Local Councils … When Grassroots Government Is Far From The People

In Breaking News, National News, Politics

By Onyedika Agbedo, Tobi Awodipe, Maria Diamond (Lagos) and Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia), Isa Abdulsalami Ahovi (Jos), Uzoma Nzeagwu (Awka), Ayodele Afolabi (Ado Ekiti), Timothy Agbor (Osogbo), Agosi Todo, (Calabar) and Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri) – The Guardian

Local Councils in Nigeria have their roles in the governance chain clearly spelt out in the 1999 Constitution. As the third tier of Government, the constitution lists their main functions as: (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 slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences; (f) construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, 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.

Other functions of the Councils include the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; the development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of materials; the provision and maintenance of health services; and such other functions as may be conferred on a local council by the House of Assembly of the State.

The drafters of the constitution assigned these roles to the Councils with the intention of bringing governance closer to the people and speeding up development at the grassroots. However, with unemployment and insecurity ravaging the land, it has become obvious that the 774 Local Councils recognized by the constitution and the numerous Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) created by some States to drive development to the nooks and crannies of the country have fallen short of expectations. In fact, not many Nigerians reckon with Local Councils any longer despite their proximity to the people and the centrality of their roles in ensuring good governance.

The President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, stated this much while speaking with State House Correspondents after the Eid-Mubarak prayers at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, last Thursday.

He said: “I also want to take this opportunity to say that we have diminished the Local Government system. I think we can attribute the security issues to the absence of a functional Local Government system.

“I think the time has come for us to take up the challenge and ensure that the Local Government system functions. This is as we look for ways to curb the security challenge. We must never neglect the Local Government system. We must go back to our Local Government system to ensure they are autonomous and functional.”

Now, the questions are: How did Nigeria diminish her Local Government system? What is currently obtainable at the Local Councils? What could be done to restore the autonomy of the Local Councils and ensure that they are functional once again?

The Guardian spoke with stakeholders in Abia, Plateau, Anambra, Ekiti, Osun, Cross River, Imo and Lagos States, who provided answers to the above posers. Their views are as follows:

‘What We Have Now Is Mockery Of Local Council System’

In Abia, the 17 Local Councils of the State are presently run by officials elected in December last year and sworn into office few days after. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won the chairmanship of the 17 Local Councils and all but six of the councillorship seats, which was won by Labour Party (LP).

In accordance with the law governing Local Councils in the State, elected officials have a two-year term of office. The law also provides that the State Government and Local Councils should operate a Joint Account. Following from these provisions of the law, a sitting Governor conducts two Local Councils elections before the end of his/her four-year tenure and also has access to Local Councils funds. As such, the State Government and Local Councils meet monthly after Federal allocations are released to decide on how it would be shared and expended by the Councils based on their proposals.

According to some past and serving Local Council Chairmen in the State, who spoke with The Guardian, this practice deprives the Local Councils the autonomy they need to function effectively.

“No Council can do any project on its own without pre-approval by the State which at times imposes projects on the Councils to execute within a time frame,” said a past Local Council Chairman who preferred anonymity.

The former official faulted the two-year tenure of elected officials of Local Councils in the State, arguing that even if the Councils were enjoying full autonomy, no Government could make meaningful impact within two years.

According to him, the tenure was a strategy for a serving Governor to ensure that the elected and appointed officials dance to his/her dictates or risk not being returned for a second term.

“It is almost not possible for a Council Chairmanship aspirant to win the ruling party nomination and get elected if he fails to pledge total loyalty to the party. Local Council election is a State affair as it is the Government in power that constitutes the State election umpire who in practice, dances to its tune. This is why the candidates of the ruling party sweeps the poll,” he added.

A past Chairman of elected Councillors in the State, Ikechuku Alagwu, also decried the overbearing influence of the State Government on Local Councils, describing it as a mockery of the Local Government system. He noted that Local Councils were positioned to serve as the training ground for politicians but have been deprived of that role.

