General Politics

A Letter To Local Government Councils in Nigeria

Nigeria's Constitution

Since the emergence of this democratic experience I have attempted to write each and every one of you there at the grassroots but it may take me all the days in the year to accomplish that. This is because there are 774 elected Local Government Executive Chairmen, excluding their deputies. In addition there is the legislative arm, represented by multiple councillors and the employees. When we now consider the motley of traditional rulers and the inhabitants over there, you are in a great multitude.

It is as a result of this enormous logistic problem and the man-hour to be involved that I find it most convenient to use this widely read medium to express my sympathy over the alarming pace at which the councils, which are the foundation of the democracy, are being shabbily treated. I also commiserate with your elected representatives who were recently booted out in typical coup-d’etat. Though I may belong to constitutional body, I am nevertheless expressing my personal opinion which in no way is a representation of my working place and may not also be reflective of the organisation’s position. That is the reason I chose the pain of my study leave to share my views with you.

It is no more news that since the inception of this administration, some of your elected political office holders, especially the Chairmen have been removed by Executive fiat for very flimsy excuse; your chosen councillors were tagged illiterate and area boys and that they do not deserve commensurate remunerations. And to add to the injury some of your councils’ allocations, from the federation account, were arbitrarily deducted in the name of joint account.

Add to all these are the manner communities, who have existed peacefully with one another, are being estranged in the name of new local governments. Some of the newly created local government areas are mere Business Districts where no residency is allowed. Some of the makeshift councils are no less than the community-centres where a child can easily count the entire inhabitants within an hour.

The story is endless but the most inciting is the recent contravention of the constitution, abuse of legal procedure and betrayal of democratic process by the way and manner military . . . sorry, civilian administrators were recently installed to rule the third tier of government as if the councils are parastatals of government. Haba!

Let us examine the constitutional provisions and laws which have been systematically manipulated to serve some selfish interests of the perpetrators.

Probably you may be disturbed on the recurrent issue of State Joint Local Government Account. The 1999 Constitution provides for the establishment by each state of the said account into which shall be paid all revenues due to local governments of that state from the Federation Account and from the state government. Further more, there are enabling laws, Revenue Act of 1982 and Decree 106 of 1992 (now an Act), which stipulates the composition of the Committee and recommends 10% of State Internally Generated Revenue IGR to be contributed to the account which is to be shared in accordance with a formula prescribed by the House of Assembly of that State. It is therefore, illegal and unconstitutional to deduct LGC’s allocations from Federation Account to finance newly created community centres in the name of LGC or to finance state programmes and projects.

For the purpose of uniformity, accountability and transparency, members from Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission who have representatives from every state of the federation were recommended, as umpires and arbiters of the Federation Account, to play prominent roles during the meeting of the State Joint Local Government Accounts Allocation Committee.

On the funding of Primary Education, you may further be mystified to realise that the Local Government Councils only play participatory roles going by the recent Supreme Court Verdict which states that ‘In so far as primary education is concerned, a Local Government Council only participates with the States Government in its provision and maintenance. The function obviously remains with the State Government.’ Please check your Constitution especially Section 7(5) which provides that “the function to be conferred by law upon local government councils shall include those set out in the Fourth Schedule of the constitution.” The Paragraph 2 of the Fourth Schedule explains further that “the functions of a Local Government Council shall include participation of each Council in the Government of a State as respects of the following matters: – the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education.” Therefore, the Supreme Court verdict on the issue makes the distinctiveness clear. You can therefore see that indiscriminate deduction from Local Government allocations for funding primary education by any tier is illegal. This may be the reason the FG stopped the payments of teachers’ salaries through such deductions.

It would be unconstitutional for States to make legislation outside the Federal Law on the Federation Account, as such state laws cannot override National law in this exceptional situation. Political interests should not also be the yardstick for breaking the rule on the joint account and usurping the functions of local governments by depriving them of their due share from central pool.

The Transitional Committees being imposed on the people in the most tyrannic and undemocratic fashion, negates the spirit and tenets of democracy and against the Constitution. A clear evidence to this is Section 7 of the Constitution which states that “The system of local Government by democratically elected Local Government Councils is under this constitution guaranteed, and accordingly the government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and function of such Councils.”

In addition to the above, was the recent Supreme Court Verdict on the tenure of local government officials which advised for the elongation of Local Government Councils through the enactment of law by the State Houses of Assembly but which never gave any endorsement for establishment of halfway juntas. In your local government you may ask who do the transitional committees represent and report to. It is neither the constituency which is recognized in the constitution nor the electorate who has the right to exercise his/her franchise. This surely reminds you of the gloomy period of dictatorship where military governors were accountable to the Head of State while the councils’ Chairmen reported to the Governors who planted them for egocentric purposes.

It is commendable that the Chairman of the Revenue Commission, Engr. Hamman Tukur listened to the emotional and touchy plight of Local Government Councils when the National President of NULGE, Chief Deji Akinwalere appealed to the Commission not to withhold the local government funds because some of the employees have not received their salaries for more than a year. He also informed the Commission that most of the state governors have continuously abused the Joint Account Committee as it is now the forum at which the state governments just dish out whatever amount catch their fancy to the local councils. He added that Local government representatives are not told how much accrues to the third tier before sharing. The concealment, he added definitely has a sinister motive.

The political class would do the country good if they would not make unnecessary bickering with our laws by using political might and instruments for selfish purposes which may truncate the existing democracy. The local government Council should be respected and recognised as been entirely independent and autonomous, just like other tiers in its operation and administration.

It is noteworthy to be careful in setting bad precedents which may be capitalized upon for the destabilization of our nascent democracy. What will ensue in 2003 if what occurred to the local government councils befell the state in the event of the recurrence of the intricacies associated with the avoidable crisis? If a state executive connives with its legislative arm to pick appointees at the lower tier, and get away with it, what is the lesson to be learnt by the Federal Executive and National Assembly when another crisis erupts next year?

I hope you are now well informed on this political and fiscal logjams. Remember this may not be the reflection of the thinking in my working environment. Two Thousand and Three here we come.

This article by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Nigerian Tribune, July 3, Thisday July 14, Daily Times July 18, Anchor July 18, New Nigerian Aug 10&17, 2002


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Yushau Shuaib

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