Those who came up with the idea of three tiers of government must have thought of the inconveniences and challenges inherent in placing all the burden of a nation on just one arm of government at the centre. Just as the separation of power among the three arms of government – the executive, legislature and judiciary, serves as a check on the abuse of power, the idea of three tiers of government was conceived to pave way for easy and convenient administration.
In particular, the creation of local government is, by all intent and purposes, to bring government and development nearer to the people at the grassroots. The 1999 Constitution recognises this noble objective and thus confers the status of a third tier of government on the local government. Regrettably however, what the 1999 constitution gave with the right hand, it took it back with the left hand.
It is tempting to assume that the Nigerian constitution deliberately places the local government councils in Nigeria at the mercy of the states, especially given the ridiculous garb the third tier of government has assumed in recent time. It is hardly convenient to regard local government council as a tier of government again. It is, at best, an appendage or a department of the state.
The idea of running local governments in Nigeria with political appointees of the state governors in the name of caretaker committees is a typical example.
It is true that the constitution would never have contemplated the idea of a caretaker committee because the position of local government as the third tier of government is clearly stated. But the ambiguities and inconsistencies in the constitution again provide a leeway for manipulations by the state governments.
Again, the running of joint account between the state and local governments is another issue that calls to question the autonomy of local government. This also is made possible by the inconsistencies of the constitution. The place given to local government in the constitution is not only weak, but also ambiguous.
For instance, section 162, sub-section 6 of the 1999 constitution says, “the amount standing to the credit of local government councils from the federation account shall also be allocated to the state for the benefit of their local councils on such terms and such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly”.
While this provision could be said to be cut and run, section 162, sub-section 8 totally strips local government of its economic autonomy required to function effectively as a tier of government. It says, “The amount standing to the credit of the local councils shall be distributed among the local government councils of that state on such terms and such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the state”.
This particular section subjects the local government councils to a law they do not have control over, thereby placing them at the mercy of the state. By this section, the constitution has vested or conferred on the state the power to dictate what goes to the local government councils from the federation account. What then makes the local council a tier of government when the state governors are the custodians of the cheque books to the joint account?
The desire of the state governors to continue to maintain a joint account with the local government councils, has particularly lent credence to the notion that local government is a conduit pipe through which money is routed to the state from the federation account.
There is no doubt that local governments in Nigeria have not lived up to their responsibilities as the third tier of government. But we must acknowledge too that the enormity of demands and responsibilities imposed on the local governments by the constitution is far more than the internal revenue they generate from the registration of wheel barrows, goats, market stalls etc. Placing the local governments at the mercy of the state as regards what accrue to them from the federation account therefore amounts to giving them responsibilities without appropriate authorisation to their finances. How do we expect them to perform?
If truly local government is one of the federating units and the third tier of government, it should be made autonomous both politically and economically, in such a way that neither its political structure nor economic fortune would be determined or subjected to manipulation by the states. The same reason that makes the states to fight tooth and nail for economic autonomy from the federal government makes it equally expedient for local government to be totally independent of the state. The state governments therefore have no moral right to insist on maintaining joint account with their respective local government councils.
Meanwhile, the constitution should reserve a safe place or provide a soft landing for local government to have its own executive, legislative and judicial arms of government as obtained at the state and federal levels.
Again, our electoral law should be reviewed in such a way that would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the state governors to have control over who takes charge of the affairs of the local government. The state electoral commission should be under the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Though not totally impossible, it will be difficult for state governors to manipulate elections into local governments if the chairmen and members of the state electoral commission were appointed by the INEC chairman.
The current process of electing local government chairmen and councillors is not different from caretaker committee arrangement. This is because the electoral process that brings in the local government leadership is not independent. The state governors appoint the state electoral umpires. This explains why the ruling parties in all the states sweep all the polls in various local governments in the country. This process has far-reaching effects. It does not provide room for grassroot democracy. It rather places the people at the helms of local governments affairs at a disadvantaged position that makes them accountable only to their godfathers who put them there. They therefore have no moral justifications to complain, let alone make noise when allocations due them are being withheld. He who pays the piper dictates the tune.
The option A4 we experimented sometimes ago, has clearly shown that if grassroot democracy is given a chance, the people at the local government level shall determine who becomes what in both the state and federal levels. This will, in turn, strengthen our democracy.
