Thursday, 21 April 2016
Local council as a weak tier of government
Written by the Editorial board of The Guardian Newspaper
When Vice President Yemi Osinbajo spoke on poor governance at the local government level the other day, labelling the local council an endless vista of inefficiency, corruption and a mere administrative extension of states, he was right. That the councils are “a source of grave concern” to the present administration is also not in doubt and it is correct to note the defective constitutional provisions that hardly promote a true federal system as the source of the councils’ inefficiency.
However, Nigeria has had enough of lamentations. The government should do something about the batardisation of the local government as a tier of government and Osinbajo should lead the way. It has become necessary to ask the government to rectify the anomalies, put in place a system that gets the right people to run the councils and make the system work.
But it should not be lost on him and President Muhammadu Buhari that the yet-to-be-implemented, but widely accepted 2014 National Conference report actually provides a useful roadmap for their government in any attempt at reforms, including but not limited to funding, which has so far tied the local governments to states’ apron strings. Local government’s recognition by the constitution as a separate entity or tier of government has been of little interest to state governors who act as overlords.
The Conference report, therefore, deserves implementation, true to the yearnings of majority of the citizens who were fully represented across the country at the sessions.
The Vice President appropriately argued that local governments have abandoned their primary responsibility of promoting greater efficiency in service delivery to transform the lives of people at the grassroots and that the defect signposts a weak model of governance. However, the earlier the government moved to correct such inefficiencies, the better.
For their failure to work independent of the states, the local governments have indeed become a joke but the councils must be made to work and any talk of development in Nigeria outside of this framework would be an exercise in futility.
Essentially, a functional council should deliver effective local governance. This, if taken seriously by the operators, would reach out to every man in its immediate environment and also impact positively on his living.
For local governments, there has been a disconnect from the past, from a situation where communal culture of honesty, probity and accountability gloriously held sway. Then, the culture of the people and ethos were guiding principles of the local governance across the nation. That was when administrators had a clear focus and mandate to deliver to towns and villages the desired services, an era which can be recreated with the right attitude and approach. What obtains at present, however, has been rightly termed a ‘centralisation mentality’ which flowed from the central government in Abuja to the states, with the result being that the local governments are mere appendages of the states.
Indeed, it can be argued that most of the country’s problems are rooted in this stunted structure, hence lack of development pervades the grassroots. However, a system that produces wrong leaders at that level, most of them having little knowledge and no understanding of the basics of governance, ought to be looked at and reviewed. The culture of putting the best leaders at the local level must be nurtured. As in other climes, the best feet must be put forward. That is why Rudy Giuliani could serve as Mayor of New York City in the United States of America from 1994 through 2001 and exhibit such heroics in difficult times of the nation to emerge TIME magazine’s Person of the Year in 2001. At the grassroots again, with a net worth of $43.7 billion, business magnate and politician Michael Bloomberg, sixth wealthiest person in the U.S. and eighth in the world, considered it a right duty to work as the 108th Mayor of New York City, holding office for three consecutive terms. For such men as would lead the people at the local level, there must be enough moral capital to dispense and service to the people must be the watchword. This should inform the decision of those aspiring to local powers here in Nigeria.
The federating states of Nigeria should also be allowed to create the councils they need for proper and widespread service to the people. Parties must also emphasise democratic growth through elections at the local government level to recruit the right people. The system should be able to throw up appropriate persons in the communities towards putting the right leaders in governance. In essence, the people must be genuinely allowed to raise their own leaders.
Development has to be rooted in the people’s culture. Above all, operators at any level of government should constantly be reminded that governance is about service to the people.