Like it or leave it, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, is one statesman that has earned the love and respect of many people for his outspokenness. He never fails to make his views known on national issues, not minding whose ox is gored.
Recently, he added his voice to the growing call for local government autonomy in the country.
Speaking when a group “Friends of Democracy” paid him a visit in his Abeokuta, Ogun State residence, he berated the states working against the Local Government Autonomy Bill, lamenting that out of the 36 states of the federation, only nine have supported the bill passed by the National Assembly some years back.
Obasanjo, whose military administration introduced local government reforms in 1976 further said “When in 1976 we brought in local government reforms, it was meant to be third tier of the government and not meant to be subjected to whims and caprices of any other government, just the same way that the state governments are autonomous from the federal government. “Local government is meant to be autonomous from the state government. But from what we know, by design, most states have incapacitated the local governments. They have virtually stolen the local governments’ money in what they called Joint Account. They are to contribute 10 percent but they never contribute anything.
“So, what we have across the country are local government areas that have functions but cannot perform the functions. They have staff but most of them cannot pay the staff and we keep getting excuses upon excuses’’.
The absurdity going on in the local government areas of the country couldn’t have been better put. The constitution of the country recognises three tiers of government – Federal, State, and Local Government. These three tiers of government are supposed to be autonomous but incidentally while the federal and states enjoy full autonomy, local governments are denied financial and administrative autonomy by the states. The state governors determine who administers the local governments, how much the local governments receive at the end of the month. They have taken over virtually all the functions of the local government just for the financial gain, leaving the chairmen almost with nothing.
A chairman of a supposedly viable local government area in a South South state, recently narrated how the chairmen were made to sign an undertaken by the state governor before their election, pledging to be loyal to the governor and to remit all the revenue generated from the LGAs to a designated state account. What an abuse of power!
The result is dearth of democracy dividends at the local government councils. The chairmen can do virtually nothing with the pea nuts they receive from the governors other than pay workers’ salaries.
Growing up, we saw the local government chairmen constructing some internal roads, repairing dilapidated schools, putting street lights and many more.
The local government councils were very powerful. Today, hardly can any local government chairman carry out such projects that help in the development of the rural areas. Most of these chairmen are not even sure of themselves. They come to power almost by selection and they pay allegiance to the governors that selected them, not to the masses.
While it might be true that some local government chairmen are reckless in their spending and ineffective in their administration of the councils as often alleged by the governors, it also true that some of the governors are not any better. Many of them run the states as if they were their private business. Yet the federal government is not usurping their functions. One is not by any means supporting some of the chairmen whose internally generated revenue is huge, yet they do not impact on the lives of their people through projects. Some of them lead very flamboyant lives while their people languish in penury.
However, the right thing still must be done. We cannot continue doing the wrong thing and expect our rural areas and indeed the country to develop. There is no doubt that if the local government areas are run the way they should, many people in the cities today will be in their local areas, the rate of rural-urban drift will reduce and the few available facilities in the urban areas will not be over utilized as is currently the case. Expectations from the state and federal governments will also minimize.
Proper separation of powers will ensure that all the tiers of government will do what they are supposed to do and that will facilitate development. Let us borrow a leaf from the United States of America, whose style of democracy we claim to be practicing, by allowing the three tiers of government to be autonomous as it obtains over there.
Perhaps we can put in a few checks and balances which shall be applicable not only to the local councils but other tiers of government.
So, as new leaders are elected to take over leadership both at the federal and state levels, it is hoped that they will do whatever it takes to ensure full autonomy of the third tier of government in the interest of our local areas and the country at large.