As a nation, we have the option of either to scrap the local government system from our constitution, so that we know we have two tiers of government, or to strengthen our local government system with all its status and autonomy guaranteed by the constitution.
The Insanity Of Abia Cynics
The Bahanian musical group of early 2000, I am sure, did not consider the virulent opposition elements in Abia State when they released the evergreen classic, “Who Let the Dogs Out,” written by Anslem Douglas.
It seems, however, that something awry has lately beckoned on the cynics to unleash venomous but hollow tantrums against the Victor Okezie Ikpeazu-led government. The effects of the unguided vituperations are as devastatingly repulsive as they are abysmally collosal. While the content negates the basic tenets of professionalism, its context is simply preposterous.
It started with the mad man theory of the absurd, then the campaign of calumny and lately the justification of mediocrity. The target is well known; vilify Victor, discredit Ikpeazu, distract Okezie! Thank God, Dr Ikpeazu has remained impervious to outlandish theatrics of the Abia “third force.”
I am yet to come to terms with the disastrous strategy of paying a young gullible vagabond to play the mad man in “Ekeoha” market just to denigrate the person and the government of Dr Ikpeazu. My simple conclusion on the matter is that the intentions of the perpetrators are ludicrous.They meant to incite the public against the government, an act that is not just libelous, but treacherous, wicked and utterly inimical to all known principles of objective criticism. The law, therefore, should take it’s cause.
The position of Governor Ikpeazu’s administration towards strengthening fiscal policies are well known. Expectedly, the state executive council, rising from it’s meeting in April 2019, validated the review panel report submitted by the management of Abia State Polytechnic, Aba. The restructuring exercise, which is in line with the agenda of Governor Ikpeazu’s administration would engender the much needed repositioning of the school and restore the lost values. Everyone welcomed the development and quietly prayed for the courage to implement it. The implementation has finally come to be and the review report on staff verification exercise is being implemented.
Owing to the reform, 258 members of staff who fell short of the expectations of the panel chaired by Comrade Okoro, the state Chairman of the joint council of NLC, were recommended for disengagement with full severance package as provided in the condition of service.
Surprisingly, for reasons best known to them, the Abia ‘third force,’ comprising of some leaders of the factional opposition parties and recruited media hirelings, have been shouting hoax and threatening thunder and brimstone should the culprits of the review panel be sacked. They have deployed unconventional means to arouse sentiment against the government and the Abiapoly management.
Where on earth is mediocrity, pervasion of law and order tolerated? Tell me why any responsible government should continue to pay salaries to persons who are alleged to have either falsified their certificates or are guilty of one misconduct or another.
Instead of applauding the uncommon will demonstrated by the government, detractors have gone to town peddling unsavoury rumours against the government. The deliberate strategy to distract the government is already dead on arrival. They would have preferred an Abiapoly with deterorating infrastructure, reterogressive academic records, dubious workforce and unmitigated debt burden. Ashi kwa (It is a lie)!
The degeneration of Abia politics to savagery is quite disturbing. It is also alien to the familiar convivial narrative we are all used to. The antagonists of Ikpeazu’s government are becoming more malicious and restless. Theirs is an addition to the 21st Century lexicon. I call it politwixt. It is new and defies all known ethical and moral standard.It negates objectivity and undermines decorum and civility.
Because malice beclouds commonsense, the Ikpeazu critics do not realize that the disengagement of the alleged disgruntled Abiapoly staff will restore the confidence of parents to enroll their children and wards in the school. May be, from the all-time low 10,000 students, the school’s enrollment may increase to 25,000 as was previously obtainable.
Moreover, it is estimated that the disengagement of the indicted staff will also reduce the monthly wage bill of about N170 million per month (the highest in East of the Niger) and boost the revenue of the school. In the long run, academic performance will be enhanced, while the culture of discipline and morality will be re-established.
Prompt payment of the workers’ salaries, too, will become possible since the drain pipes are blocked.
What the affected staff members need now is an encouragement to move on. In fact they should appreciate the government and management of the institution for not raising legal charges against them. They should pick their pieces and find ways to redress their misdeeds. They should also patiently wait for the settlement of their salary arrears, after all, they were part of the contraptions that almost brought the school to an impetuous end.
