The Senate President, David Mark not too long ago, chided the 774 local government councils across the country over their abysmal performance. He said the local government councils have performed below expectations, and described them as “mere conduit pipes for siphoning public funds”.
Worse still, the Senate President intoned: “all the local governments do is to go to Abuja, collect their allocation and sit down in one hotel and share the money and disappear into thin air. I want to say that there is no local government that is working in the country, and that is why we have problems in our hands”.
Ordinarily, Mark’s criticism would have been brushed aside just like other critiques of the local government councils. But being the nation’s Senate President, his comment on issues of public interest cannot be ignored, because it has serious bearing on the country’s polity.
Perhaps, touched by Mark’s reactions and other controversial issues plaguing the nation’s local government system, President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan appears ready to imbibe the philosophy of a celebrated philosopher of his time, Martin Luther King, Jr, who once said: … “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy”.
Indeed, determined to strengthen the nation’s polity, especially the local government system, President Jonathan is spiritedly poised to push a bill to the National Assembly, which will fix tenure for elected local government officials, contrary to the current situation in various states where two-year and three-year tenure systems are being operated.
President Jonathan’s planned tenure for all the 774 local government councils in the country is part of the 50 amendments likely to feature in the proposed constitution review bill. According to the presidency, if it succeeds in pushing through the bill for the tenure for all local government councils, the present Local government Joint Account will be killed, and some state governors will lose their grip on local governments’ funds.
To demonstrate its seriousness over the strengthening of the nation’s local government system, the presidency is reportedly putting on hold the proposed review of the revenue allocation formula being championed by state governors, until the Local Government Reforms is carried out and accepted by the governors.
Already, the presidency is making wide consultations in respect of the matter. Although the review of the revenue allocation formula forms part of the constitution amendments, it is believed that the presidency would send the proposed bill after the governors must have endorsed the Local government Reforms.
Agreed, the presidency’s action appears belated, but it is worthy of commendation in view of the fact that the local government system has been virtually hijacked and crippled by some state governors. Yes, it is public knowledge that most states now operate different tenure systems for their local governments. Sadly, in some states, caretaker committees are in charge for as long as some governors wish.
Again, President Jonathan needs to be lauded for a proposal to effect a constitution amendment that will lead to the abolition of the current Joint State Local Government Account, which nearly all the governors have abused the account system.
What’s more, confirmed security reports say funds meant for local governments are being openly diverted by some state governors under the guise of joint account. As a result, the affected local governments only manage to pay the monthly salaries of their workers. Yet, the local government system is the supposed closest government to the grassroots.
It behoves the state governors to accept the reality that the local government system must run effectively. The era of tampering with local government funds must end in the interest of the grassroots.
Therefore, it is the belief of this column that the review of the revenue formula being clamoured for by the governors must have to wait until the autonomy of the local governments is guaranteed. Well, if this is acceptable to the governors, then President Jonathan should send a bill to the National Assembly for the review of the revenue formula through constitution amendment.
It is no longer news that the abysmal performance of some of the local government chairmen is as a result of the deeping of hands into the funds of the local governments by their political godfathers, some governors, a development that has been brewing palpable crises between some governors and their local government chairmen. This is why President Jonathan’s plan for the autonomy of the local government system, is quite auspicious at the moment.
That said, as the presidency proposes a bill on the tenure for the 774 local government councils, one feels strongly that the proposed tenure should not exceed a single term of three years, just as it is proposing a single term of six years for the president and state governors.