Local Government Financial and administrative autonomy: Time to act is now

By; Yusuf Ishaku Goje.

The ambitious policy statement by the President, Muhammadu Buhari, of pulling out a hundred million despondent Nigerians out of poverty will only be a mirage unless the delivery of social services is taken closer to the people. Over the years, both the Federal and State government have proven incapable of addressing gaps that hinder effective and inclusive grassroots development.

Massoud Omar, in the book Impressions and Facts (published by the Centre for Democratic Development Research and Training) succinctly justifies the above paragraph, when he stated, “The rationale for decentralization of power and authority is that there are certain function (especially functions related to social service delivery) which can only be effectively performed by a governmental organ or agency which has close contacts with local communities, and the local government, more than any other organ of the state, is better disposed to perform these functions due to its proximity to the grassroots”.

No serious country would downplay the linkage with low performance in human capital development, our disturbing ranking as sixth (recently moved from third) in the Global Terrorism Index and the inability to provide good governance at the grassroots.

Predictably, those who have played a leading role in crippling the local government system, for narrow political and financial gains, are the most prominent opposition to local governments’ financial and administrative autonomy. It is always evident to see them close ranks across bi-partisan lines to oppose any attempt at granting full autonomy to local governments as a third tier.

This was eloquently captured by the then Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, late General Shehu Musa Yar’adua, in his foreword to the 1976 Local Government Reform report. He stated: “Local governments have, over the years, suffered from continuous whittling down of their powers. The state governments have continued to encroach on what would normally be the exclusive preserves of local governments.”

Surprisingly, one of the biggest proponents of local government autonomy to have carried-out far-reaching reforms seems to be past military leaders under the regimes of Generals Murtala/Obasanjo (1976-1979), General Muhammadu Buhari (1983-1984) and General Ibrahim Babangida (1984-1992). The Buhari regime in 1984 had appointed a committee headed by Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki to review the system of local government in Nigeria. Out of the recommendations of the committee, three were on local government autonomy.

A recent demonstration of this fact under a civilian dispensation is the All Progressive Congress (APC) report on True Federalism, of which the committee, headed by Governor Nasir Ahmed El-rufai, recommended that, “LGA should be removed from the federal constitution and states be allowed to develop a local administrative system that is relevant and peculiar to each respective state.”

This is despite the fact that it runs contrary to the APC Manifesto (page 37, last paragraph), which pledges to “devolve more revenue and powers to the States and Local Governments so that decision making is closer to the people” and pledge to “bring the government closer to the people through political decentralization including local policing”.

The writing on the wall is clear; a stitch in time saves nine. We need to go beyond superficial quick-win measures by taking the path of deeper structural modification. The urgency to take government and governance closer to the people at the grassroots, through local government autonomy, cannot be overemphasized.

We call on all critical stakeholders to join hands with us in ensuring the State Houses of Assembly pass resolutions in the affirmative in order to get the required 2/3 of the 36 States and the President’s accent into law. Lets make it a campaign issue as a pre-requisite for supporting any member of the Assemblies seeking re-election.

Goje writes from Kaduna.

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