Abia State is on track, detractors can cry wolf but the onward journey to the redemption of the state will go undetered.
Onyenma is a public affairs analyst.
VAT Increase: How Fair?
On Tuesday, March 19, 2019, the then Minister for Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, and the Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Babatunde Fowler, hinted the National Assembly that the Value Added Tax (VAT) rate is likely to go up.
Their statement was later corroborated in July, as the Chairman, Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMFAC), Engr. Elias Mbam, added his voice to the demand for an increment in VAT from 5 per cent to about 7.5 per cent to shore up Nigeria’s revenue base which he said is heavily reliant on oil earnings.
The message became clearer on September 11, when the the current Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, spoke on the proposed plan to increse VAT at the end of the Federal Executive Council meeting. She said: “We also reported to council and council has agreed that we start the process towards the increase of the VAT rate. We are proposing and council has agreed to increase the VAT rate from five percent to 7.2 percent”.
For the trio; Udoma, Fowler and Zainab, an increase in VAT is not just needed to shore up Nigeria’s revenue base as posited by Engr Mbam, it is necessary to enable government fund the new minimum wage of N30,000 per month approved by the National Assembly.
While the Senate Committee on Finance awaits the details on reasons for the proposed increase by the finance minister and chairman, FIRS, the move had generated mixed reactions among the public on its possible effects on living standards and the economy.
Ordinarily, increasing VAT by the government of the day shouldn’t warant the magnitude of reaction as witnessed in this case. After all, such could still serve as a veritable means of meeting the expansive fiscal expenditure needs of the federal government. Besides, the World Bank recently noted that fiscal deficits in Nigeria will likely widen further due to increased pre-election spending and sustained revenue shortfalls.
But while the need for government to bridge its revenue gap remains incontestable, and while it also reserves the right to adopt any legitimate measure in its revenue generation drive, VAT increment inclusive, the writer is rather worried about the time the VAT increase measure is deemed apt for such purpose.
If Udoma, Fowler, and Zainab’s reason for the planned increment is anything to go by, then there is need for more innovative approaches to scaling up the government’s revenue capacities so as to meet its growing funding commitments, especially, against the background of increasingly financing its fiscal deficit from borrowings.
Let us not forget that there are expectations that the increase in minimum wage could possibly be eroded by price increases of key household items, offsetting the expected improvement in purchasing power. And for the Nigerian industrial climate, you can guess what hope this portends for foreign investments and the faith of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
I hope the government’s enamoured pursuit of increasing revenue should not be to the detriment of the wellbeing of its own citizens as the choice of VAT increase upon the prevailing economic realities could be interpreted to be.
CSL Stockbrokers confirmed the above fears when it declared that “financing the increment in the wage burden through tax increment would force companies to raise prices significantly, ultimately placing the incidence of the tax increment on the consumers. It is, therefore, considered a bad timing and inconsistent with current economic reality”.
VAT, as we know, is basically imposed on consumption. Apart from the already diminished scale of consumption in the Nigerian economy which invariably may affect the collection performance of VAT, a simple economic analysis would attest that any increase in VAT at this time, would disproportionately affect poor people. But even beyond that argument, the biggest challenge is that any increase in indirect taxes affects the prices of goods and services.
This, analysts argued, could in turn affect the country’s inflation rate. With an inflation rate of over 11 per cent, the outcome of the proposed VAT increase is very critical given that the Central Bank of Nigeria is keen to contain inflationary pressures in the economy and bring inflation back to a single digit within a target range of 6-9 percent. It is thus expected that the rise in VAT would likely lead to a rise in inflation.
Moreso, in a clime like ours where the poverty level of the general populace has eroded their economic power, VAT increase may further worsen the living conditions of consumers whose real income has been stifled over the years. According to a recent report, “one striking feature in the performance of consumer goods companies over the past 18 months, is the consistent decline in reported revenue, suggesting that consumer demand remains weak.”
Well-meaning Nigerians have said “the consequence of this hike on the lives of Nigerians that are already suffering horrendous deprivations is dire and so, capable of exacerbating the poverty that has ravaged the people” .
