finances of local government councils, while the Constitution mandates every local government to be entitled to allocations from the Federal Consolidated Revenue Account, unfortunately, the Constitution adopts the state governments as the conduit pipes by which allocations due to the local governments are to be funnelled to their respective purses. This has created an opportunity for many governors to divert local government allocations and deny the local government councils their entitlements. What finally gets to the local government councils is peanuts, by which no meaningful development can be carried out by this toothless tier of government.
When the Federal Government even made efforts to ensure that local government allocations get to the desired recipients, State governors have terrorised their local government appointees to the extent that after remitting the moneys to the local government coffers, the chairmen of the local government councils are made to refund a substantial part of the moneys to the coffers of the state government. All the efforts made during the time of President Olusegun Obasanjo to guarantee local government finances were repelled by state governments who today have perfected this stealing craft.
The provision of the Constitution mandating state governments to remit 10 per cent of their revenues to local government councils in their states has been rendered otiose by state governors.
Except for probably Kaduna’s Nasir El-Rufai and Borno’s Babagana Zulum, it is doubtful if any governor observes this mandate of remitting 10% of the revenue of the state to the local government councils. It is these unwholesome practices of the governors that make President Buhari’s directive that all local government allocations be paid directly to the local government councils, to be praise-worthy. While this directive is clearly unconstitutional as it violates key provisions of the Constitution, particularly, Section 162 thereof, there seems to be no other way to prevent the larcenous and impeachable acts of State Governors who have rendered our Constitution, the supreme law of the land, a mere collection of printable words commanding no more attention than a mere literary textbook. Disappointingly, as impeachable as these acts of the Governors are, there is no House of Assembly to protect the Constitution or enforce the observance of court decisions on the Governors.
The Houses of Assembly of States have become so complicit in this criminal brigandage against the Constitution that one wonders if our society deserves to be called a part of the civilised world. What is then honourable in the “Honourable Members” of the House when the supreme law of the land is desecrated under their watch while they pretend not to see anything? It is only when we decide to play governance games according to the rules that we can register any meaningful development. State Governors who are bereft of ideas on how to create wealth or generate revenue shall forever be gluttonous and shall scavenge for funds from criminal places. They retard development with their incapability and are setting dangerous templates for governance. No wonder our people evince apathy when election comes as they have come to believe that nothing good can come out of the system.
Aside from the fact that their votes would not count, there is no purpose in joining hands to elect your own economic robbers who merely use your participation to create a façade of legitimacy for their ignoble victory at elections. Until we learn to observe the laws of the land, it is clear that the tier of government called local government will remain dead in the hands of the monarchical governors. I must however add the rider that even the little in the hands of most of the local government purse are equally scavenged, thereby calling for the total overhaul of the local government system. The import of which is that with the dept of the crop of leaders (Rulers) is insufficient to make them capable of positively impacting the development of their areas even where the resources are available. Adieu, Mr. Local Government.