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Tola Sarumi: Why I do not support local government autonomy

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Tola Sarumi: Why I do not support local government autonomy

by Tola Sarumi

The clamour for autonomous local governments has reached a fever pitch, the national assembly seems poised to enact a law making LGs independent of state government interference. On the face of it, this is a worthwhile exercise. The states have little respect for the fiscal delineation that is supposed to exist between them and the LGs.

As with everything, the decisions are made in Abuja. Let’s ask the question, why is  it that the number of LGs is fixed? How did we come about the number of LGs we currently have? There seems to be no method to their existence, being that the constitution has the number of current LGs embedded in it, that is to say, in order for new local governments to have legal and government recognition, a state may initiate its creation but a constitutional amendment would be required.

Why would other states, or their representatives in the National Assembly support the creating on LGs in other states when it essentially means that they’ll be cutting their own slice of the national cake thinner? Because that is essentially what it comes down to, the federal disbursement of funds.

Nigeria operates a curious federalism; states are not at liberty to devolve power to their own municipalities who are best placed to know the immediate needs of their residents. The idea is that LGs are designed to bring government as close to the people as possible. The local governments in existence now were drawn up by the military, a notoriously parochial bunch who didn’t care much for administering the state judiciously.

For quick illustration, I used the (deeply flawed) 2006 census to see if there is a correlation between population and number of LGs per state, (I would really recommend the reading of Feyi Fawenhinmi’s excellent piece on the way the Nigerian census is conducted)

I looked at the most populous states per ‘geo political zone’

State Population No. of LGs
Anambra  4,177,828 21
Bauchi 4,653,066 20
Benue 4,253,641 23
Kano  9,401,288 44
Lagos  9,113,605 20
Rivers  5,198,716 23

As one can see above, there is no relationship between the number of residents and the number of LGs. One cannot say this is the reason one state has double the number of another, and in this debate for autonomy, no one seems to be questioning this idiotic status quo.

I am not in support of autonomy for local governments as the system is now, because the system is inherently unfair and it makes no sense.

What I propose we do is to create a federal enabling act, allowing states to create as many local governments as they deem necessary. Where a state has given legal authority for the existence of an LG, that LG is recognised as an independent entity by the courts and is allowed to function, that is to raise funds, be in charge of local amenities etc., without interference from the state. The state will be able to take over a LG should it prove incapable of managing its affairs independently. The state can appoint its own manager for the said local government till it get its affairs in order.  The federal government will no longer be involved with providing funds for the local governments; the local governments will be to the states as the states are to the FG.

Autonomy for LGs right now will actually calcify this skewed structure, making it harder to amend it for the good of every one concerned.

Other matters.

In this war against the shadowy murderous group, Boko Haram, I support the JTF. I want Nigeria to prevail against these forces whose hand we do not know and whose modus operandi we are all too familiar with.

The JTF is however going about this wrong way. This is not a war that can be won with firepower alone, the army needs to win the locals on to its side. There can be no ambiguity about who stands for the good of the local community and the country as a whole. Right now, the JTF is making is easy for all concerned to hem and haw in choosing sides.

We cannot raze houses, kill people indiscriminately and claim to be making progress; this is a war that has to be fought on good information and who is best placed to provide that information? The locals. But if the JTF kills everything moving, from whom will they extract credible intelligence about the strangers in their midst? Right now, for the people of Borno, the only difference between the JTF and the BH is the uniform. We all need to apply pressure on the government to impress on the JTF that this wanton destruction won’t do.

– Follow this writer on Twitter: @Afrovii

Tola is a Nigerian by profession, and moonlights as an anti-money laundering consultant when she is not working. She eats books and legal opinions, nothing is obiter dicta in Nigeria, so, she pays close attention. Twitter: @Afrovii

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