Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reform Local Government system now

Date Published: 06/16/11

Reform Local Government system now by Jeff Nkwocha

Dear Editor,

Federal government has initiated a number of reforms to position the financial Institutions, the police, electoral system and Nigeria stock exchange for service delivery.Nigerians were taken aback to learn that several attempts to reposition LG system since 1999 had failed.

In one of his lectures with the theme, Reposition local Government administration to meet the challenges of vision 20-20-20, senator Ike Ekweremadu said,"It also logically follows that without prejudice to problems requiring policy interventions and political will, the local Governments need constitution review interventions to reposition them for challenges of good governance, sustainable development and vision 20-20-20.

In the same vein, the sun newspaper in its recent editorial page had highlighed the plight and the way forward for the third tier of government and I quote, "Local government administration and control remains one knotty problem in the present democratic dispensation. Since the restoration of democracy in the country 12 years ago, the Federal Government has oftentimes been at loggerheads with the state governments, particularly over the composition of local governments and the control of their funds. The disagreement between the Federal and state governments has its roots in how the councils are managed, especially with regard to their expenditure.

The major bone of contention is whether the management of the councils should be the responsibility of the states. The other issue is that the local government system has been so greatly undermined to the extent that it cannot effectively play its role as agent of development at the grassroots, in spite of huge monthly allocations from the Federation Account. Some overbearing state governors who withhold huge chunks of council funds undermine the local government system in the Nigeria.

Within the last couple of years, several attempts made to resolve the issue stretched to the Supreme Court. On more than three occasions in the last 12 years, the apex court delivered landmark judgments on issues affecting management of local governments. One of these judgments was on the tenure of local council leadership. Another held that the Federal Government had no right to withhold council funds. The 1999 Constitution, as recently amended, has created more problems, as many issues remain unresolved.

Everything considered, the future of local governments appears bleak if genuine review of the system is not carried out urgently. The present arrangement is no longer consistent with emerging democratic realities. Any meaningful review must be such that should be based on the peculiar exigencies of the states. It is in the best interest of fiscal federalism to allow the states arrange how best to run the councils.

With 12 unbroken years of democratic practice, nothing less than a strong and reasonably independent local government system that will drive development at the grassroots will do. The time has come for the political leadership of the country to work out a roadmap for the management of the local governments in line with their constitutionally assigned duties. The new arrangement must determine, clearly, such issues as the mode of election, tenure of elected members as well as income generation, accountability and financial control. The current situation in which local governments exist at the mercy of state governments is no longer acceptable. We, therefore, call for a review or outright abolition of the states/local governments joint account to allow for more autonomy for the councils, albeit with in-built mechanism to check financial recklessness by council leaders.

Democracy achieves its purpose when the interests of the people are well served. That noble objective will continue to be undermined if the local government system as presently constituted is not comprehensively reviewed.

If we are to promote rapid development in this country,effective changes has to be effected in our councils areas.

Jeff Nkwocha

LG Study Network


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