By Owei Lakemfa
There is a pretence of a debate over the practice and funding of local governments in the country. The Federal Government, putting up a facade of defending local governments, rolled out new guidelines on their expenditure, including a maximum daily N500,000 cash withdrawal.
The Federal Government knows that local governments are serially raped by state governors who do not allow them to run as a different tier of government but looks the other way. This is partly because all political parties, whether ruling or in opposition, are involved in the racket. Since our return to civil rule – it is indeed a rule, not administration – the only time I recall the Federal Government intervened, was its seizure of the local government funds of Lagos State. That was under President Olusegun Obasanjo; it was a purely vindictive and punitive move.
The Executive Governors who have practically killed the system are shamelessly quoting the constitutional provisions which in a cavalier manner, they constantly violate. This includes seizing, disbursing and spending the funds accruing to local governments. Governors rape the local government system crudely and shamelessly, like the police in Abuja who were accused of raping commercial sex workers openly at the police stations using discarded pure water sachets as condoms. They dissolve local government executives at will, reconstitute them when they feel like, impose ‘Caretaker Committees’; and when they remember they are supposed to be democrats, conduct mainly sham elections that only the ruling party in each state wins. Where in error a candidate from the opposition gets elected as a local government chairman as happened in Oyo State, he may not be sworn in.
Just as they are violated, so do the local governments rape the citizenry. To most Nigerians, local governments are unaccountable tax collectors who terrorise market people, commercial drivers and street vendors. The local government chairmen, councillors and traditional rulers in their area of jurisdiction, share what is left of the monthly allocation passed down by state governors.
Even when some primary schools bear the name Local Education Authority which presupposes that they are run by local governments, neither the pupils nor their parents associate that level of education with that tier of government. Even the teachers do not hold allegiance to the local governments which are nominally their employers. Partly to ensure absolute control, and the fact that in the past, local government authorities looted the salaries of teachers, it is the state governments that are seen to pay teachers’ salaries at that level.
It is not uncommon to find thugs and street urchins hired by local governments and backed by the police and Civil Defence Corps members on the highway. This ragtag army carries planks with long nails with which they puncture tyres of motorists who fail to stop when flagged down and sticks with which they can break windscreens. They claim to be ‘task force’ collecting ‘advertisement fees.’ Sometimes, as I witnessed in Edo State last Tuesday, these thugs who are ready to become violent within seconds, are complemented by ‘mobile courts’ before which helpless and undefended motorists are dragged and sentenced for alleged violation of laws.
The selected targets are usually travellers who need to move on quickly or delivery trucks that cannot afford to be impounded. So nobody sues, and the rape by the local governments simply go on. Involved in this brazen violation of the citizenry are the combined forces of the local governments desperate to milk the people for money, the states that use the judiciary to establish contraptions called ‘mobile courts’ and who also supply the magistrates, and the Federal Government that provides the enforcers called police and Civil Defence Corps.
The local government system which, with the connivance of the state governments, local politicians and traditional rulers, rape the local people, is also an instrument used monthly to raid the federation accounts in the name of allocation; the loot is then unevenly shared. The sharing formula is such that Bayelsa State that produces the bulk of the resources gets eight portions, and Kano State that contributes very little gets 44 portions.
There is no doubt that local administration is needed to cater to the needs of local communities, but the local government system is a fraudulent contraption by military regimes who created them without principles or known criteria. The military is hierarchical and if you had power or influence during the military regimes, you could allocate a local government to yourself or get one as your own share. Let us analyse our recent history. In the 1991 and 2006 census exercises, Lagos and Kano’s states were virtually at par, yet the former has 20 local governments and Kano, 44.
Both census exercises gave Jigawa State a population less than half that of Lagos State, yet it has 27 local governments compared to the 20 in Lagos State. This means that old Kano State (now Jigawa and Kano states) which was created along with Lagos State based on parity of states, now has 71 local governments compared to Lagos with 20. So what equality or fairness can be achieved in using the number of local governments as a means of sharing the federal revenue?
The local governments from conception to establishment, violate the preamble of the Constitution which states that its principles are built on: “Freedom, Equality and Justice, and for the purpose of consolidating the unity of our people.” Local governments were not created in freedom, are built on inequality and are, therefore, unjust. Rather than consolidating unity, the local government system as is presently constituted creates disharmony.
Rather than engaging in sterile debates, the solution is to run the country on the basis of Section 2(2) which states unambiguously that: “Nigeria shall be a Federation consisting of States and a Federal Capital Territory.” If we accept this basic constitutional provision of what constitutes Nigeria, then it means that the current military-imposed local governments will go, and each state will be free to create any number of local governments it chooses provided they are purely internal matters and that it funds them.
For instance, Lagos State has cried for over two decades now that the 20 local governments allocated to it are inadequate given the fact that it has a mega city of 18 million people. The same for oil-rich Bayelsa State which is allocated a miserly eight local governments over difficult watery terrain and oil-polluted lands. So in true freedom, the state can decide to double or triple its number of local governments. On the other hand, if Kano State chooses, it can maintain, increase or reduce its local governments to a number it can afford based on its revenue allocation and its Internally Generated Revenue.