A political scientist, Dr. John Obi, called for the repeal of States Local Council Laws, adding that “funds should also be released directly to Local Councils and be strictly monitored by anti-graft agencies.”

Obi called for a legislation that would provide a four-year tenure for Council officials, who would be elected at the same time as the President, Governors, National and States lawmakers through an election organised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).

“The Local Councils are in a mess; nothing progressive is happening. What you see are suspected agents harrassing people over levies that might not be accounted for when collected. Workers salaries are not promptly paid for many months,” Obi said.

‘Plateau Local Councils Now Mere Department Of The State Government’

No doubt, Local Council administration in Nigeria has undergone several reforms of which the last exercise was in 1976. The idea of the 1976 reform was to have a democratically elected Government as the third tier of Government to bring development to the people at the grassroots level.

In Plateau State, which has 17 Local Councils, it can be argued that the only time the people at the grassroots experienced development from the Councils was between 2007 and 2015.

Currently, 13 out of the 17 Councils are run by democratically elected Chairmen, who were elected in October 2019 while the remaining four – Jos North, Jos South, Riyom and Barkin Ladi – are run by Management Committees. Nevertheless, there appears to be no difference between Local Councils run by elected officials and the one managed by appointees of the State Government, as communities under them lament acute shortage of amenities like pipe-borne water, good roads, health care facilities, etc.

Findings by The Guardian showed that the effectiveness of local councils in the state was being hindered by lack of financial autonomy.

The creation of the Joint Account and Allocation Committee (JAAC) enables the State Government to collect all allocations due to the Local Council from the federation account.

According to a reliable source in the State, the JAAC meeting comprising the Finance Commissioner, Accountant-General, Auditor-General, Director of Finance and Supply (DFS) and Director of Personnel Management (DPM) of each Council, holds each time Federal allocation is released. The source explained that at the meeting, the State Government makes deductions from source, and in most cases, leaves the Councils with zero allocations in the end.

According to Joseph Musa, who retired from the State Civil Service in 2018, Local Councils in the State fund so many agencies of the State Government, hence their inability to meet their responsibilities.

He said: “One of the challenges hindering the effectiveness of Local Council administration in the State is the establishment of State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), which has the responsibility of managing the manpower needs of primary education in all the Councils. Primary School Teachers’ salaries are deducted from Local Government funds and paid into SUBEB by the State Government.

“The workers in SUBEB are staff of the State Government. There is also the Local Government Service Commission, Local Government Pension Board, Plateau State University and other tertiary institutions that are all funded indirectly by the Councils.

“So, at the end of all these deductions, Councils end up with zero allocations such that there will be no money left to pay the Local Council workers, who are being owed salaries of about four months now.”

A public affairs analyst, Julius Werr, also said: “All the Local Councils in the State are in a sorry State, yearning for development. It is even worse with the establishment of Plateau State Independent Electoral Commission (PLASIEC) that has powers to conduct Local Council elections where there is no guarantee of credible, free and fair election process.

“The Local Councils have been reduced to a mere department of the State Government, especially Local Governments that are managed by Caretakers.

“It is these numerous challenges that moved major stakeholders to agitate for the amendment of the 1999 constitution to guarantee financial autonomy for the Local Councils.”

A concerned resident in the State, who pleaded anonymity noted that: “There is need to revisit the 1999 constitution, which gives powers to State electoral body to conduct Local Council elections. That should be scrapped while it should be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) so that there will be credibility, fairness and transparency.

“It is the Governors who appoint the State electoral body Chairmen and they do the bidding of the Governors. Again, Local Council elections should be conducted at the same time with the National elections. If it is so, the overbearing powers of the Governors will be checked, as they will not have time to manoeuvre the system because their own victory is hanging in the balance.”

He also argued that the joint account opened by the State and Local Councils should be scrapped while Local Council allocations should be sent to them directly.

