On Autonomy for Local Governments

POLITICS OF SUBSIDY   Should local councils be autonomous?

Should the immunity clause for elected executives be removed?

These twin issues are at the core of the debate on the review of the 1999 Nigerian constitution.

For me, the real issues are about the patriotism of the leadership. Easily, the debate about whether local councils should be autonomous or not, bother on who controls and shares the money for local governments.

Anyone who has followed the politics of local governments in Nigeria will find that granting autonomy to local councils will be to transfer power to local politicians, empower them with state resource and enable them to make fiefdoms of this tier of government.

Clearly, the third tier of government in Nigeria has become merely distribution points for resources that should be used to develop local communities.

Take Ogun State for an example, while the governor, Ibikunle Amosun, is busy with his urban renewal programme, building or expanding the state roads, there is not one single road project in the whole of Sagamu and Ikenne local government areas.

With the rains fully arrived, driving from most residential areas to work has become a nightmare for most workers. The roads are flooded and muddied.

In Lagos, a local government chairman in the Yaba area bought almost 200 brand new cars for distribution to various government functionaries and aids and celebrated the commissioning of the vehicles in an elaborate ceremony he called ‘delivering dividends of democracy.’

Tony Blair, former UK prime minister once said that each country needs to define what democracy is to them. So must we redefine federalism. If democracy and federalism means dolling out large sums of money to local politicians who are not accountable to anyone, then such freedoms must be curtailed.

The following suggestions are plausible:

  1. The national assembly should grant local councils fiscal autonomy, but with a proviso that they publish their annual budget for public view;
  2. That they render an account to the accountant-general of the state and the federation on a monthly basis;
  3. That periodically, the state houses of assembly should appoint an independent auditing firm to audit the local council accounts periodically;
  4. That the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission be strengthened to investigate and prosecute cases of financial impropriety at all levels of government;
  5. That citizens be enlightened on the need to make use of the EFCC and other institutions of government established to enhance transparency in government.

Finally, the leadership in Nigeria must understand that he who sows in the wind stands to reap in the whirlwind. Leaders who exploit weaknesses in the Nigerian system to defraud and weaken the system, impoverish the nation and its people must understand that God and the Nigerian people have been patient for a long time, and that patience may be running out.

God bless Nigeria.

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