The writer is of the view that at a time like this, when Nigerian workers expect an upward review in their monthly remuneration, in order to be economically repositioned, a planned corresponding increase in the prices of consumer goods by the government does not portray the government as one with the intention of making positive impacts on the lives of its citizens.
By this proposal, I am afraid the government risks being interpreted as one that does not realise the depth of misery that pervades our nation and may have probably completely detached itself from the people it ought to succour; a reason, I guess, the organised labour described this planned increase as anti-people and anti-development.
The reality is that any increase in VAT will be counter-intuitive to the goals of reducing poverty and inequality given the existing high economic disparity in the country.
In fairness to all, the proposed increase in VAT, by the federal government will not only weaken the citizens’ purchasing power, but would also worsen the poverty level in the country.
I, therefore, see this obvious call on the manufacturers and stake holders in the chain of distribution to hike the cost of their merchandise to the detriment of the suffering masses, as a concept billed for still birth.
Xenophobia: What FG Must Do
Violent riots have claimed many lives in the recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa’s largest city and commercial capital, Johannesburg, with mobs targeting foreign-owned shops and stores.
South African workers say the foreigners, particularly those coming from other parts of Africa, are taking their jobs away from them. They also claim that Nigerians snatch their women from them. Violence has always occurred against foreigners which are not new in South Africa but these few weeks the attacks have turned into something else.
According to historical accounts, prior to 1994, immigrants from elsewhere faced discrimination and even violence in South Africa. After majority rule in 1994 contrary to expectations, xenophobia increased.
History recorded that between 2000 and March 2008, many deaths had occurred. Series of attacks left people dead. The attacks were motivated by xenophobia against immigrants and that prompted a number of foreign governments to begin repatriating their citizens.
There have been so many killings recorded in this past few days where South African citizens raided shops and stores of foreigners; human beings with flesh and blood are set ablaze. The South African police watched their citizens destroy people’s homes, lives but did nothing about it. This act is all over the media.
The speech of South Africa’s commissioner of police claimed the citizens made the right decisions. Nigerians and other foreigners feared for their lives because they didn’t have the freedom to move around peacefully in that country.
South African citizens said, “foreigners have taken our businesses, jobs, and women”. Shop owners who happened to be Nigerians were interviewed and it was revealed that they only employed South Africans. Car industries owned by foreigners were also destroyed.
Nigerian citizens are very angry with South Africans and do not want to see their businesses in the country. South African mobile company, MTN, was vandalised in Ibadan, southwest Nigeria despite appeals from the government for peace. Other South African companies were burnt, especially in Lagos.
Goods were looted by angry citizens who had been affected by this particular act. Transformers owned by South African companies were touched. Their embassy was also burnt where lives were claimed. MTN offices and billboards were equally destroyed and were instructed to shut down.
Surprisingly, the Nigeria police protected the firms and shot some citizens in the process. But the police should have protected our citizens as South African police did for theirs. Nigerians are still waiting for the government to say something about the present killings of our citizens in that former apartheid enclave and how drastic measures could be taken to tackle this incident.
Protesters set fire on many entrances leading to a busy mall housing South African retail store, Shoprite, and looted groceries and toiletries from the supermarket in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial centre.
The President of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS), Danielson Akpan, said it had concluded plans to deal severely with those behind the resurgence of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and their businesses in South Africa. The NANS president said in an interview in what seemed like another wave of xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and nationals of other countries.
Some South Africans reportedly burnt down foreign-owned shops in the Pretoria Central Business District. The rampaging South Africans also targeted other businesses and facilities owned by Nigerians including a private medical clinic, an automobile spare parts shop and a church building, among others.
These past few days have been a bad experience for Nigerians. Therefore, our government shouldn’t be slow in taking drastic measures that will serve as a warning to South Africans and other countries not to harm her citizens. The basic reason Nigerians go out to other countries is to look for greener pastures.
The bottom line of it is that the government should create job opportunities for citizens and make the country a place where people would love to stay in. Education should be valued in such a way that people would prefer to live in Nigeria rather than go to other countries to live or study.
Teachers should be paid well and valued because if we don’t improve on our education Nigeria will keep going backward and fail to create skills for our youths. Let them be empowered.
Harry is a freelance journalist.
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