LGs as conduit pipes

As the federal Government and state governors row over misappropriation of local government allocations, most Nigerians assert the root cause of the theft of such fund is long in the public space but that what is lacking is the political will by the authorities to tackle the abuse of office by elected public officials. KUNLE ODEREMI examines the issues.

Local governments are regarded as a fundamental unit of development for any society. It is not just because of their nearness to the people but due to the fact the actual resources and potentials of a country  are meant to reside in local communities. A former minister of education and erudite scholar, Professor Tunde Adeniran underscores this perspective of what the ideal structure of  a local government should be. He spoke against the backdrop of the recent comment by President Muhammadu Buhari that the local government in the country are being shortchanged by state governors. Despite the spontaneous and spirited defence by governors under the Nigeria Governors Forum (NGF) against the allegation that leadership ineptitude, laxity and inertia created core socio-economic challenges, rather than the alleged theft of local council funds by governors, the don said the statement credited to the president remains a common knowledge in the country. According to the former Nigerian ambassador to Switzerland, certain conditions predispose the existing local government to gross abuse by states in spite of the constitutional framework on the third level of government. First, he said the system that throws up leadership of the local government administration was fraught with undemocratic tendencies as state chief executives determine who run for elective offices. Governors handpick those that must contest under a wholly guided electoral process superintended by state Independent National Electoral Commission (SIEC). They also influence those who become members of the state House of Assembly, who would in turn, would be at his beck and call on critical state matters that require legislative inputs.

 

Cog in the wheel

As far as Professor Adeniran is concerned, there is little hope for a paradigm change in the system unless there is a form of radical reform. He believes the country missed it because it derailed from implementation of the 1976 Dasuki Committee report on Local Government reforms.  He said that level of government ought to be run and administered by experienced, distinguished, proven men and women of integrity, including professionals, retired bureaucrats with proven integrity.  He said it is gnawing that the local government was being deprived of high caliber individuals and senior citizens due to the dysfunctional structure, process  that undermines quality representation, coupled with a weak legislature populated by stooges of sate chief executives.

In a joint report by Abdul H. Wando at King’s College, London and a non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Matthew T. Page, reinforced the inherent anomalies in the exiting local government system in Nigeria, due to the overbearing influence of political godfathers at the state level. They discern a nexus created by the elite that had almost left the third level of government comatose. They wrote: “The kleptocratic capture of local government is orchestrated by governors, tolerated by state legislators, and perpetuated by its local beneficiaries. These elites habitually rig local elections. Out of the 88 local elections held over the last decade, the state governor’s party achieved a clean sweep in all but six (five of which were still won by a landslide).

Experts submit that by doing so, Nigeria’s political elites have extinguished local democracy.” Consequently, the local councils constitute a mere appendage of states, with the latter frustrating deliberate attempts by other stakeholders to grant autonomy to the LGs through constitutional review or amendments.  The preponderance of the opinion of experts is that if properly designed and harnessed, as opposed to the current disproportionate arrangement, the local councils could be on better stead to re-caliberate development issues at the grassroots in the country.  Professor Adeniran strongly canvassed for a holistic change in the current  confusion if the country must get things right and meet yearnings and aspirations, while addressing everyday challenges.  His views tallies with the submission of Wando and Page, who averred: “In reality, however, “no local government [in Nigeria] works for the people.” Instead, “every household is its own local government,” sourcing its basic needs—water, electricity, education, and healthcare—however it can.” This, they said, is because, state and local elites use it to enrich themselves, build patronage networks, and manipulate political outcomes.

Experts say Nigeria’s local governments have provided barely any public goods and services despite gulping over N16.4 trillion ($76 billion) between 2011 and 2021, even as state governments committed a whopping N93.5 billion annually for overseeing local government affairs, merely to  administer other administrators.

Source: Federation Allocation Account Committee monthly reports downloaded via the National Bureau of Statistics (Nigeria) E-Library: https://nigerianstat.gov.ng/elibrary. Exchange rate reflects the Inter-Bank Foreign Exchange Market rate in January each year, as listed on the Central Bank of Nigeria website: https://www.cbn.gov.ng/rates/exrate.asp.

 

LG as political tool

Most analysts contend that the gross abuse of the machinery of local government is due to partisan politics. The structure is considered as a veritable tool to win election, thus the desperation by political leaders to own it ahead of general election. Prospective aspirants for key elective offices try to railroad the process of electing those who become chairmen and councillors at the local council level. Page and Abdul captured the essence of the manipulation thus: “When run by loyal lieutenants, these structures become potent mobilization, patronage distribution, and election rigging mechanisms capable of propelling governors, senators, and even presidents to power. As political networks, they especially help governorship candidates win elections, since candidates must win both a majority and at least 25 percent of the vote in two-thirds of their state’s LGAs. The networks also indirectly help presidential candidates, who rely heavily on state-level allies to deliver them votes en masse.”

