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1999 Constitution Does Not Support LG Autonomy

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By Pascal Chimezie

I read in the news Attorney General of Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, has sued 36 state governors at the Supreme Court over alleged misconduct in the administration of Local Government Areas (LGAs) in the country.

One of the relieves sought in the suit No: SC/CV/343/2024, was “an order permitting the funds standing in the credits of local governments to be directly channelled to them from the Federation Account in line with the provisions of the Constitution as against the alleged unlawful joint accounts created by governors.”

It is also praying the Court for an “order stopping governors from further constituting caretaker committees to run the affairs of local governments as against the Constitutionally recognized and guaranteed democratic system.”

Commendable as the move may seem, we need to be careful how we handle this issue. Will the local governments be totally independent of the supervision of the state government? I am in full support that state governors should not starve local governments of funds for meaningful rural development. But the idea of direct transfer of federal allocation to local governments account, without any check and balance, needs to be looked into. When such direct transfers are made, how do we ensure accountability of the funds?

It’s easy to be carried away by the sentiments and arguments about finger itching state governors withholding and pilfering local governments’ monthly allocations. Or that local government is the closest to the people, as a result they need direct allocation to function properly. This is where the problem lies. This feeding bottle federalism or democracy, without federal allocation no State or local government can function. It means they are not viable in the first instance. And they deserve not to exist.

Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, states, “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.” It appears this Constitutional provision made the State government the Caretaker-overseer of the local government. So I don’t know where those talking about LG autonomy is getting the idea from.

I think those pushing for the autonomy of the present 774 LGAs are obviously indirectly want the present lopsided Federal arrangement sustained.

I understand those who have some legal background may tend to argue on the premise of existing constitutional provisions, which is like “standing on the existing protocol”, even if the premise is wrong, however it must be borne in mind that the 1999 Constitution that gave rise to this LGA anomaly in Nigeria is a military Constitution. We cannot operate or fully implement it as it presents is without harming ourselves one way or another.

One of the strong arguments put forward by the Bola Ahmed Tinubu administration in 2003 as governor of Lagos state for embarking on the creation of 37 new local council development areas (LCDAs) was their financial self-sustainability.

Federal Govt had opposed the creation on the basis of inconsistency with the Constitution. Tinubu challenged the FG’s position up to the Supreme Court in what has become a celebrated landmark case.

In that judgement, the Supreme Court agreed with the Lagos state government on the powers of the State government to initiate, create, manage, and fund local government administration, with only one proviso: The FG through the National Assembly shall make consequential legislation completing the process already initiated by Lagos state government.

Section 8(5) of the Constitution says “An Act of the National Assembly passed in accordance with this section shall make consequential provisions with respect to the names and headquarters of states or local government areas as provided in section 3 of this Constitution and in part 1 and II of the First Schedule to this Constitution.”

Supreme Court, therefore, declared Lagos state effort ‘inchoate,’  because the National Assembly under President Olusegun Obasanjo was not in the least interested to pass a concurrent legislation to enroll the 37 newly created LCDAs.

It beats my imagination why we are so often fixated on things that continuously hold us down and stunt our national development. At a time when there is growing agitation to return the country to 1963 Republican Constitution which guaranteed healthy competition and rapid development among the regions, all we can think of is how we can continue to fund too many non-viable LGAs in the country. We cannot continue with the present warped (Presidential) System, with distorted 1999 Constitution as amended, as guidepost. As we speak, the National Assembly’s ritual Constitutional amendment is ongoing. Why are they shying away from fundamental restructuring of the country?

Who stands to benefit from local government autonomy? If anybody is thinking it’s the grassroots masses, the person needs to think again.

Local government autonomy will only replicate more looters and ‘tingods’ at local govt level as we have them at state levels. Nigerian politicians are the same, especially when it comes to stealing from public till.

Secondly, you cannot talk about local government full autonomy, and local government chairman as chief executive of the 3rd tier government, without accompanying demand for immunity. This, in turn, will mean expanding the scope of work of staff-challenged Efcc, which will be compelled to start chasing LG chairmen around for embezzlement once their tenure ends. Thirdly, the argument that an autonomous LG will encourage and attract quality candidates to vie for LG positions is tenuous and holds no water. Are we quick to forget that our political parties that observe internal democracy in the breach will still play active role in their usual undemocratic selection process? The Constitution has no provision for independent candidate.

Fourthly, the wrong headed push for LG autonomy will also trigger a corresponding agitation for abolition of the State Independent Electoral Commission (SIEC). The very reason why SIEC in many states has failed, which is political interference, is the same reason why Nigerians generally are fed up with the INEC at the federal level. Is it this same Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu led INEC that Nigerians will entrust with the conduct of LGA elections in the 36 states of the federation? It will still be the same old story of the party in power takes it all, which is a prelude to One-party state.

 

Pascal Chimezie is a Public Affairs Analyst and writes in from Lagos Nigeria. He can be reached on chimeziepascal@gmail.com

 

 

 

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