Time to return local government autonomy

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If there is any issue that has continued to dominate national discourse, it is that concerning local government autonomy. For long, observers have posited that the heightened interest is not unconnected with the parlous state of the country’s economy brought about by the dwindling revenue from crude oil sales that has adversely affected the finances of both state and local governments. Before now, state governors who see the third tier of government as appendages of their respective bureaucracies have, vehemently resisted every call for local government autonomy even by constitution experts.
This sad development has become the norm since the country’s return to democratic governance in 1999. Reason for the usurpation of local government autonomy by state chief executives is not far to see. Many of them see the fund accruing to local governments from the federation account as handouts to be spent at their whims and behest. Hence, they employ all manner of political intrigues to subvert and control local government administrations in their respective jurisdictions.
It is therefore not surprising that such governors are using State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC) to organise and rig local government elections in favour of their political parties and in return fill all elective positions with surrogates.
Over time, such   political meddling has had the effect of weakening and whittling down local government autonomy and by extension their capacities to cater for the increasing demands of the grassroots. This is in contradiction with their constitutional role. Constitutionally, local governments are established to fill those other needs not presently being met by the federal and state governments.  In addition, their other functions include the collection of tax and rates, issuance of licenses for vehicle, hawkers, television, bicycles and naming of streets. Also, they provide and maintain local markets, registration of death, birth and marriages that occur within their areas of jurisdiction, provision of libraries and schools, maintenance of healthcare facilities, customary courts that handle issues that pertain minor disputes, divorce, minor traffic offences, disagreement over land and making recommendations to both the federal and state government.
Sadly, most of these functions have been usurped by the state governments while through the State, Joint Local Government Accounts (SJLGAs) taken control of funds meant for the functioning of the third tier of government. Today, local governments are no more than appendages of state governors and serve at their pleasure. It is unfortunate to observe that many of those chairmen and councilors running these councils seem not to appreciate their responsibilities to the people. We see many of them as lacking in mental capacity, vision, experience and passion to render service to those that elected them but rather are out for personal pursuit for lucre.
This sad development is the result of political interference in the election of those who administer local government councils.  Truth remains that the Nigerian federation is centre dominated. Consequently, the socio-political, economic and national bureaucratic environments are centripetal and hardly serve the interests of the local governments. This is why we are calling on the Buhari administration to return the autonomy of local governments to enable them serve the interests of their constituencies.

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