A civil society group in Nigeria, Youths for Human Rights Protection and Transparency Initiative (YARPTI) has welcomed the plans of President Muhammadu Buhari for local government to be given autonomy in Nigeria. The Director of YARPTI Comrade Kenneth Uwadi said ? It is in the news that the President has resolved to present to the Eighth National Assembly an Executive Bill that will guarantee the autonomy of local governments. And barring any unforeseen circumstance, the bill will be sent within the first six months of the current administration.We strongly welcome this report and the overarching call for local government to be given autonomy.”
In Nigeria, paternalism seems to be the norms as local government have not enjoyed the unfretted freedom expected of them giving the level of interference by higher level of governments. This is against the resolution of the 1979 Hague conference on local authorities which resolved that local communities should preserve their independent personality and existence to the extent that they wish to do so, says YARPTI.
The group accused State Governors of looting council funds, saying that Nigerian people are against the state governors, who are hell bent on maintaining the status quo and continue with their ?business as usual? antics with the allocation accruing to the third tier of government.
?A huge con game is taking place in so many Nigerian states where Governors have refused to conduct council election and have been using care taker officials to loot council funds. For four years now I have been highlighting the manner of looting of council funds in Imo State. Governor Rochas Okorocha has been manipulating the minds of Imo people through his unconstitutional fourth tier government sweet talks while rescuing his own pocket with Imo council funds. I highlighted what I see as naked impunity in Imo State. Rather than listen to voice of reasoning, hands off council funds and conduct council election in the state , the Governor and his megaphones called me all sorts of names saying that my allegations are nothing but the handiwork of power thirsty opposition.?? Uwadi said
?Today, the Councils in Imo State are dysfunctional. Nothing is happening in over 90 per cent of Imo State Councils. LGA funds in the state are held hostage and the people are deprived the opportunity to function democratically. Nigeria?s Constitution recognizes LGA?s as the third tier of government after the federal and state governments. Their functions are clearly defined. They are entitled allocation of funds from the federation account for use in carrying out their functions. Each of Imo State LGA receives millions of naira in allocations monthly . Where are the monies? Nobody knows where these monies end up. Where are the local roads, health care centres, modern schools and markets? Where are the projects to speed up development? Where are the millions of naira for Imo LGA?s? Okorocha and his Caretaker Committee Chairmen are looting these monies. They are using local government revenue and allocations to enrich themselves?? Uwadi continued .
The group frown at the situation were councils are treated as though they were a ministry of the state government: local government allocations are pooled into a joint state/local government account controlled by the state; elections into local government councils are non-periodic, if carried out at all; and local government chairmen could be sacked at any time by the state governors. This has caused the local governments to be very ineffective in discharging their duties.
?The idea of the local governments being the closest to the grassroots is not just in name, but also to assume responsibility for important issues such as provision of primary, adult and vocational education; provision of primary health care services; and many aspects of revenue collection in addition to duties such as maintenance of cemeteries, numbering of houses and naming of streets, and registration of births and deaths. What ends up trickling down to LGA?s from state government is not even enough for paying staff salaries?said Uwadi.
?It is about time we looked at our local governments seriously and make them live up to their responsibilities. With a working local government system, a lot of work would be taken off the back of the federal and state governments.We need to critically look into the structure and administration of local governments and grant them autonomy?? Uwadi concluded