Anambra Local Councils Are In Pathetic Situation, Residents Lament

In Anambra State, the last Council poll was held seven years ago. As such, Transitional Chairmen and Councillors are currently running the 21 Local Council Areas.

There had been strong agitations for the conduct of council elections by some groups and individuals in the State, who condemned the appointment of Transition Committees to run the Councils. They argued that lack of effective Local Council administration has stalled development at the grassroots and encouraged mass unemployment as well as migration to urban areas.

But as at the time of filing this report, there were no indications that Governor Willie Obiano would conduct a Local Council election before he leaves office in March next year.

Comrade Osita Obi, the Coordinator/Convener of the Movement for Conduct of Local Government Election in Anambra State, told The Guardian that Local Council administration was dead in the State.

“The current State Government killed the system because officials are benefiting a lot; they are collecting allocations of the 21 Local Councils in Anambra State. This is because Council election has not been conducted; that is why it is not functioning.

“Running the Councils with Transitional Committee is an aberration because nobody elected them; they are the products of APGA Government in the State. The case of Anambra State is pathetic. Ex-Governor Peter Obi conducted Local Council elections in 2014 and since then Government has not held another election in the State. You need the Local Government system in place for development of infrastructure like roads, healthcare facilities and schools, among others.

“The rising wave of insecurity in the country including Anambra State is linked to unemployment. There would be job opportunities when the 21 Local Councils are functioning. There are 21 Local Council Chairmen, 21 Deputy Chairmen, over 300 Ward Councilors to gain employment with an addition of about 1000 political aides if the Local Council election is conducted. This large number of unemployed people is what gives rise to banditry, unknown gunmen, armed robbery, kidnapping, etc.”

According to Obi, the infrastructural developments on ground in the State were not commensurate to the allocations received by the Local Councils from the centre, adding that they must be accounted for.

“Lack of development at grassroots level is the product of hijacking the Locall Council system by the State Governments. In the Local Councils, roads are terribly bad, no pipe borne water, health facilities are not functioning, no electricity; in fact, there is no Government presence in our communities. There is massive flooding during the rainy season,” he lamented.

Commenting on the issue, Mazi Anthony Digwe, who is a staff of a Local Council in the State said until a credible election is conducted into the third tier of Government, no meaningful development would take place in the rural areas.

“Allow inhabitants in those areas to elect people who will administer their affairs. They know and understand themselves and their needs,” Digwe said.

However, the Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr. C. Don Adinuba, said that the Government was not afraid of conducting Local Council elections but was respecting the laws of the land.

“The conduct of the poll was being dogged by litigation, and the State Government cannot conduct any Local Government election when a case is before the Supreme Court of Nigeria. We must respect the law of the land and would not do anything that is pre-judicial,” he said.

‘Ekiti Local Council Secretariats Are Eyesores’

Stakeholders in Ekiti State have lamented what they described as ‘sorry state’ of the Local Council Areas in the State as a result of alleged interference by the State Government.

Although democratically elected Chairmen and Councillors currently run the Local Councils, they appear to have become appendages of the State Government, thereby crippling their activities.

Commenting on the state of the Councils, the President of the National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) in Ekiti State, Mr. Olatunde Oluseyi, said the Councils were in sorry state.

He regretted that the situation has grievously affected the masses and left the grassroots undeveloped. He accused the State Governors of crippling the sector through the imposition of their puppets as Chairmen and Councillors.

He said: “Local Government emasculation has affected democracy in Nigeria generally. It has, in no small measure, robbed Local Councils of accountability. People are no longer accountable; the local people are unable to vote for a candidate of their choice. What we are having now in the Local Councils is appointment at the instance of Mr. Governor. Governors now see Local Councils as extensions of their wives kitchens.

“This has affected the Local Government system badly because it has denied the grassroots people of local democratic governance, whereas one of the objectives of Local Council is to serve as academy for future political leaders.

“The State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC) manages election at the State level. SIEC is a creation of the Governor and he who pays the piper dictates the tune. This has robbed the grassroots of developmental projects that local councils are supposed to execute.”

