Lawmakers, governors ignite council politics

| January 23, 2013 | 0 Comments

THE ongoing debate between the National Assembly and the Governors on the autonomy of councils has brought to fore the contradictions in the 1999 Constitution.

The crux of the issue is Section 7 (1) of the constitution, which states that: “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”

Section 162 (6) states: “Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.”

During the public hearings on the ongoing review of the constitution, there were calls for the autonomy of the council while the National Assembly talks of the need to amend Section 162 (6). The lawmakers argue that the governors take undue advantage of the section to muzzle the councils financially and frustrate them from operating independently. It was also pointed out that only 17 of the 36 states have conducted council election, while the others are using caretaker committees.

While section 7 (1) grants the councils autonomy, the same autonomy is indirectly hampered in Section 162 (6) and the governors have continued to take advantage of this. Although the councils are acknowledged as the third tier of government, they are denied financial autonomy by some states.

Contrary to the views of the governors that they would resist any move to enshrine council autonomy in the constitution, the lawmakers said autonomy is expedient, as “it would bring development closer to people at the grassroots.”

The question is whether the debate is necessary. What is the point of a ‘controversy’ degenerating into a situation where both parties are trading blames? While the lawmakers accuse the governors of fiddling with the council funds at the expense of people in the grassroots, the governors accuse the National Assembly of allocating arbitrary remunerations in the budget to itself at the expense of the nation.

The chairman of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF) and Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi said that granting the council autonomy would not guarantee effective and efficient performance as some people think. He said that the governors should be allowed to create more councils. Instead of pressing for council autonomy, Amaechi urged the National Assembly to insist on the existence of only two federating units – the states and federal government.

Even in Lagos State where elections have been conducted into the 20 councils and 37 Local Council Development Areas (LCDA), the citizens were not comfortable about council autonomy since there is no clear differentiation between the functions of the state government and the council.

The state/council joint accounts seems to have been responsible for poor development at councils following refusal by some of the governors to disburse sufficient funds to execute capital projects that will engender infrastructural development.

A chairman of one of the LCDAs in Lagos said: “It will be very difficult for us to function effectively because when the allocation is coming from the Federation Account it goes directly into the joint accounts, which is controlled by the governor. From there it is transferred into the account of the 20 councils before the LCDAs finally get their share.

The Chairman, Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Smart Adeyemi has described the governors’ position as anti-development. Adeyemi said that the joint account is not supposed to be run in such a manner that the governors take all the rights of the councils, and swallow their allocations.

Adeyemi claimed that: “Council chairmen have confessed that they were made to sign for allocation far less than what came from the federation account. One said that when he was supposed to collect and actually signed to collect N155 million in one month, he got N40 million.

“The third tier system is the only government of the people at the grassroots. Let nobody think about a two-tier system of government. We, the representatives of the people will rise against that move. To run a two tier of government is to further impoverish the people,” he said.

The Vice Chairman of Senate Committee on Niger Delta Affairs, Nurudeen Abatemi-Usman who said that the governors do not have the constitutional power to hinder the granting of autonomy to council, noted the operation of the joint account was an aberration that must be corrected, regardless of the position of the governors “nothing could be more necessary than council autonomy.”

Abatemi-Usman who said he has always been an advocate of autonomy for councils insisted that the people’s desire will definitely prevail over that of the governors. How can the governors stand against the wish of the generality of Nigerians, who elected them into office?”

The chairman Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Eyinanya Abaribe said the National Assembly is going to base its judgment on the public opinion expressed over the issue at the public hearings on the issue while “the governors are entitled to their opinion on the matter.”

Meanwhile, the Patriots believe the debate over council autonomy is part of the flaws of the 1999 Constitution. The Chairman of the Patriots, Prof. Ben Nwabueze said the problem with the 1999 Constitution transcends mere debate of council autonomy, “it is not a trusted document in the first instance, it was forced on Nigerians and does not represent the interest of the masses.”

The Secretary, National Summit Group (NSG), Mr. Tony Uranta said the debate between the governors and the National Assembly is part of the reason Nigerians were yearning for a national conference.

A member of the House of Representatives and of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Lanre Odubote said the beauty of the ongoing constitution review was that it has availed Nigerians opportunity to air their views, an example is the demand for council autonomy but at the same time the governors have the right to say their views.

According to him, “the onus is now on the National Assembly to harmonise the views on each of the subject to determine its position.”

Odubote said: “Nigerians have spoken, some members of the National Assembly have aired their views and President Goodluck Jonathan has also taken a position over the matter. The governors and the lawmakers have also share the next step is to sit and harmonies issues and do the right thing that will bring about development in the country.”

Nigeria’s former Envoy to Ethiopia, Ambassador Nkoyo Toyo, who represents Odukpani Federal Constituency (Cross Rivers), said the councils’ political and operational autonomy are being undermined by their lack of financial autonomy.

Toyo noted that Joint Account Committee (JAC) does not help the councils in the long run. According her, in the public hearing that held across the country’s federal constituencies last year, the people she represents demanded the financial autonomy for the councils.

She said the councils can only develop if the money made available to them always gets to them without being tampered with. According to her, financial autonomy will make the councils function the way it should.

Toyo called on the state governors to strengthen their oversight functions concerning the councils. She said the governors should check the excesses of the councils in order to make them function effectively.

The lawmaker representing Ife Federal Constituency (Osun State), Rotimi Makinde said the Seventh National Assembly’s stand on the issue of council autonomy is to the advantage of the masses.

According to Makinde, the councils should be financially autonomous so that the the dividends of democracy to get to the grassroots.

According to the President of the Igbo Think-Tank, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, the third tier of government is constitutional and should not be reduced to an appendage of the state governments.

He stressed that if the governors want control of the councils, they should get a way of converting the councils to ministries instead of undermining their constitutional rights.

Culled from :Here

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