Why NULGE endorsed, voted Buhari —Khaleel
In this interview with SOJI-EZE FAGBEMI, President of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, speaks on the problem bedevilling the local government system, and why the union endorsed and mobilized its members across the country to vote for President Muhammadu Buhari.
HOW has the present system in the local government and the activities of state governments affect your members?
As a union, our major interest is how local government as a system can work, because we leave at the mercy of a functional local government system. When you are a worker in any industry and such sector is sinking, certainly you don’t need to be told that your interest as a worker is under threat. That is exactly what is happening to us. We need local government to function, because we were first employed by the local government to deliver some services and bring some goodies to the rural people. We are employees of local government because we want to provide those services, basic services in the areas of health, sanitation, agriculture and to some extend in the area of primary education. This is because the members of staff, particularly in the administrative department of Local Education Authority are members of NULGE. So you can see that directly or indirectly we are involved in ensuring that primary education is well coordinated. We are responsible by ensuring that primary health care delivery is at the door step of every hamlet, community and family in the rural areas. For us to achieve that, the instrument of local government must be visible and functioning very well.
But how will you achieve this; considering the efforts you have put into it previously?
From the beginning, we follow all the labour tactics – rallies in almost all the cities of Nigeria. There is no state governor that we didn’t visit as well. No state assembly that we didn’t meet on the matter. So, we sat down and organised ourselves, we invited some academia and discussed these issues. One of the strategies we came out with, particularly during our 40th anniversary is that we must change and deploy some strategies that can be more understood, more acceptable and can bring more successes to us under democratic arrangement. What are those strategies? It is by way of engaging various candidates from political parties to make them understand how important this tier of government is. We try to engage all across board because it is not the parties that will lead the country at the end of the day, it is the person that is anointed by the party as a candidate who wins that would become the leader at whatever level of leadership.
What were the results of your new strategies and engagements?
We tried to break down and engage those candidates, some of them were actually forthcoming, they gave us time to sit and analyse this issue. Some of them because they are elites, they leave on a different world entirely, they don’t have direct link with rural areas, communities and their based, people at that level don’t know what is happening in those areas. And that has been the case, but through this approach, a lot of candidates realized that there is no way you can be a successful governor without having a robust and functional local government system in Nigeria. There is no way a federal ministry can deliver without having a local government that is well managed, coordinated and a democratically organised local government system. We relate most of these issues to the candidates and they became clearer about the issues. It was through this process that we extracted some commitment. I want to inform you that some of the candidates refused to see us, we wrote to them to discuss the issues of local government but they refused. That means they don’t want to see us, this is politics and you can’t separate trade union from politics.
We have many presidential candidates during the just concluded election, but NULGE chose to endorse President Buhari. What really informed your decision?
We cannot continue to pretend; for any non-political organisation to function properly, be it trade union, Non Governmental Organisation, Civil Society Organisation, it must grow alongside with political parties and politicians. This is because, at the end of the day, you don’t have any leader to run to and these leaders are produce by the political parties.
This is not just happening with NULGE , it may be the first trade union in Nigeria to identify with a particular candidate but go to other countries across Africa and Europe. For instance in South Africa, it is not even individual union that has direct links to candidate with its political party, look at COSATU in South Africa, they are part and parcel of the ruling party for over a decade in South Africa. In most cases, even at the National Executive Council of that particular party, COSATU has representatives, they produce some ministers. Why are they doing so? Because you cannot make a good presentation of the position of your members if you continue to run away from politicians. So we came through all the process and at our National Executive Council (NEC) we took a decision in the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. At the end of the day, if local government autonomy is achieved, it is Nigerians that are going to benefit from it, because local government autonomy is to provide a platform for inclusive development and participation, to provide opportunity to bridge gap of governance and democracy. So it is not for our members alone. The endorsement and voting Buhari was an official decision taken at the organ meeting of our union. It was taken consciously because we believe first, among all the contestants for the position of president of the country, it is only Muhammadu Buhari that kept on talking about the need to have a functional local government in Nigeria. All his ministers have been anchoring this, particularly the minister of agriculture, may be because of the link between his ministry and the rural areas. There is no way the Ministry of Agriculture for instance can implement whatever policies it has for Nigerians without having a robust local government. Let also take the Ministry of youths and Women Development. Where is the youth in Nigeria? They are all from the rural areas, but because of the absent of local government, go to rural areas you won’t see any youths, they are all rushing to cities because the opportunity are not there due to the dilapidated nature of the local government. So, for ministries of Youths and Women Affairs to achieve its purpose from the centre, there must be a functional local government system and it is through this that the youths can be retained and engaged in useful agricultural activities and other trade and craft works.