Nigeria News: Anatomy of Local Government Autonomy
Nigeria News look at the merits and possible consequence the local government autonomy could bring.
If the bill to make local governments in Nigeria an autonomous entity eventually becomes law, it will go a long way in defining true federalism as envisaged by some pressure groups.
Over the years, the third tier of the government is only existing on papers, the activity is vague and to some extent, the local government had indirectly served as one of the agencies of the state government.
It operates joint account system with the state government with governors dictating the affairs, even in the presence of chairmen and councilors elected to manage the local governments.
The state government takes control of the political and economic charge of the local governments while the officials at these grassroots administration only serve as errand boys for state commissioners and members of the state House of Assembly.
It is glaring that local government hardly carry out any developmental project. The inner roads in most rural communities are bad, there are no community health centres and schools constructed by local government anymore.
Teachers in rural areas depend on state government to pay their salaries; farmers depend on the state government for fertilizers.
Before now, local governments generate most of its income from tenancy but currently with the Land Use Charge, the state has taken over, accruing all the incomes and giving out meagre share to the local government.
Due to the joint account with the state, many local governments cannot pay their workers salary. This tier of government has been highly impoverished by the state and because their officials were selected by the governors, they hardly protest to get what belong to them.
Even when election is organized, it is always a kangaroo poll, put together by the state “Independent Electoral Commission” to usher in the governor’s stooges as chairmen and councilors.
It is a government that exists with no plan to serve the people.
But respite came to this government last week, after years of agitation by the Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, for autonomy when the National Assembly approved the bill while altering the 1999 constitution.
The senate and the House of Representatives approved the removal of operation of joint account for the state and local government. It says that the local government must have the power to get its own allocation directly from the Federation Account.
The legislature also stopped the state Independent Electoral Commission from conducting local government election and directed the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC to take charge.
If these become laws, then the state government will be relieved of its control over the local governments and of course the land use charge concurrent legislative power will be extended to local government.
But to the Afenifere Renewal Group, ARG, the refusal to remove the Land Use Charge from the constitution and the autonomy for local government is an indirect way of strengthening the invasion of the nomadic Fulani herdsmen to many lands across the country.
According to the land use charge, section 6(1)(b) says that “(1) It shall be lawful for a Local Government in respect of land not in an urban area…to grant customary right of occupancy to any person or organisation for the use of land for grazing purposes and such other purposes ancillary to agricultural purposes…” The customary right of occupancy can be as much as 500 hectares if granted for agricultural purposes, or 5,000 hectares if granted for grazing purposes.
With this in place, ARG argued that the bill if signed into law would strengthen the constitutional power of the Fulani herdsmen to invade farms and perhaps cause bigger havoc to their hosts.