That local governments in Nigeria exist more in name than in actual sense is no longer news, given, as it is, that the chairmen whether elected or appointed have to practically be on their kneels to beg their state governors to perform their constitutional duties or rather fulfill their campaign promises as the case may be to the people.
Unfortunately, local government situation became worse under democracy, mainly as a result of greed and dictatorial tendencies of some state governors; and partly because the councils themselves indirectly paved way for the state executive usurpation of their power.
Local government, which is the third tier of government after the federal and state in Nigeria, has continued to suffer at the detriment of the masses. Not only that local government lacked financial autonomy, there is no democracy at the tier of government. The problem being faced by the local government was not caused by the nation’s constitution or the president, but various governors across the country.
Incidentally, it is what these governors would never take from the president that they are given to the local governmentchairmen, if not more on many occasion. They have for long been causing underdevelopment at the grassroots, especially by not granting the third tier of government financial autonomy.
In fact, most state governors collect allocations meant for local governments and give them “peanuts” at the end of the day, which would only remain almost nothing after the payment of workers’ salaries. Most of these governors later devised a means of real embezzlement of local government funds through the introduction of joint account system.
The demand for abolition of State-Local Governments Joint Account in most states of the federation has continued to raise absurdity of the operation of the third tier of government in a federal set-up.
Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai had shortly after his assumption of office announced termination of the State/LocalGovernment Joint Account. He added that his government would remit 10 per cent of its Internally Generated Revenue, IGR to local government councils in the state.
“I am happy to inform you that the government has abolished joint account in Kaduna State. There will be no more holding local governmentfunds hostage under the pretence of joint account. The government will also do its best to remit 10 per cent of the IGR to the councils”, he said.
El-Rufai, who announced the decision while swearing-in chairmen of the Interim Management Committees of the 23 localcouncils then, urged the appointees to work hard to ensure that the yearning of the people were met. “You have no excuse to fail. Perform and bring real development to our state at the local level. This is to fulfil our campaign promises that we will not hold local government funds if elected”, El-Rufai said.
It is a known fact that the reason for creating the State Joint Local Government Account System by section 162 of the 1999 Constitution is to facilitate developments at the grassroots. The system is expected to ensure effective supervision of the distribution and efficient management of revenue accruing to the local governments from the Federation Account.
But analysts have noted that instead of being a useful system for rural development, the joint account system has, somewhat, negated the reason for its creation. They noted that there was extensive misappropriation of funds meant for local governments through the system and called on President Muhammadu Buhari to “liberate local governments from the shackles of state governors”.
According to Barrister Tiamiyu Ahmed, “The system serves as a means of making unnecessary deductions from revenue accruing to the localgovernments from Federation Account to the coffers of state governments in Nigeria”.
He described the joint account as a fraudulent practice aimed at looting public treasury, pointing out that unless the system was modified, it would be difficult for the local governments to develop through the system.
Ahmed therefore advocated the separation of roles for the state and local governments in the bid to deliver the dividends of democracy to the people at the grassroots. “State Joint Local Government Account System is the first step to stealing. State government should just contend itself with the supervisory role to the local governments. Let everybody be separately accountable for what it does. I think that is what the law of the land says”, he said.
Local government councils should be autonomous in accordance with Section 162 Sub-section 6 and Sub-section 7 of the constitution. It is a known fact that successive local government administrations had not been able to perform because of state governments’ opposition to financially-autonomous local governments.
But a constitutional lawyer, Mr. Deji Gbadeyan, said that Section 162 Sub-section 6 and Sub-section 7 of the constitution were meant to protect the autonomy of local governments. He attributed the loss of local government autonomy to the misinterpretation of the sections.
“There is nothing wrong with section 162, it is a perfect law, only the interpretation by the stakeholders is questionable”, he observed. Section 162 of the constitution was enacted to make the local governments more vibrant and development-oriented.