A lawyer, Mr. Femi Olajide, blamed the failures of the Local Councils on the drafters of the 1999 Constitution.

He noted that the Local Councils are a tier of Government in a federation whose absolute autonomy ought to be guaranteed, frowning at the current constitutional provisions that give States power to determine the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of Local Councils.

“The drafters of the constitution should be blamed for the state of affairs in the Local Councils. The constitution inadvertently tied the Councils to the apron strings of the State Government through its provisions,” Olajide said.

Speaking in the same vein, the State Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Mr. Rapheal Adeyanju said: “If there is Local Council autonomy, they would be financially independent to control their purse and impact positively on the lives of the people. Local Council is the closest to the people.

“Go to all Local Councils in Ekiti State now; there is no single project initiated by any Local Council. The secretariats are eyesores. The money coming to Local Councils has always been controlled and expended by the State Government.”

We No Longer Have Local Councils, Osun Residents Cry Out

Residents in Osun State have expressed worries over the running of the affairs of the 30 Local Councils and 38 Local Council Development Areas of the State.

The Local Councils and LCDAs are currently being run by Council Managers, who are Civil Servants. The residents of the State described the Council Managers as “strangers”, who have no affinity with the people they are governing.

The Council Managers took over the affairs of the Local Councils on Friday, February 6, 2021, following the expiration of the tenure of the former officials who were elected in December 2017 but assumed office in February 2018.

In 2020, the State House of Assembly had screened and confirmed the officials of the Osun State Independent Electoral Commission (OSIEC), who were nominated by Governor Gboyega Oyetola. During the inauguration of the officials, Oyetola had given them a matching order to commence the processes that would culminate in the conduct of Local Government elections later that year. The Commission complied as it reeled out the guidelines shortly after. But since then, Local Council elections have not been conducted in the State.

The Guardian gathered that the Council Managers, who have spent barely four months in the saddle, only have access to the Councils’ Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), as only the State Government can access their accounts. As such, the State Government has been paying the salaries of Council workers in the State.

Speaking with The Guardian, some residents in the State expressed displeasure over the situation of things at the grassroots level as a result of the inefficiency of Local Councils.

A resident in Ilesa, who simply identified himself as Wole, said Local Council administration in Osun is “comatose.”According to him, there was nothing that shows the third tier of Government exists in the State. “There is no touch with those that are in the Local Councils and the people they govern. We have already given up because we have no Local Councils. We don’t know those that the Government put there and since they are strangers, they can’t know our yearnings and how to meet them.”

Another resident in Olorunda Local Council of the State, Mr. Tunmise Arowosafe, said the Local Council had not interfaced with rural dwellers for a very long time.

“All activities regarding Local Councils in Osun are paralysed. All we know is that there are Civil Servants at the Local Councils but in terms of projects or other empowerment programs, there is nothing to show for it,” he added.

A lawyer, Jimmy Promise, also decried how Local Councils in the State were being run, saying: “Local dwellers have been abandoned and the Local Councils that should attend to their plights have been pocketed by the State Governor.”

Promise said it was unfortunate that there were no checks and balances in the system as enshrined in the constitution.

“We are really in a bad situation in Osun State. There should be checks and balances. The Local Council is the closest to the people and it should be responsible for addressing the plights of the people in terms provision of roads, water, electricity, empowerment and organizing seminars and other activities. But what do we have now? The people’s plights have been abandoned.

“The Governor has decided to pocket the Local Councils and use them at his whims and caprices. If the needful is not done, the masses may revolt because they have been pushed to the walls already,” he stated.

Promise called for the conduct of Local Council elections. “Let OSIEC conduct elections that will produce Local Council Chairmen and Councillors so that life can return to the Local Communities. It’s so bad that people are now the ones governing themselves,” he lamented.

