Posted by By Josef Omorotionmwan on
Our local government system has suddenly become a motherless baby – up for grabs by the federal and state governments.
Our local government system has suddenly become a motherless baby – up for grabs by the federal and state governments. At a point, it became clear that many state governors were blatantly confiscating large parts of the funds allocated to their local government councils. At the very peak of it, the local government Chairmen had no choice but to send distress calls to the National Assembly for rescue.
For some time now, most of the Local Governments have been hopelessly suffocated, to the extent that they have existed merely as staff salary outposts, unable to provide even the least amenities to their people.
The National Assembly promptly heeded the cry of the local government chairmen, hence we now have in place, the Monitoring of Revenue to Local Governments Act, 2005. The Act provides, inter alia: (1) that a Commissioner from the Revenue Mobilization Committee shall henceforth participate in the Committee to monitor the disbursements according to law; (2) there will now be punishment of five years imprisonment for any Governor, Commissioner or official who diverts or misappropriates local government allocation from the Federation Account; (3) there will also be a fine of twice the amount diverted or misappropriated by the official, when found guilty; (4) each state shall set up a Joint Local Government Account Allocation Committee to ensure the distribution of Federation Accounts Committee, through the member of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Committee representing the State; and (5) henceforth, the Accountant General of the Federation shall render quarterly returns to the National Assembly. In the event of any state tampering with funds of its councils, the Accountant General of the Federation shall cause the allocation to such a state to be debited in favour of the affected councils as a first line charge.
For the first time, we see a bold attempt to meaningfully parent the local government system in this country. Contrary to expectations, however, we ruefully observe that this seemingly laudable step has not gone down well in some quarters. There was this village that had a notorious thief. So notorious was he that one day every member of the village was summoned to the village square with the sole purpose of deciding what to do with this thief. As soon as everybody arrived at the square, the thief came forward and issued a very stern warning that no body should say anything about him.
This is the type of situation we are facing in the aftermath of the passage of the Monitoring of Revenue Allocation to Local Governments Act, 2005. Let us not forget that the new measure became necessary because all was not well with the council.
The Conference of Speakers of State Houses of Assembly sees the new measure as Federal usurpation of State powers. Listen to the Chairman of the Conference, Hon Rotimi Amaechi who is also the Speaker, Rivers State House of Assembly: “The direct funding of the local councils is a misnomer… a gross negation of the provisions of the Constitution and disrespect for the rule of law. If care is not taken, the decision would make the councils not only more inept in responding to the yearnings of the people, but corrupt and indisciplined. The policy is also capable of breeding anarchy and weakening our democratic process” (THISDAY, Thursday, June 23, 2005, Pp 1 and 6). Hon Amaechi further claims, “Sections 7 and 9 of the 1999 Constitution clearly defined how the local councils should be funded through a joint account with the State Governments.”
One is at a loss to find the basis on which these claims are made. Hon Amaechi cannot feign ignorance of the fact that ineptitude of the local councils can never be higher than it already is. Corruption and indiscipline are at their peak. The councils stink right now. Under the supervision of the Houses of Assembly, when some governors brazenly looted cuncil allocations one would have expected the Hon Speaker to enumerate the steps they took to stem the trend. One would like to be convinced that they were indeed not active participants in that diabolical scheme.
Actually, when faced with a situation where one lacks enough wisdom to do, wisdom consists in not doing at all. That’s why a situation of this nature calls for silence rather than exchange of ignorance.
Unarguably, Section 162(6) of the 1999 Constitution calls for the maintenance of the “State Joint Local Government Account” for each State. The new law does not in any way vitiate that requirement. If anything, the Monitoring of Revenue Allocation to Local Governments Act, 2005 has attempted to give teeth and meaning to the provision by requiring each State to promptly set up the Joint Local Government Allocation Committee.
Of all the provisions of the 1999 Constitution, the one perhaps most susceptible to selfish interpretation and which has been quoted with monotonous regularity is that part of Section 7, which stipulates, “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall… ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.” In the process, State authorities have ascribed to themselves, the power even to kill the cocal governments. They easily claim that this section makes local governments their baby to the total exclusion of all others. Like the Holy Bible, a holistic approach to the Constitution is always desirable. In just the same way as polygamists quickly point to the books of Isaiah 4:1 and Exodus 21: 10 – 11, without reference to any other part of the big book, to justify their habit, statists are always unwilling to read even Section 7 all the way down to subsection 6 (a) which provides, “The National Assembly shall make provision for statutory allocation of public revenue to local government councils in the Federation.” More importantly, they are wont to overlook the important provisions of section 162 of the 1999 Constitution, which gives the National Assembly the power of the purse. If the National Assembly possesses all these enormous powers of funding over the local government councils, does it not appeal to common sense that they should want to know how the councils are performing?
The claim of the Statists that they are the sole parents of the Local Government collapses at the door steps of items 11 and 12 on the Concurrent Legislative List of the 1999 Constitution which tells us that “The National Assembly may make laws for the federation with respect to the registration of voters and the procedure regulating elections to a local government council…. Nothing here shall preclude a House of Assembly from making laws with respect to election to a local government council in addition to but not inconsistent with any law made by the National Assembly.”
Nothing in the new law suggests a total ouster of the oversight responsibility of the local government councils from State legislatures. It is still there. The only thing is that it may no longer provide a goldmine. It may have lost a great deal of its lustre.
For the local government councils, it is dawn of a new democratic era. It will certainly not be business as usual. For the first time, the axe of debacle is hanging over the heads of those who choose to remain in the path of corruption. Again, to whom much is given, much is expected.
At least, you have now been brought to the point where inadequate funding can no longer be an excuse. The recent wise counsel of one of the delegates to the on-going National Political Reform Conference is relevant here: if you rob a man of sayN10,000, you have robbed one man and it is criminal enough but if you steal the same amount of the tax payers’ Naira, you have robbed one hundred and fifty million Nigerians. And the curse accruable there-from is commensurate.
On the other hand, history is beckoning on you. You stand a chance of starting an ethical revolution, which will transform the current “Stealing Centres” to Centres of Excellence. For sure, this is a feat that cannot be achieved by your appearing in your offices only during periods of allocation sharing. Absenteeism and tardiness must now be kept in abeyance. You will henceforth be judged by your budget performance.
Food for thought: As has happened elsewhere, some day soon, the Local Government Service in this country will be developed to the point of envy, the point where it would be more prestigious to work for local government than to work for say the Presidency, the Customs, any of the Grade ‘A’ Banks, etc. When that time comes, what will you say your contribution towards this attainment has been? That you stole and built mansions? So do rats and roaches!
• Hon. Omorotionmwan is a public affairs analyst, based in Benin-City
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