The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt Hon. Yakubu Dogara is championing a worthy but difficult cause- amendment of the 1999 constitution to grant political and financial autonomy to the 774 local governments in Nigeria.
Dogara and his colleagues’ efforts are coming at the right time because the local government system in Nigeria is not working. The reason is mainly due to state governments’ overwhelming control of this third tier of government through the operation of the unpopular joint accounts, bribery, extortion, embezzlement, graft, nepotism and political patronage prevalent in the system.
The founders of the Nigerian local government system and the crafters of the Nigerian constitution envisaged a local government system that will bring development along the local people’s culture and expectations. But sadly, the system is today a true reflection of the decay in the Nigeria state. It has been forgotten in Nigeria’s development equation- Nigerians put more expectations and emphases on the President and the Governors, rather than the local authorities.
Dogara was quoted to have said that the ongoing constitution alteration is the only way to guarantee development at the grassroots. However, the fourth schedule of the 1999 Nigerian constitution coupled with some important judgments made by the Supreme Court on issues affecting the local government system are good enough to strengthen the local government system.
The fourth schedule of the Nigerian constitution has clearly spelt out the functions of a local government council, but they have been abused and neglected. Imagine the local councils performing some of their functions as stated in the Nigerian constitution, for example: provision of some basic services.
Dogara has heard the cry of the people to grant local government councils political and financial independence. This will checkmate state governors’ abuse of local government authorities and bring sanity to the administration of local government councils.
The local government system has failed not only because of corruption, but also because of the negligence of the public and civil society organisations. A saying goes thus: ‘The less involved we are in our local community politics, the less aware we are of corruption in the system.’ Instead of serving as channels through which development and government's policies impact on the local people, as well as serve as a political training centre to afford future leaders opportunity to learn the art of good governance, the system has been transformed into breeding ground for bad leaders.
Dogara and his colleagues’ determination to grant the local government system financial and administrative autonomy will reinvigorate it. Most importantly, the elimination of the joint accounts will bring relief to the councils and enhance their capacity to perform. It will also reduce the burden of public expectation on governors and make local councils to be responsive to their constitutional duties.
Due to the operation of joint accounts, most local councils in Nigeria cannot pay salaries. And when they are able to, what is left is always too small to spend on development and it ends up in some officials’ personal pockets. Though, the idea behind the joint account was to eliminate corruption in the local governments, it has eventually turned out to be counter-productive to the local government system.
So many Nigerians are delighted with this landmark initiative from Dogara and his colleagues to grant full autonomy to the local council. Nonetheless, while granting autonomy to local councils is laudable, there are other variables that are pertinent if the local government councils must be effective. These include, having responsible people vie for local council positions; better attention from the public and NGOs; holding the local authorities to a set of standards based on their respective cultures. With these, among others, the local government system will start working.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State, email@example.com, 08036070980.