Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Burden of local Government Administration in Nigeria

From: "japheth nkwocha"

The Burden Of Local Govt Administration
By Uzoukwu Ejekwumadu The local government is recognized by the Nigerian constitution as the third tier of government within our tripartite federal arrangement, with the state and federal government constituting the next canopy. The wisdom of the constitution makers to accord this important level of government its due recognition and properly equip it to discharge its responsibilities cannot be over emphasised. It is believed that the local government administration would bring governance and popular democracy to the people at the grassroots' level and act as a catalyst for rapid socio-economic development of the country. Following the local government reforms of the Murtala/Obasanjo regime, the local government administration assumed a more uniform structure in composition, funding and functioning. More local councils have been created by the Gen. Babangida and Gen. Abacha regimes, all in the same belief that these councils are nearer to the people and will accordingly respond speedily to local concerns, yearnings and aspirations of the people, which otherwise would have been neglected by other authorities at the state and national level. It was envisaged that local governments could help to provide rural infrastructures such as feeder roads, health centres, water and electricity, build more primary and secondary schools, establish cottage industries to mention but a few. Similarly, since it is nearer to the people, it would not be over politicized like national and state governments and therefore accountability and transparency in governance could be enthroned. Perhaps what informed these lofty expectations could be the fact that during the few years following Nigeria's political independence, local government administration known as County Councils and Divisional Councils in the various regions provided a solid platform for accelerated rural development and mobilization of the people for effective governance. The legacies of those councils could be seen in many educational and health institutions that were established during that era. There was healthy rivalry between the councils to perform better than others. The above scenarios appear now to belong to the distant past. Times have changed, but not for the better in the quality of governance at this strata of government. Our local government councils have become over politicized, negating the vision of the founding fathers. There also appear to be ambiguity in the autonomy of this level of government within the constitution, if not in principle at least in practice. The landmark battle all the way to the Supreme Court between the Lagos State government and the federal government during the Gov. Tinubu and President Obasanjo's government buttresses this fact. However, more worrisome is that many of the local councils have become a healthy conduit for siphoning and wanton looting of public treasury. Accountability is non-existent. Many state governors have converted the local councils into their private fiefdoms, creating institutionalised instability to justify appointment of their cronies as caretaker committee members rather than allow properly elected officials to carry out their constitutional responsibilities. These cronies supervise the systemic embezzlement of council funds. The result is that today, many of the councilS cannot perform even basic responsibility such as refuse disposal. Outside late payment of workers salaries, which are usually paid in arrears, many of the local councils cannot visibly show any meaningful projects executed between 1999 to date notwithstanding the monumental inflow of allocations from the federal government. Since the local councils cannot stimulate economic development in the rural communities, they have contributed in spreading poverty and neglect and pushing more young men and women to the few urban centres, in search of the proverbial greener pastures. These unemployed foot soldiers and swashbucklers constitute a ticking time bomb in an already highly charged political and harsh economic environment. Our leaders need to look beyond partisan politics and save the nation from imminent disaster. As the nation watches in disbelief the level of carnage in Jos, Plateau State, many factors have been bandied as responsible for the recent mayhem ranging from religio-ethnic to inter party rivalry and personality clash. Whatever is the reason to disturb the volatile peace of that state is highly regrettable and condemnable. The ordinary citizens of Plateau State have suffered enough since 1999. However, as a matter of necessity, the search for peace should look beyond the immediate and usual ethno-religious reasons of the conflict. We need to ask searching questions as to why local councils have become too sweet a menu not to be resisted. As far as local government councils continue to serve as avenue of stealing the wealth of the nation without accountability, so shall the desperation to control it be more. For too long EFCC has concentrated too much on high profile state and federal public office holders, it is high time its searchlight is directed on these councils. In the same vein, the current relationship between the local councils and other tiers of administration, particularly the state government call for critical re-examination. There is need to plug all avenues of illegal deductions, fleecing and undue interference. Without this local governments will continue to totter and exist only in name. The level of unemployment and hardship in the country also need to be given more priority by President Yar'Adua's administration. The macabre dance in Jos could happen anywhere in Nigeria. To mobilize the unemployed and street urchins by desperate politicians is very easy. They could act as 'domestic terrorists' and unleash mayhem as already witnessed in Jos. In the post-mortem of 2003 and 2007 elections, many agreed that the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) was anything but independent and lacked the capacity and will power to deliver a free, fair and credible election. But if we are to make a dispassionate comparison between Prof. Maurice Iwu's INEC and the mushrooming state created electoral commissions (SIECs), one may be compelled to give a standing ovation to INEC. These state electoral bodies are at best part and parcel of the ruling party in each state. They cannot midwife a free and fair election. The danger is that they are capable of plunging Nigeria into the sort of crisis witnessed in Jos, as each governor and party deploy its SIEC to manipulate elections at local councils for their future selfish electoral and economic benefits. That we cannot afford to have. The various stakeholders particularly the National Assembly need to step in and redefine and refocus the local government administration in Nigeria. The state assemblies and civil societies should also articulate transparent criteria for performance measurement of this tier of government. We need to know for instance the amount of federal allocation, internally generated revenue and capital projects executed within a specified period of time in terms of quantity, quality and relevance to the community. These should be published and communicated to the electorate. To request for proper stewardship of politicians at the local councils in Nigeria is not asking for too much. *Ejekwumadu, a post-graduate student at East London University, wrote in from the UK

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