By Eric Teniola
On May 4 this year, the Edo deputy governor, Philip Shaibu lambasted the 18 local government chairmen in the state over their internally generated revenue (IGR). At a meeting with the council leaders, Shaibu said it was disappointing that they generate only N3 million (combined) every month. “Between now and the end of May, I will personally do a letter to the Governor (Godwin Obaseki) to sack you people. Before sacking, we will get the EFCC to check all your books…and you’ll be fired. We cannot continue like this. How can 18 local governments (generate) N3 million in a month as revenue? 18 local governments, N3 million!” Shaibu fumed.
I don’t know whether or not any of the chairmen of the local government in Edo state has been prosecuted if we are to go by the threat of Comrade Shaibu. I think Comrade Shaibu is just being pharisaical or rather hypocritical. He knows why the local governments are not performing. He cannot claim ignorance.
Being the son of the late Pastor Francis Osikpomobo Shaibu, Comrade Shaibu grew up in a family where issues are discussed at breakfast, devoid of emotions and sentiments. And as a former president of the National Association of Nigerians Students between 2000 and 2001, he is well enlightened on the provisions of the constitution.
He even represented Etsako in the Edo state house of assembly in 2010 and in the house of representatives later. He knows that governors have abused the provisions of the constitution as regards the local government. That is not to say that I am blaming Comrade Shaibu, an ex-senior officer of the Nigerian Prison Service for the defect in the constitution.
The third tier of government is dying in Nigeria. That is not the way it is supposed to be. And what is happening in Edo state is happening in the remaining 35 states in the country. Each of us who grew up in the 50s and 60s saw the smooth running of the local government system; it was perfect at that time.
According to U.D. Anyanwu in a book titled ‘Foundations of Nigerian Federalism (1900-1960)’, edited by J. Isawa Elaigwu and G.N. Uzoigwe, local government administration in colonial Nigeria contributed to the evolution of federalism in Nigeria largely because of two sets of actors; the internal and the external.
The internal had to do with the plurality of cultures, people and even geography which made it necessary for the colonial authorities to adopt the indirect rule system which to some degree preserved the respective identities of Nigerian peoples. That is, it was the local government system which was used to make each Nigerian group feel that despite colonial rule as well as the evolving colonial state of Nigeria, their respective aspirations and values were to be preserved.
This internal aspect affected not only the British political officers and officials who were in charge of the component units that made Nigeria but also the emerging nationalists and political leaders whose activities contributed to the successful decolonisation of Nigeria. In fact, throughout the colonial period, the dominant opinion among the leaders and people was that the local government system should keep to the principle of separate development espoused by the colonial authorities. By the time of independence, this internal consideration had also involved the aspect of the value the local government system had to serve in the power struggle among the regional political parties.
The external dimension had first to do with the way Nigeria was acquired separately (in parts), in phases and instalmentally by different units of the colonising power. Thus, though the invaders and colonisers belonged to the same country, Britain, they initially settled in different geographical and cultural areas as independent rulers. Some vested interest developed in the process and so even when amalgamation came up, there were significant variations in their views on how local government and indeed the entire colonial administration should be organised.
Largely, because of this, the respective colonial administrative regimes of the British in Nigeria found it plausible to insist on a local government system whose cardinal common feature was the achievement of separate development for a colonial state of divergent cultures. Since these positions espoused by both the internal and external agents were also translated to arrangements at the higher tiers of government (namely the central and the regional), the result was that local government administration became essentially the concern of regional governments. The other related result was that the regional governments gave their respective local governments the character considered appropriate to the region. This was how local government administration played crucial roles in the forging of federalism in Nigeria.
A number of conclusions are derivable from all this — local government administration in colonial Nigeria in theory and practice was designed to promote federalism. In the process, it also became a promoter of regional thinking often at the expense of the country. In fact, it was not organised to promote the sense or thought of one country among the component citizenry.
Therefore as of independence in 1960, local government administration was a sort of mixed blessing for Nigerian federalism. At one level, it enabled the policy of separate development to prosper and thus fostered federalist impulses. At another, it became the captive of regional governments and forces, championing essentially regional aspirations and interests with little or no care for federal ones. It can also be seen that the accidental foundations of federalism and its corollary, local government (native administration), in Nigeria under Lugard had become consciously pursued foundation by the end of colonial rule leaving the country with the dilemma posed by the legacy of this mixed blessing since then. The unwavering dimensions of this dilemma include intergovernmental relations, the status of local government, and its role in the federal set-up.
Of all the tragedies that have struck governance in Nigeria, the gradual death of the local government system is the worst. Whether we like it or not, the local government system is dying. Today, if I may ask, which of the local governments is functioning? The central government must save the local government from total collapse. And the best way is to reform the system. I quite agree with the report of the Clement Ebri committee that the preponderant position of all the local government councils in the federation is that local governments should merge as creations of the constitution in order to give them full-fledged autonomy.
The provision in section 7 (1) of the constitution which guarantees a system of democratically elected councils is seen as achieving that objective. But a continuation of the same subsection (1) went further to empower the state houses of assembly to make laws to ensure their existence by providing for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils. This is seen as detracting from the desired constitutionally guaranteed autonomy. By the existing provision, it is argued that local governments have been reduced to mere administrative appendages of state governments with unpleasant consequences as current experience has shown even as they are funded from the federation account.
There certainly are inherent contradictions in the demand for the restructuring of Nigeria into a true federation as the accepted political structure. In one view, there is an overwhelming demand for the adoption of true federalism with all its trappings, namely the recognition of the integrity of the federating states with local government remaining an internal affair of the states. The centre (federal government) derives its donated powers and authority from the people constituted in the states. Accordingly, the centre cannot take over or interfere in the internal management of the affairs of the federating states such as dealing directly with local governments.
