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Archive for February 25th, 2012

In many ways, most Nigerians see every problem as a federal government problem and look therefore to the federal government for solutions. In the same token, they are quick to heap blames or even curses on the leaders at the centre without recourse to the clear cut decentralisation of power and responsibility as seen in the three tier structure which is in operation in Nigeria.

One tier that has enjoyed from (or suffered depending on what side you are looking from) this complete disinterest and protracted apathy by the citizenry in participating and holding their government accountable which is a core responsibility for a good citizenry, are the local government councils.

Nigeria is one of the notable countries in the developing world that has significantly decentralised both resources and responsibilities for the delivery of basic health and education services to locally elected governments.

Local governments in Nigeria are constitutionally entitled to a share of about 20 per cent of federal revenues, which with all sorts of windfalls as a result of hikes in crude prices in recent times implies that substantial resource flows to local governments monthly.

Though an inherited colonial concept, writers of our constitution had thought it wise to retain this tier of government as it is one that is closest to the grassroots and therefore a veritable tool for spreading development at that level and creating a sense of belonging to the populace who through the elected local councils can also have a feel of government in their locality.

The councils also highlight the place and responsibility of government to the otherwise hard to reach rural populace; and are expected to be the critical execution point of all government projects, the point where all high level economic policies are translated into tangible realities and value added to the lives of the people.

A local government is expected to play the role of promoting the democratic ideals of a society and coordinating development program at the local level. It is also expected to serve as the basis of socio-economic development in the locality.  Local governments are also responsible for road maintenance, sewage systems, cemeteries and markets, as well as assisting in health care and education in their areas.

We all, by our collective negligence, allowed this important tier of governance to descend into near oblivion; not withstanding that they earn our taxes and dues, receive huge monthly allocations from the Federation Account, and have constitutional and statutory responsibilities to us.

Many Nigerians know the name of their local government simply because it is an important information they are required to provide while filling out forms to access various services in the country. Beyond that, we hardly have any contact or care to know what happens there. Not too many people know the name of their council members or their ward councilor. Indeed not many of us can correctly state what ward we are resident in nor state precisely where the council office is located.

Without any attention, expectations or scrutiny from the people, the local government has continued on a steady decline and has become a cash cow for politicians; especially the state governors who today regulate all activities of this tier of government as though it were a ministry in the state.

State governors manipulate the local governments, decide their leadership and control their funding through the joint account structure. Many state governors have actually destroyed the democratic set up in the local councils provided in the constitution by ensuring elections are not conducted into them and substituting them appointees. In other cases, the governors create additional councils out of the constitutionally recognised ones. These are simply avenues for extending patronage and providing a share of some of the fun for their many sponsors and acolytes.

These lieutenants have a single mission; the advancement of the reign of their paymasters.  While they are at it, the primary health care facilities in their localities are an eye sore where they exist. Roads are in a pitiable state. There are no drainages. While they don’t fail to tax traders, the markets are a shame with the level of filth and disorganisation there.  It is a reign of touts. Asking about education would be demanding too much of them and as many studies have shown, the councils are a cesspool of corruption and brazen criminality.

With the new wave of political consciousness now sweeping through the country, it must be stated that the age old tradition of looking up to the centre is no more tenable. The logical reaction to the admission of the fact that our problems are not all centrally caused is that they require attention at the place they are caused and by who such problems affect most.

It is high time we faced realities. Just the way people naturally go for the low hanging fruits in an orchard, we should begin to confront our issues right from our vicinity. Knowing where our local government council office is located and the names of the officials might be a good place to start.

From my column in Daily Times 24/2/2012

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