The main function of the local government councils is to serve the needs of people at the grassroots. To achieve accelerated development of the rural communities, therefore the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria spelt out the functions of the 774 councils in the country.
And in like manner while guaranteeing the direct deployment of funds to the councils for development purposes from statutory allocation, councils are required by the constitution to raise internally generated revenue through an array of activities like maintenance of motor parks, markets, cemetries, slaughters and the collection of rates, radio and television licences to mention just these, for the development of their areas of authority.
In fact considering their relevance to grassroots development, some states have balkanized the constitutionally recognized local governments into what they term development centres. All in an effort to bring government closer to the people, not through levies that would further impoverish them, but to improve their standard of living. That there is improvement in the standard of living of a people is indicated by how easily they could access education, transportation, and health facilities, potable water, good roads and how secure they are to carry out their lawful endeavours without let or hindrance.
Mindful of the enormity of these challenges, the government of Rivers State took over payment of primary school teachers salaries and even went ahead to build primary and secondary schools in rural areas, a function that should have been handled by the councils. All in a bid to enable the councils have enough funds to execute other life enhancing functions at the grassroots. But a visit to some council areas across the country will show that most of those saddled with the responsibility of improving the life of their people are not carrying out their statutory functions. They rather view allocations to their respective councils as their share of the oil windfall which could be spent with reckless abandon while relegating the objective of the existence of local councils in the first place, and the purpose of the funds, to the background.
Commenting on this setback, Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC), Justice Emmanuel Ayoola (rtd) noted that the endemic corruption in the local government system is worrisome. The ICPC boss said at a press conference heralding this year’s edition of the Annual National Conference of Anti-corruption Committees in Nigeria Legislatures and Heads of Anti-corruption Units in Government Establishments that the ICPC had been flooded with petitions alleging corruption in the local government system. Represented by the acting chairman of the commission, Dr Uriah Augulu, Agboola said the development informed the establishment of anti-corrupt units at the grassroots and the encouragement of whistleblowers to furnish the commission with information on corruption.
Ayoola also said the aim of the conference is to build and promote the culture of integrity, transparency and accountability in the conduct of government business which to my mind is the essence of representative governance. It is thus high time the citizens rose use to their responsibility by demanding from their representatives and leaders at all tiers of government, an account of their stewardship of the commonwealth. A situation where the people do not have more than a passing interest in governance is a setback to the development of our democratic experiment because those in elective positions cash in on this lukewarm attitude to rip-off the people.
It should not be so, good leaders should not even wait to be prodded by anybody before rendering account to the people.
This also places a responsibility on the people to eulogies the leaders or political office holders where their performance is spectacular, but they should not hesitate to draw their leaders’ attention when they are being misguided or to alert the anti-graft agencies like the ICPC in cases of official malfeasance.
Clearly, operatives of the anti-corruption agencies, including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Police are not omni-science and could only act when useful tips are given to them by members of the public. The fight against corruption must be embraced by all to ensure adequate trickle-down effect of democracy dividend.
If rumours making the rounds on how local government funds are being distributed among ‘stakeholders’ is anything to go by, then it behoves the state governments to initiate moves to ensure monthly or quarterly audit of local government accounts to ensure they live up to expectation.
On their part, those at the helm of affairs at the local councils who are aspiring for higher political office should embark on reasonable service delivery at the local level otherwise their ambition could be shattered by corruption which the local government system has been marketed for.