Aminu Ibrahim Sokoto is the Chairman of Sokoto State Chapter of Association of Local Government Chairmen of Nigeria (ALGON). In this interview with the duo of AYO FADIMU and MUHAMMAD GORONYO, the chairman of Sokoto North Local Government, speaks on local government autonomy, challenges facing the third-tier of government in the country and other sundry issues.
What’s your take on the recent call for the scrapping of local government in Nigeria? This is because many believe the funds going into the third tier of government is largely unaccounted for, how do you react to this?
It’s madness to say you want to scrap the local government. If at all you have the love of the Nigerian masses, we need to ask ourselves, which is the closest government to the people out of the three tier of the government, you will agree with me that over 80 per cent of the people do not know any other government except their local government. If they have any problem, the first office they run to is the office of the Chairman of their local government to lay their complaints. I believe no matter how serious their problem may be, they may not be able to see their governors within a week, and they cannot see their president within a month. But each day, they know they are sure of seeing their local government chairman because they eat and dine with him within the same community. You are talking of financing. Which financing? Does the finance reach the local government, No, if you say government, we are talking about the three tiers of the government, then why should they operate differently in term of autonomy, in terms of initiative, why should the federal government not supervise the state government the way the state government supervise the local government. So to say local government is corrupt is just selfishness. What do they have to squander? In this local government, most of the development you see, when you ask the people they will tell you it is the chairman’s initiative. So the Federal government and the state government should allow the local government to operate so that they can correct their mistakes if there is any, and that’s the definition of democracy, democracy means learning, even in the United States they are still learning.
But another general belief is that at the local government, people just come whenever there is allocation, share the money and go back home until the next allocation…
What are they sharing, are you saying that when you visit the local governments you don’t see any development, or you think it’s the State government that is everything? The major projects you see in the local government are carried out by the local government, it’s only because what they get have specific time of getting it.
So despite the lack of resources, I have never stopped performing my work, if you ask the people they will tell you I was in the office yesterday, I was in the office day before yesterday and I am here today despite there is no resources.
Have you heard that any local government chairman cart away money? But it is in this country that you hear of state and federal government officials carting away billions of dollars, but because their voices are louder than ours they will shift the blame on the local government, that’s how I see it.
With the current constitutional review, what’s ALGON doing to ensure that there is financial autonomy for local governments? And what is ALGON doing as regards the state government imposing Chairmen on some local governments?
We are doing two things. One is that we are lobbying those who have hands in correcting these laws, I mean the Houses of Assembly. Two, we are trying to mobilize the populace, and this is because the people understand that there is no beneficial government than the local government to them. This year in my state, no local government has made a budget without the input of the masses. I am sure the chairmen for each local governments invite nothing less than 10 representatives from each ward to come and formulate the budget. And budget is the calculation of revenue and the expenditure, so it means we will allow the people to be acquainted with the necessary allocation and resources available for the local government. I am very sure if the government refuses to give local government autonomy this time around, people will protest, because they know that the local government is the best government that could develop them rapidly and efficiently. How many House of Assembly members or House of Representatives Members return to their people to tell them this is what we are trying to formulate because when they are to formulate laws, they are suppose to contact their electorate. And even the budget, they are supposed to bring it to the electorate and formulate it, and then take it back and that is what should be called second reading so the decision to accept or reject should be with the electorate. But the reverse is the case in this country, because they only enter the room, close the room and formulate whatever they want to formulate. But that time has come for all this to change. I am saying this not because I belong to a party that has the slogan of change, there must be change indeed. Whether they like it or not, our people know the change when they see one.
Speaking on budget, what are your priorities for this local government?
My Local Government is very opportune in the sense that numerous governments are here, the federal governments do projects the state government as well do project and other interested agencies and that’s what we call developing partners.
And in my local government, education is the priority. Fortunately for me, the state government is also focusing on education, because education is important.And we also want to increase our economy.
What have you done since you became the chairman of this local government?
When I came in, we were able to resolve backlogs of salaries of education workers. So when we came in, we jointly ironed out this problem with my state government and we resolved this.
So, we have been able to pay salaries of workers despite the low allocation and revenue no matter the situation seems to be. We have also provided essential services, we are making sure that the people have good drinking water, our health facilities have adequate personnel.
We also decided to help our farmers, first is that we decided to educate them on how they will farm to get the right output, we also provide commodities to them like fertilizers, insecticides and not until we have outbreak of disease, we do all these because we know when they farm it will help to reduce a lot of problems. Even the problem of unemployment among the youths will reduce. We also have been able to expand some of our clinics, although we have some that are built by state government. So these are some of the things we have been able to do even with the challenges.
Do the people pay tax?
Yes, they pay tax. But you know it’s not only in this part of the country that people don’t want to pay tax. I am having a lot of problem with them on this. For instance, I am trying to repair a place around here so that we can use it for parking space so that whosoever that wants to park will pay a certain amount of money instead of seeing vehicles all over the place. More than three times now, I have invited my people to inform them about the importance of tax. So I am trying to mobilize them to have their cooperation on this.