President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday accused state governors of thwarting development in the country by tinkering with local governments’ allocations.
According to the widely reported news, President Buhari accused the state governors of forcing the helpless local government chairmen to sign that they have received 100 percent of funds allotted to their respective local governments and then pocket half of what the council chairmen signed for.
Buhari reportedly decried the tendency of some key public functionaries to encourage corruption at the local government system, thereby inhibiting development at the grassroots.
The President was said to have made this disclosure at a parley held in Abuja with members of the Senior Executive Course (SEC) No. 44 (2022) of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru.
Buhari narrated his personal experience on stemming the tide of corruption in the local government system after the presentation of the report of NIPSS SEC 44.
After listening to comments on the presentation of his visitors which centred on ‘‘Strengthening Local Governance in Nigeria: Challenges, Options and Opportunities,” the President was quoted to have said
“I found it necessary to digress after reading my speech and this digression is as a result of my personal experience.
“What they did, this is my personal experience, if the money from the Federation Account to the State is about N100 million, N50 million will be sent to the chairman but he will sign that he received N100 million. The Governor will pocket the balance and share it with whoever he wants to share it with.”
This recent comment of President Buhari has indeed brought again to the fore the need for the state governors to allow the local governments have a life of their own as dictated by the country’s 1999 constitution as amended.
The local government created under 1979 constitution as third tier of the federating units after the central or federal and state is to make governance closer to the people and of course facilitate accelerated development at the grassroots.
To argue against this is like launching an assault against the provisions of Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that guarantees the existence of a “democratically elected local government.”
The leadership of the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) the umbrella body of the local government workers in the country has always championed for a change in this direction.
They are not only bearing the brunt of this abnormality but are also heavily pained seeing the abundant opportunities to develop the country but which it misses every day because the country has refused to do the right thing.
Some of the consequences of unconscionable powers exercised by the governors and their refusal to allow for local government autonomy include unpaid salaries of local government workers, notwithstanding the fact that allocations were promptly paid by the Federal Government as and when due; unremitted contributory pensions for months; directive to local councils to donate funds for governors’ political ambitions; basing salary payment on N6,500 as minimum wage instead of the then N18,000; and illegal deductions by several state, absent of meaningful development at the grassroots among others.
Central to the reason the governors are not favourably disposed to the local government autonomy is obviously due to the humongous allocations from the federal government to the local government which they felt they should control and manage alongside the one sent to state government.
This accounts for why the local government chairmen in the country are those picked by the Governor of their respective states either in the case of those that were elected or appointed as caretaker committees.
Many have however considered this to be an aberration and very unconstitutional especially in a federal system of government which we practiced in the country.
It is said that even during the military government that we often trounce and abuse for lacking respect for the rule of law, they allowed the local government to flourish during their days and the local governments had a lot of developmental projects to showcase until 1999 when we returned to civil rule and things began to deteriorate.
For instance, it is the U.S. that we patterned our system of government after, we copied our presidential system of government from the United States. There, they have federal, state, and county governments. They all follow their respective constitutions and do not impose restrictions on one another.
Counties which we call local governments deliver service, so also state governments and the federal. In law enforcement, there are city police departments and sheriffs in the counties. They all work together with their federal police, the FBI. Why are we operating our own federal system very differently? Is it not to feed our greed and further deprive the country of necessary growth, development and prosperity?
President Buhari who has never been comfortable with the insistence of the Governors of having the local government in their pockets had sometimes ago signed an executive order mandating that the fund for the local government should be paid directly into each of the local government account but it’s like this order had been of no effect.
Though, as championed by the local government workers, the local government autonomy bill was recently passed by the Senate but it requires the ratification of the 2/3 of the 36 States House of Assembly before the President will assent it but it’s like this condition has become another wall of Jericho for this bill to climb because of the governor’s influence over these legislators.
We may conclude that the call for local government autonomy is rooted in the life experiences of the reckless disposition of a typical governor to the funds of local governments and the deprivation of meaningful development at that level of governance.
The call is thus a way of deepening democracy and the well-being of people at the grass roots. This does not mean that the local governments are corruption-free. However, other democratic measures that promote transparency and accountability may be put in place along with measures to realise increased constitutionally-backed local government autonomy.