“But what we are seeing today in the interpretation of the section is that allocation to the local government from Federation Account now passes through the state government which keeps it on hold. Local government and the state will meet on the issue of state finance where the state dictates what quantum of finance should go to the local government”, Gbadeyan said.
He observed that Section 162 of the constitution had always been preventing the presidency from enforcing financial autonomy of localgovernments.
The anomaly of having joint state-local governments’ accounts was what prompted the latest demand for its abrogation by participants at a technical workshop for Ministries, Departments and Agencies MDAs in Lagos some months ago. Participants at the workshop with the theme “Effectiveness of state laws and rules of procedure on transparency and accountability” organised in Lagos by the Human Development Initiative, HDI in conjunction with the Public Service Staff Development Centre, PSSDC, called for a comprehensive constitutional amendment to address the lacuna in the law establishing local governments.
The participants, who also
stressed the need to define the tenure for elected councils’ officials, particularly noted that joint accounts have been abused and should, therefore, be abolished with the local governments given direct access to their Federal allocation. They also noted that state electoral commissions should be disbanded; and that the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC is mandated to conduct all elections.
Supreme Court, which is the apex court in Nigeria, had few years back unambiguously ruled that governors have no business in the running of the local governments. The Supreme Court held that no state governor in Nigeria has the right to remove democratically elected local government officials.
The Supreme Court, while delivering judgment in the case of the removal of 148 elected local government officials by the Abia State Government in 2006, held that the action was illegal and amounted to “official recklessness” by the then governor, Orji Uzor Kalu. The five-member panel of justices of the apex court also ordered the state government to pay the sacked 148 elected officials their salaries and entitlement for the 23 months.
Also recently, Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha without grounds in the constitution, seized the allocations made to the state local governments, under an ambiguous rule that cannot be justified, either morally or legally.
Ogun State governor, Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun, had said local governments in the state would collapse if they were granted autonomy. In his inaugural speech on May 29, 2015, the governor said that it would be in his interest if local governments were granted autonomy because it would remove a lot of responsibilities from the state government.
He, however, noted that the local governments do not have the capacity to generate enough funds to meet their responsibilities, insisting that “they will be on their own. “Some governors said that granting autonomy to council areas is not going to favour them. Those governors that say that the autonomy thing will not favour them are those governors that deduct from local government allocation from the federal allocation”, he said.
Amosun added: “Truly, what is coming from the federal allocation is no longer enough. For me, this development will even put more challenges on the council areas. If they want autonomy, let them take their autonomy, if they can’t pay salaries, they won’t come back to me. If they can’t pay teachers or embark on developmental projects, they will know that they are the ones that cannot pay and not the state.
“But, I want to say here that the way it is, they cannot pay salaries; if they have the autonomy they are craving for, definitely they will be on their own completely. They need the support of the state. That has been my experience since I became the governor”.
Though it was a surprise to many Nigerians that majority of Houses of Assembly voted against local government financial autonomy during the last National Conference on Constitution Review, the 7th National Assembly granted financial autonomy to local government, but unfortunately 20 of the 36 state governors opposed this legislation and ensured that the law is not implemented.
The joint account system was given birth to in 1979 following the 1976 nationwide local government reforms. The system operated with some anomalies anchoring on virulent deductions and diversion of the local council’s allocation from federation account by the state governments. Due to the anomalies it was abolished in 1989 by General Ibrahim Babangida who allowed direct allocation to the local governments.
In 1999, the joint account system finds its way back again into the constitution following the restoration of civil rule in 1999.
However, there is no denying the fact that the state joint local government account system has failed to achieve its objectives. From the way it has operated, it has been over manipulated, over deducted and over diverted to the favour of the state government and to the detriment of the local government councils. It is no longer useful and therefore the opinion of majority of Nigerians that it should be abolished.
Local governments are supposed to operate at the grassroots and thereby impact on the masses, more than any other tier of government. To do this successfully, they must also look inward to how they can generate revenue and protect the peoples’ interest without overtaxing or overburdening the people.