THE Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) and the United Labour Congress (ULC) on Thursday lamented the rising usage of Caretaker Committee chairmen to siphon funds meant for the development of local governments across the country.
Presidents of NLC Comrade Ayuba Wabba, NULGE Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel and the ULC Comrade Joe Ajaero, jointly condemned what they said is now becoming a dangerous norm in Nigeria democracy, where state governors use unelected caretaker committee to fleece local government.
They all spoke in Abuja on Thursday during the grand finale of NULGE nationwide rally protest on local government autonomy. The protest rally, which commenced at the Unity Fountain park and ended at the National Assembly, is to ensure political, financial and administrative autonomy of local government areas and abolition of State/LGA joint account.
Comrade Khaleel vehemently protested the use of political cronies by some state governors as caretaker committee chairmen; regretting that the development was becoming too rampant and was subverting the real essence of local government administrations in the country.
He pointed out that most of the states have jettisoned the idea of conducting local government elections, rather they see the 774 local government as mere appendages through which they fleece the grassroots.
He argued that development would continue to elude the grassroots, if Local governments are not allowed to chart their own course as enshrined in the constitution.
Khaleel said: “Recognising that our political elite across parties have chosen to undermine the logic of the local government system by taking advantage of some contradictions in the framing of the 1999 Constitution as regards the status of the local government vis-à-vis the state.
“We decided to carry out a concerted campaign across the country for a constitutional amendment which in the end will legally put local government councils in the proper framework to deliver on its objectives.
“You all must have witnessed the levels of instability in the administration of the local government system in the country. Local government administrations are either not allowed to function as state governments starve them through the operation of state-local government joint account; or they are prematurely terminated or dissolved and caretaker committees set up, made up of political cronies and rookies.
“It has become increasingly clear since 1999 that our ruling elite across the political divide, and irrespective of party affiliation, see and indeed operate local governments as mere appendages through which they take additional resources without accountability”.
NULGE drew reference from the dissolution of the 16 local government councils of Ekiti State in 2010, when Dr Kayode Fayemi was the governor and a recent pronouncement by the Supreme Court on the way local governments have been administered.
He also accused States House of Assembly of complicity in the act of gagging the local governments.
According to him: “In a landmark ruling late last year, Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour leading a five-man panel, described as “executive recklessness” the now rampant acts of dissolving democratically elected local government councils in states and replacing them with caretaker committees.
“This ruling was with respect to the dissolution of the 16 local government councils of Ekiti State in 2010, when Dr Fayemi was governor. Despite the fact that the Ekiti State House of Assembly acquiesced in this illegal action by promulgating an edict to legitimise it, the Supreme Court pronounced the conniving act of the House of Assembly also illegal.
“Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Yakubu Dogara, had in hailing the decision of the Supreme Court, described the appointment of caretaker committees for local governments by governors as “executive recklessness,” while also urging the Federal Ministry of Finance to deny federal allocations to local governments that do not have democratically elected council officials.”
The rally which began at the Unity Fountain,Abuja at about 9am had the presence of anti-riot policemen and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) who at first tried to disrupt the rally.
Comrade Wabba, called on the National Assembly to ensure that the autonomy of local government is achieved in the ongoing constitution amendment in the National Assembly.
He said: “Caretaker Committee or whatever they call it is illegal and alien to our constitution. They are using it to divert our resources and therefore we must say no to illegal diversion of the resources of the local government.
“If we must fight corruption and the insecurity in our country, we must start from the local government. Development must start with the local government because that is where majority of our people retired to. All of us come from villages and local government and that is where development supposes to start from by all means. There must be basic amenities in our local areas for our aged ones and rural residents, and such will never be possible if we allow the monies meant to put the desired development in place to continue be stolen. And the sure way to achieve all these is by granting autonomy to local government.”
Also, Senator Shehu Sani, who was among other representatives of the National Assembly who received the organised labour, said, “There are anti-democratic components within our own democratic setting that need to be strengthen for us to claim being a democratic nation, and one of the ways, is the autonomy of local government. Our monies for the local governments don’t go to the local governments rather they go to the pockets of state governments.
“The local government only see exists as a name and on paper, they cannot pay the salaries of their teachers, staffs, they cannot execute any capital project. Most of the local government chairmen cannot even stay in their offices; most of the local governments’ offices only exist once in a month when salary is at hand.
“We cannot allow such an important segment of governance be desecrated to that level. We have a duty as parliamentarians that represent the people to support and make the autonomy of local government a reality.
“But in all honesty, the greatest obstacle to local government autonomy is the state assemblies, manipulated state governors. Whatever we do in this place, the Senate and the Reps will still go back to state assembly. Most of them don’t even have the courage to challenge their state governors. There is this silent and submission to whatever their state governors ask them to do in the state houses of assembly. So bad that they can’t even stand and defend what is right.
“State assembles must rise to the challenge, they must answer the call of the Nigerians people, they must speak truth to their state governors, they must defile them in the interest of those who elected them. Both the senate and reps stand by you, but this struggle should be more intense to the state assemblies and to state governors. We cannot say we are fighting corruption when state governors have a legitimise ways of appropriating local government funds for their use.”
Comrade Ajaero said the Organised Labour will unite on this issue and any other issues that affect the interest of the workers and Nigerians.