By implication, therefore, the federating states in an undiluted federal system reserve the power to create or establish a system of local government which takes account of their internal diversity or recognises the plural character of the nation. In that case, it was strongly canvassed that local governments should be relatively autonomous as provided in the constitution but subject to direct funding and minimal supervision by the state governments in specific matters.
Viewed in this context, the demand for a local government system with a constitutional leeway to deal directly with the federal government invariably amounts to a violation of the constitutional sovereignty of states and in the extreme situation renders the states completely irrelevant as federating units. There is a need to be cautious in considering the issues canvassed for an acceptable local government system to take account of the development needs of the vast majority of Nigerians to whom local government is closest. In dealing with this matter, it has explored a reconciliation or resolution of the inherent contradictions to ensure that the advancement of one institutional interest today does not, in future, render completely worthless the essence of the present constitution review exercise which is the search for a restructured Nigerian federation founded on internal cohesion.
There is a need to maintain the peculiarities of the Nigerian situation and this largely requires a high degree of certainty in the nature of institutions, which the constitution establishes, and the regulatory framework for such institutions. To do otherwise is to leave too much room for speculation, manipulation and possible chaos. I believe that the safeguards which have been built into the system will guarantee that the development of the states and local government areas will remain a joint undertaking by the two tiers.
I believe also that the safeguards which have been built into the system will guarantee that the development of the states and local government areas will remain a joint undertaking by the two tiers with adequate autonomy reasonably satisfactory to each level.
Having thoroughly analysed the situation, I am convinced that only states can be the federating units in our circumstances. In reality, what Nigerians are asking for is not a federation of local governments with the federation of states, but a true federation in which states are the federating entities. There are some ambiguities in the current 1999 constitution which must be amended so as to save the local government from total collapse.
Section 7(1) states that: “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall subject to section 8 of this constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and function of such councils”.
Yet, section 7(6a) submits: “The national assembly shall make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local government councils in the federation”. But the confusion is extended further by section 7(6b) which states that “the house of assembly of a state shall make provisions for statutory allocation of public revenue to local government councils within the state”. This confusion also resurfaced in section 162(6) which established the state joint local government account for the purpose of payment of “all allocations to the local government councils of the state from the federal account and from the government of the state”.
In Section 162(7), the constitution directs state governments to pay local government councils its total revenue on the terms prescribed by the national assembly. At the same time, it gives the same power and functions to the state house of assembly in section 162(8). Further, section 8 (subsections 5 and 6) saddles the national assembly with some functions before the creation of a local government can become legal. The implication of all the identified contradictions and ambiguities is that it is very difficult to locate constitutionally the locus of power on local government creation. That is the tragic situation we are in now.
The need to reform the local government has been on the table for some time. Since 1976, the central government has been most concerned about the fate of local government in Nigeria. On August 19, 1976, General Olusegun Obasanjo, as the military ruler, set up a 10-man panel under the leadership of the now deceased Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki, to look into the affairs of the local government with the sole aim of improving the local government system in the country.
On May 7 1984, Major General Muhammadu Buhari set up another committee on local government, headed by the same Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki. All his life, Alhaji Dasuki has been involved in the local government system.
The report was submitted in September 1984 but the white paper was not issued until General Buhari was overthrown in 1985. On May 11, 1986, General Ibrahim Babangida approved the local government reforms as recommended by the Ibrahim Dasuki panel on local government councils. Those recommendations were far-reaching, I must confess. That was the situation until Justice Nikki Tobi-led Constitution Debate Co-ordinating Committee’s recommendations on the ambiguity of local governments formed part of Decree No 24 of May 5, 1999, which was promulgated as the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria by General Abdusalam Abubakar.
Olusegun Obasanjo on June 23, 2003, set up another panel to review the local government system. The committee was headed by the then Etsu Nupe, Alhaji Umaru Sanda Ndayako, a competent administrator and chairman of the Niger state council of traditional rulers. Other members of the committee were Liman Chiroma, John Ochoga, Godwin Odenigwe, Augustine Udoh-Ekong, Akin Mabogunje, Tunde Ogbeha, Austin Okpara, Abieyuwa Garba, Venatius Ikem and I.B. Sali as the secretary.
All these committees including the Ahmed Talib committee, the Oyeyipo committee and the Dasuki committee reports, advocated for one thing—direct funding for the local governments. To me, the 1999 constitution has been unfair to the local governments.
It is very urgent that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu acts in order to save the local government system from total collapse. Expectedly, he is to convene his maiden meeting of the National Council of States where he will discuss urgent national issues. The local government system should be part of the issues to be discussed at the meeting.
In the interim, Section 7 (1) and (2) of the constitution should be retained so that state houses of assembly have powers to legislate on the creation and other necessary powers of the local government councils in the spirit of true federalism. Section 7 of the constitution should be expanded to take care of the provisions made in this review to ensure the existence and proper functioning of local government councils.
In line with the call for the security of tenure for elected local government functionaries, a new provision for qualifications and removal of the chairman, vice chairman and councillors is hereby recommended as a separate tier of government within the states.
In order to strike a balance between the demand by the local governments for financial autonomy through direct funding from the federation account and the need to ensure financial probity on the part of both the local governments and the state governments, it is recommended that Section 162 (5) be amended so that all disbursements to the local government go to the state local government joint account as provided in Section 162(6).
The gradual death of the local government system in Nigeria must be halted