‘In Cross River, Council Chairmen Are Glorified Appointees of State Government’

On May 30, 2020, the Cross River State Government conducted Local Council elections after eight years. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) won all the Chairmanship and Councillorship seats in the 18 Local Councils of the State. Many observers had accused the State Government of handpicking the successful candidates and adjudged the election as ceremonial.

Despite the fact that Local Councils in the State are currently run by elected officials, residents lamented lack of basic amenities in their communities. They accused the State Government of interfering with Federal allocations to the Councils and called for the autonomy of the Councils.

A Local Council worker, who spoke with The Guardian on the condition of anonymity, described Local Council Chairmen as glorified appointees of the Cross River State Government.

He said: “Local Council Chairmen are glorified appointees of the State Government and this explains why they cannot voice out the treatment they are receiving from their boss.

“Can you imagine that they can collect running cost of between five to ten million naira monthly to administer their Councils. And each time they get the money, they are given a list of items to expend it on. Every month, they have to retire the entire Federal allocation meant for their respective Councils but spent by the State Government. Even their budget is prepared by the Ministry of Local Government Affairs, which calls the shot in every aspect of Council administration.

“A typical example is the recent N100 million given to each Council. The money is still lying in their account since the disbursement schedule from the Governor is not ready,” the source alleged.

A resident of Ikom Local Council in Njematop community, Emmanuel Agbo, lamented that the grassroots were neither getting basic amenities nor benefitting from empowerment programs organised by the Council.

Agbo said: “As to whether they have created empowerment programs, so far, there is none known to me. For the past six years that I have been around, I have not seen any. The only program that people have enjoyed does not have anything to do with the Local Council; it was this N10,000 monthly that was given to the less privileged. And they are not really enjoying it in full because sometimes they come back with N3,000 instead of the supposed N10,000.

“When it comes to the basic necessities, we don’t have. The Local Council has not done anything. If you go into these areas, you will notice there is no road. It was just few days ago that the youth in the community gathered themselves and raised money that they used to buy gravel, which they poured on the road to make it accessible. Since it is raining, there is no road into the villages. So, when it comes to basic amenities, the Local Council has not done anything to uplift the status of my community.”

A lawyer and public affairs analyst, Sir Leonard Anyogo, called for Local Council autonomy and the streamlining of other administrative issues that have been bedeviling the Local Council system.

“Most people think there is no such thing like local council system in practice because states don’t allow them to function independently. If we have Local Councils that work, they will take care of security challenges; they will take care of some basic needs because the bulk of the Nigerians are at the Local Council level. If the Local Government system is working, we should expect that the Local Council could create roads so that this will not be left for the state and Federal Governments.”

Anyogo said the Local Councils should be granted financial autonomy but noted that appropriate checks and balances should be put in place to ensure efficiency.

“You can do that by having respective arms like the EFCC and other State supervisory bodies like House of Assembly to supervise the Local Council Chairmen. Right now, we want to see people that will hold their Local Council Chairmen accountable,” he added.

Endless Wait For Conduct Of Local Council Elections In Imo

Imo State is one of the States that are operating without elected officials in the 27 Local Council Areas. In 2018, during the administration of Rochas Okorocha, an election was conducted at that level and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) won the bulk of the Chairmanship and Councillorship seats.

On May 29, 2019, Chief Emeka Ihedioha was sworn in as the Governor of the State. Few days after he assumed office, he sacked all the elected Local Council Chairmen and Councillors. In their stead, he appointed Interim Management Caretaker Committee in each of the Councils for a period of six months at the first instance. He sustained that until the Supreme Court ousted him and enthroned Hope Uzodimma as the Governor on January 14, 2020.

After his swearing in on January 15, Uzodimma retained his predecessor’s style of administration at Local Council level by sacking those appointed by Ihedioha and appointing his own loyalists.

Earlier this year, a Federal High Court sitting in Owerri declared the sacking of the elected Local Council officials by the Ihedioha administration as illegal and ordered them to resume office. However, the Uzodimma administration was yet to comply with that order; thus, his appointees are still running the Local Councils. Although the Imo State Independent Electoral Commission (ISIEC) was properly constituted by his administration, there was no sign that Local Council elections would be conducted in the State any time soon.

