by crossriverwatch admin
One of the key areas proposed by the National Assembly in its ongoing effort to amend the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 is the provisions of the Constitution relating to the functions and responsibilities of Local Government Councils in the Country.
The functions of a Local Government Councils by Sections 1 & 2 of the Fourth Schedule to the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 is as follows: Functions of a local government council
“1.The main functions of a local government council are as follows-
(a) the consideration and the making of recommendations to a State commission on economic planning or any similar body on-
(i) the economic development of the State, particularly in so far as the areas of authority of the council and of the State are affected; and
(ii) proposals made by the said commission or body;
(b) collection of rates, radio and television licences;
(c) establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm;
(d) licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts;
(e) establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughterhouses, slaughter-slabs, markets, motor-parks and public conveniences;
(f) construction and maintenance of roads, streets, other public highways, street lightings, drains, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a State;
(g) naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses;
(h) provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal;
(i) registration of all births, deaths and marriages;
(j) assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State; and
(k) control and regulation of-
(i) outdoor advertising and hoarding;
(ii) movement and keeping of pets of all description;
(iii) shops and kiosks;
(iv) restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public;
(v) laundries; and
(vi) licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor.
2. The functions of a local government council shall include participation of such council in the government of a State as respects the following matters-
(a) the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education;
(b) the development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of minerals;
(c) the provision and maintenance of health services; and
(d) such other functions as may be conferred on a local government council by the House of Assembly of the State”.
There has been strident and persistent clamour by many Nigerians for the amendment of the Constitution in order to enhance the political and financial autonomy and independence of the Local Government Area Councils in the Country that has been under the thumb of dictatorial Governors so much so that the Local Government System that was conceived to be a third tier of government by the Constitution has been reduced to mere appendages and cash-cows of Governors in their various States.
The emasculation of these Councils has greatly defeated the intention of the framers of the Constitution that local Councils will serve as a sort of economic catalyst and spring board to quicken the development of rural areas in order to reduce drastically the attraction of young people to urban centres in search of opportunities.
Many experts in Local Government affairs have clamoured and called for the amendment of Section 162 (5) & (6) of the Constitution, 1999, that creates the Joint State/Local Government Account in which Revenue Allocation from the Federation Accounts for Local Government Councils are paid into a given State to be distributed to each Local Government Council.
Section 162 (5) & (6) of the Constitution provides thus:
“(5) The amount standing to the credit of local government councils in the Federation Account shall also be allocated to the States for the benefit of their local government councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
(6) Each State shall maintain a special account to be called ‘the State Joint Local Government Account’ into which shall be paid all allocations to the local government councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State”.
But in practice when these allocations into the State/Local Government Joint Accounts are paid the Governors dip their hands into them and appropriate them and share the money capriciously and whimsically leaving just a small percentage for the payment of salaries and running of head cost.
This unwholesome practice of diverting funds allotted to the third tier of government – the Local Governments has resulted in the gross underdevelopment of local councils for the past 12 years. It is no exaggeration that Local Government Councils are today lying comatose and have been reduced to mere appendages of Departments of Local Governments by State Governments. The consequence is that Local Government Councils are essentially crippled from performing their constitutionally assigned responsibilities and duties.
The framers of the constitution envisage Local Governments to be one of the three tiers of government in the Federation. The other tiers are the Federal and State Governments. However the conferment on the States by the Constitution of power to make legislations to regulate the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of Local Government Councils have been used as the umbrage by State Governments to undermine the integrity and independence of these Councils.
Section 7 (1) of the Constitution provides thus:
“The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to Section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils”.
In this wise the Houses of Assembly are encouraged by the executive to promulgate obnoxious and repressive Laws to cripple the independence and well-being of the Local Councils. Let me give a practical example. Section 6 of the Local Government Law of Cross River State of Nigeria provides thus:
“(1) Subject to the provisions of this Law, the House of Assembly shall make provisions for the allocation of public revenue to the Local Government and shall accordingly establish the Cross River State Joint Local Government Accounts Allocation Committee (2) All monies accruing into the Joint Local Government Accounts Allocations Committee shall be disbursed as follows: (a) A first charge for statutory deductions as follows — (i) salaries of all staff in the local government service; (ii) Rural Water Supply and Rehabilitation – 2.5%; (iii) Primary Schools Rehabilitation Programme – 2.5%; (iv) Primary Health Facilities Rehabilitation Programme – 2.5%”.
This is the Law the Government of the Cross River State of Nigeria has been relying on to justify the criminal appropriation of revenue allocations to the 18 Local Government Area Councils in the State which has reduced these Councils to departments or appendages of the State contrary to the framers of the Constitution.
When former Governor Donald Duke was in office it is estimated that between 2003 to 2007 more than N6 billion of allocation to the 18 Local Government Councils were appropriated and diverted under the guise of the implementation of Section 6 of the Local Government Law of Cross River State.
The States have enacted magisterial, draconian and obnoxious legislations empowering State Governments to dip their hands into allocations from the Federation Accounts and spend them in accordance with their whims and caprices. Despite the patent illegality of these laws, Local Councils have not mustered the will and courage to challenge the constitutionality of these laws. The reasons for this self-imposed timidity by Local Government Administrators are not far-fetched.
Almost all the Chairmen were carefully handpicked and imposed on their parties by these Governors. They are beneficiaries of fundamentally flawed elections organized by equally compromised Independent State Electoral Commissions.
It is commonplace that State Governors in the Country have demonstrated a large capacity and appetite to dominate and control everything under the sun in the States. The Governors are dictatorial and authoritarian in their orientation, temperament, style and action.
Local Governments are one of the hapless victims of the constitutional dictatorship that has been established by the Governors in their States.