 


Reforms

The gradual balkanisation of the federation in 1968 into 12 states started the stage for a semblance of local government reforms. The process varied across the hitherto North and south political configuration and culminated in the 1976 LG reforms at the instance of the then military Head of State, General Olusegun Obasanjo. Under the  reform guidelines, local government was to be “established by law to exercise specific powers within defined area (and) to initiate and direct the provision of services and to determine and implement projects so as to complement the activities of the state and federal government in their areas, and to ensure that local initiative and response [sic] to local needs and conditions are maximized.”

The Ibrahim Dasuki-led Committee report led to the creation of 301 local government areas on the basis of viability and administrative efficiency; providing for elected local government councils; transferring federal and state revenue to local governments via statutory financial allocations paid into an State joint Local Government Account; permitting local governments to raise revenue through prescribed taxes and fees; tasking state ministries with guiding and advising—rather than controlling—local governments; relegating traditional leaders to advisory roles; creating traditional councils to deal with chieftaincy and cultural matters; stationing a police unit and setting up a community policing committee in each local government area; and empowering local governments to create subordinate council units as necessary. Reports had it that the reforms resulted in a significant increase in local government funding: N928 million ($517 million) between 1976 and 1980, which allowed many local governments to build a variety of small infrastructure and social projects.

However, the local governments have literally been castrated on the altar of party politics. Governance appears to have been put in abeyance as the presence and activities of the local council pale into insignifance in terms of impact on the lives of the critical masses in rural communities.  It was against this background that some prominent Nigerians dissected the  buck-passing between the federal government and state governors over the alleged stealing of federal allocations by state chief executives. The governors through NGF had accused the federal government of creating most of the challenges confronting the country due to weak and ineffectual policies of the central government. The accusation followed the claim by President Muhammadu Buhari that governors stole federal allocations to the third tires of government, while embarking on grandiose projects in urban centres at the expense of rural communities.

Speaking on the claims and counter-claims by the two camps, the leader of the pan-Yoruba organisation in Lagos State, Chief Supo Shonibare said the brouhaha was a vindication of the group of a weak constitutional framework in the country. “What other evidence do we have to affirm the contention of Afenifere that we have a broken society, when the president of the country makes a general assertion that governors are stealing funds intended for development and governance at the local government tier of government?

“We must take it as an incontrovertible fact. Our present constitution is incurably defective & the operators of the constitution are unconscionable, unpatriotic citizens, who have perfected the art of State capture not only of state resources, but have also taken local government allocations to booth.

“But what one may also ask, has the President done about the stealing? He has the oversight responsibilities for EFCC, ICPC & the Police; all law enforcement agencies under the watch of the Presidency. Rather than for us see the type of proactive actions we saw; even if selective, under previous regimes- we saw federal ministers, former ministers and an Inspector General of Police, being arraigned during the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo.  We also saw Presidents Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan not sparing their ministers and party chieftains caught with their hands in the till.”

On the other hand, Professor Anthony Kila urged the President to always be clear and specific when he talks and ensure enforcement of the law at all times. According to the don, “A lot of Nigerians believe that state governors are not allowing Local Governments to work properly. There is general perception that State Governors stifle the LGA institution financially by not giving them enough funds and empowering them to act independently, politically by planting stooges and cronies.

“The president’s comments might therefore be popular and populist. The question then is should the president be making such general and populist statement?  The President is not just another citizen. He is bound by oath to defend the country and constitution. Ideally the President should be clear and specific when he talks and he should make sure that every crime he knows about is persecuted.

“To that extent, the governors are right when they retort that the President should name the delinquent governors and they are right when they point out that the President has failed in his primary assignment of defending the country.  Pity though that the governors (as a body) are talking and stating this obvious facts only because the president accused them of diverting funds.  These behaviours do not help institution building as it makes politicians appear to care only about their own wellbeing not that of citizens and the commonwealth.”

A chieftain of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Mr Anthony Sani deployed the feeble state of local council due to the overbearing influence of states. He said: “I share the view that governance is a shared responsibility among federal, state and local governments. And when governors deprive local governments of what are due and payable to them from FAAC, there is little the local government council can do. To that extent Mr President is right in his allegations against the state governors for diverting the funds meant for LGCs to service infrastructure in state capitals.

Similarly, a monarch in Kogi State, the Maigari of Lokoja, Muhammed Makarfi II advocated a  revisit of the 1976 Dasuki LG  reform to restore accountability, transparency and development at the grassroots. “The 1976 Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki Reform would have saved the local government from all its present challenges. Though President MuhammaduBuhari then as a military head of state implemented it but it was half-heartedly. Such situation did not bring a complete solution to the councils’ challenges. Then came General Ibrahim Babangida, who changed the system, and General Sani Abacha’s policies compounded the woes of councils. The Dasuki Reform is still the best for the LGAs and remains the only solution to the barrage of challenges facing the third tier of government. Unless the reform is implemented wholeheartedly; I’m afraid there may not be a permanent solution to those problems local governments face.”



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