Special Adviser to the Governor on Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Mrs. Rubby Emele, had always urged the people to be patient for election.

Findings showed that the State Government receives all the allocations meant for the Councils monthly, yet there is no development at the various councils. Even payment of salaries of the council’ workers is delayed.

A worker in one of the Councils in the State decried the state of affairs in the Local Councils, calling for an election as soon as possible.

“What is going on at the Local Councils is unfortunate. The appointed Interim Management Caretaker Committees are not doing anything on their own. Every day decision comes from the State Government. The system has been messed up. Payment of salaries is delayed; you cannot visibly point at any developmental project. Something urgent should be done to restore the dignity of the third tier system,” said the worker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Another respondent, Duru Danniels of the Concerned Citizens for Good Governance, also condemned the running of the Local Councils with unelected officials.

“This is unacceptable and should be reversed. Elections should be held in the local councils,” Danniels said.

Despite Regular Council Elections In Lagos, Rural Dwellers Lack Basic Amenities

Although Lagos State conducts regular Local Council elections, residents said they are not satisfied with the services of the elected officials.

A resident in Iloso Local Council Development Area (LCDA) of the State, Kehinde Olaosebikan, pointed out that the Local Council was only after revenue drive and hardly executes projects that touch the lives of the people.

“I work and live in this axis and the only time you see those Local Council people is when they want to collect money; you will see them very active if they want your money. But if you go and lodge a complaint at their office, it is a waste of time.

“This LCDA is one of the worst run in Lagos in terms of provision of basic amenities and the Council officials are greedy. Any little thing, they will demand for kickbacks before they do their work. Are those the kind of people that will provide roads, water, schools and so on? We need true representatives of the people that are ready to work for us and improve our lives and until we get those set of people, this country won’t move forward,” he lamented.

A resident in Oka-Afa area of the State, Amos Oyebade, also lamented that there was near absence of Government in her area.

“There is nothing the Local Council does for us in this area. We dug our borehole by ourselves to have water; we maintain our street regularly to ensure that we can go out and come in easily; we do flood control also by ourselves. All these things cost us money. So, I want to ask you: Where is the Local Council Area?” he queried.

A staff of the Isolo Local Council Development Area (LCDA), who pleaded anonymity, however, insisted that the Council has been making positive impacts on the lives of residents.

“The truth of the matter is that most Local Governments especially in Lagos cannot say they are not making revenue because there is nowhere in Lagos that doesn’t have traders, markets, banks, hotels, shops and other businesses that are heavily taxed. Most roadside traders you see collect daily tickets of which most are unaccounted for.

“There is no Chairperson of any Council that will tell you he or she is not executing projects. They will always claim they are executing one project or another even though most are not. All Local Councils in Lagos get monthly revenue from the Federal Government and I am very sure Isolo gets but most of them don’t want to depend on what is being generated; they prefer to wait for monthly allocation. I can speak of Isolo at least, some road rehabilitation projects were executed recently and I can confidently tell you that it was a Local Government effort.

“No matter what is done, some people would claim they are not feeling any impact but it is not a total lie because many times, we want to focus on those in need. Aside from the roads that were rehabilitated, some very poor and rural areas were provided with public water, solar lights and empowerment schemes. We try to ensure that it is those mostly in need that benefit given the scant resources on ground,” he said.

The source added: “It takes just having the right person at the helm of affairs to do the right thing, someone that is truly for the people and not for himself. Take for example the Chairperson of Ejigbo LCDA, people there really like him because they can see he is making impact and he’s a man of the people. There is a lot we can benefit from the Local Councils if we do what is right. These things that Local Councils do are supposed to be basic things and the rights of every Nigerian no matter their standing in life but we all know how this country. It is unfortunate that we have to beg them to do their job most times.”

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