There are several instances where Local Government Chairmen are simply removed from Council without the slightest regard for due process. In other cases Chairmen are sacked because they express opinions which are at variance with those of the Governor.
The process of impeachment of Chairmen has been taken from the Councillors and vested on States Houses of Assembly, which by omission or design have allowed their independence and sovereignty to be undermined, compromised and eroded by the Governors. Most of the States Houses of Assembly have been turned into rubber stamp of the executive arm of Government. Councillors can also be removed through this skewed and undemocratic process. In this wise, the right to recall an erring Councillor by the people who voted him into office is effectively removed from the electorate and bestowed on other set of elected people in a different tier of government. This is an absurdity in its entirety.
The dialectical consequence is that, Chairmen of Councils are more or less chorus boys, cronies and puppets of Governors. The Chairmen by design have refused to take legal steps to stop Governors from appropriating or diverting funds meant for Local Councils in the Country. The Governors have a field day. The misplacement, diversion and misappropriations of Local Councils funds have being total. It is clear that Local Government Elections are largely stage-managed in almost all States of the Federation.
In Cross River State in 1999 when a democratically elected government of Donald Duke was voted into power after more than 30 years of unbridled military dictatorship, the Peoples Democratic Party won only 8 Local Government Councils in the election conducted in December, 1998 by the Independent National Electoral Commission. The then All Peoples Party, APP (now ANPP) won 10 Local Government Councils. However, in the Local Government Councils election conducted by the Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission in 2003 none of the opposition Political Party won any seat.
It was a clean sweep by the Peoples Democratic Party. This unfortunate and disturbing trend has continued unabatedly in the State. In the 2007 Election it took a legal challenge in a case handled by my Law Firm for Elder Eyo Nsa in the Local Government Election Petition Tribunal who run under the platform of an opposition party to snatch back his councillor seat in Bakassi Local Government Area which he had clearly won but was fraudulently given to a candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party by the so-called Cross River State Independent Electoral Commission which is made up of card carrying and partisan Commissioners picked from the Peoples Democratic Party.
Local Government Area Council’s elections are supposed to reflect the voting patterns to accentuate the different and divergent shed of political stand points and peculiarities. But in Nigeria this is not the case giving a false impression of political homogeneity in a pluralistic society.
In Cross River State, for instance, the Yakurr Local Government from 1999 to date has received more than N10 billion from the Federation Accounts but not more than N1 billion of these N10 billion was given to it by the State Government.
As an indigene of Yakurr Local Government Council I have not seen what the Local Government has done in terms of infrastructural development. However the poor performance of the local government is somewhat excusable because of its lean financial resources at its disposable on account of the diversion of its statutory allocations. It is disheartening that Local Government Councils cannot establish primary schools, build health centres, construct roads and provide drinking water.
I grew up in Ogoja, Cross River State. In the late 1970’s we had running water in the house provided by the then Local Government Authority. Also roads and streets were constructed and maintained by the Local Government Authority despite the fact that what the Council had then is peanuts compared to the millions of Naira allocated now to Ogoja Council. But nothing, absolutely nothing, is there to show for it.
The justification for this blatant illegality by the State Government is that if these funds are allowed to be spent by local councils they would likely mismanage and fritter them or that there is no guarantee that these funds would be channelled towards the development of these Councils by their administrators.
On the face value this is a plausible excuse but it is a plain admission of the failure of the states to enact laws and regulations to impose transparency, accountability and good governance in the Local Government System. The pertinent question is: Are State Governments better managers of funds to arrogate to themselves the task of managing Local Governments’ allocations? The answer is in the negative.
Be that as it may the fear or apprehension of stealing or diversion of funds by Local Government officials should not be justification for State Governments to siphon funds meant for the development of these Councils.
This could be the reason for the benign neglect and utter state of deprivation and grinding poverty prevalent in the country’s rural areas despite the huge allocation to Local Government Councils in the Country.
It is clear that conservatively more than N30 trillion Naira allocations from the Federation Accounts to the Local Councils in the Country have been mindlessly siphoned by State Governments from July 1999 to March 2011. This is outrageous. This could be the reason for the benign neglect and utter state of deprivation prevalent in the Country’s rural areas.
However it shall amount to dereliction of its constitutional mandate and travesty of justice for the Federal Government to close its eyes to the activities of those who have been diverting Local Council’s funds. In this regard, it becomes imperative for the Federal Government to lobby to ensure that in the current constitutional amendment exercise, a proposal is pushed through to amend the Constitution to free the Local Governments from the stranglehold of Governors that has rendered them comatose and crippled.
But I seriously would advice the Senators, Members of House of Representatives and Houses of Assembly of the various States respectively to have the liver to push through the amendment of the constitution to give Local Governments autonomy and freedom taking into consideration that some of the legislators are tied to the apron strings of these Governors and may not want to antagonise them by supporting the proposal to make Councils truly independent to take their rightful place as catalyst of development as conceived by the framers of the constitution in the third tier government level.
It is obvious that some members of the National Assembly from some States may not support the proposal to amend the constitution to grant autonomy to Local Government Councils, knowing that should they dare to antagonise the Governors of their States, they would be denied tickets to return to the National Assembly come 2015.
Since You Are Here, Support Good Journalism
CrossRiverWatch was founded on the ideals of deploying tech tools to report in an ethical manner, news, views and analysis with a narrative that ensures transparency in governance, a good society and an accountable democracy.
Everyone appreciates good journalism but it costs a lot of money. Nonetheless, it cannot be sacrificed on the altar of news commercialisation.
Consider making a modest contribution to support CrossRiverWatch's journalism of credibility and integrity in order to ensure that all have continuous free access to our noble endeavor.