Anthony Sani is the national publicity secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and spokesperson for the northern delegates to the 2014 national conference. He speaks on local government administration in the country.
What is your view of the state of local government in the country?
The state of administration of local government in Nigeria is a reflection of what happens in Nigeria. There has been national malaise that transcends tiers of government, arms of government and institutions, be they public or private. As to the local governments, there are predisposing factors. The overbearing influence of state government on local governments has tended to detract from their autonomy and effective management practices for performance. As a result, instead of being accountable to the people, local governments are accountable to the state governments. There is also paucity of funds which has made it almost impossible for the councils to access capital budgets needed for development. As a result, local councils have been reduced to paying only salaries to the staff. And when regard is paid to the fact that the salaries are paid for doing nothing, then the effects on the relevance of local governments to real ordinary people can best be imagined.
What are the core challenges?
The core challenge to local governments is the dearth of democratic practices in the way they are administered. For example, the constitution provides for elected local government councils expected to be accountable to the people. But the state governments do not allow democracy at that level to thrive, preferring instead to appoint caretaker committees whose loyalty is not to the people but the appointing state governments. That has been counter-productive.
The second challenge is paucity of funds which reduced the council’s responsibility to payment of salaries of staff who do nothing, not for fault of theirs but due to dearth of funds. The offshoot is that local governments have ended up contributing nothing in terms of assuming real responsibility of real issues of real concern to real development.
Rather, they are now a drain on the resources used exclusively for payment of salaries. There is no way a system can develop by existing to pay salaries and do nothing else.
What went wrong with local government reforms in the past?
The reforms in the past were intended to aid development. This worked under military which gave the local governments some autonomy needed for creativity and innovations. But politics has made state government not to allow that to continue, since they want the council chairmen to be surrogates. And that explains why no opposition party ever wins local government elections.
It is for political reasons, of course. Consider how state governments multiply local government councils by way of Development Centres which are mere multiplication of efforts centres without development, despite knowing that additional development centres do not come with increase subventions for local governments. And when you consider the additional burden of paying traditional rulers that are multiplied by the day with sinecure personnel, then it is not hard to appreciate challenges of local governments. The state electoral commissions have become instrument for states to dominate local governments in the event that they are compelled to hold elections.
What is the way out?
Let the State Electoral Commissions be expunged from the constitution and Independent National Electoral Commission be allowed to conduct local government elections. That way, state governments’ influence on the tenure and composition of the councils will ebb substantially and enable democracy to grow at that level. Similarly, there should be a mechanism on how best the Joint Account can be managed for enhanced performance.
How serious is the issue of corruption in the councils?
Corruption is as prevalent in local government as it is at federal and state levels. The three tiers of government are all corrupt, reflective of the collapsed national ideals and societal values. That of the local governments seems unbridled because it is encouraged by the state governments and anti-grafts agencies do not seem to bother to look at corruption in administration of the councils.