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Chinaza Onuzo’s Five Thoughts: On local governments

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Chinaza Onuzo’s Five Thoughts: On local governments

by Chinaza Onuzo

Random Intro

I’ve decided to rearrange the format of my not very weekly musings. From now on the op-ed pieces will be structured around five things that I think are particularly interesting about a given topic. I figure that if I’m trying to tell you more than five things, I’m trying to tell you too many things.

Actual Intro

I had a brief conversation on Twitter the other day with @Afrovii about Local governments in Nigeria. She wrote a piece on Local Government autonomy here on The Scoop which I disagreed with.

This isn’t a rejoinder to her piece, but more a contribution to the conversation on Local Governments and a follow up to the blog post  I wrote in 2008 that opens “So the reason why I am so down on the local governments in Nigeria is that they are one of the primary reasons why the macrostability that Nigeria has achieved in the last 8 years has not been felt at the micro level”

So on to the Five Thoughts on Local Governments in Nigeria

The Supreme Court and Local Government Creation

This is old hat for anyone that has followed the plight of Local Governments in Nigeria. In 2004 the Supreme Court delivered a ruling in the case of the additional 37 “Local Governments” that Lagos State tried to create. This is one of those rulings that achieved precisely nothing. So Lagos State is within its rights to create Local Governments, but they aren’t formally recognized as local governments until the constitution is amended to include them in the list. The constitution can only be amended by an act of the National Assembly and the support of two thirds of the state houses of assembly.

This is one of those genius rulings that basically means both parties should go away. The practical effect of the ruling was that the Federal Government can stop Lagos State from creating official Local Governments, but Lagos State can create effectively identical  administrative units that aren’t Local Governments.

So Lagos State effectively treats 37 Local Council Development Areas as sub units under the 20 local governments, something that they could have done anyway without the whole let’s go to the Supreme Court thing.

The Federal Government hems and haws about the 37 LCDAs and Lagos State responds by requesting that the National Assembly amend the constitution to turn them into Local Governments. Plus ca change.

The NASS and the futile gesture to liberate the Local Governments

A lot has been made about the NASS decision to try and amend the constitution to provide the local government with direct access to the federation account. Currently the State Government receives the funds on behalf of the LGs and then distributes it onward.

The belief is that giving the LGs the funds directly will make them more independent and accountable. However with the ability of the State Governments to dissolve the local governments anyhow, and the lack of immunity of the Local Government Chairman, I seriously doubt that there will be any effective independence until our polity moves past jobs for the boys politics. However if there were no jobs for the boys politics, you won’t need this law anyway.

One of the fun things in Nigeria is our penchant for making laws that are not necessary if our people act like reasonable adults. Though asking why the States don’t just remit the funds directly and transparently to the local governments is like asking why the caged bird sings.

I’m more concerned with the fact that our local governments can spend money without accountability. In the immortal words of a current governor to an international publication “The fact that he [Local Government Chairman] cannot account for the money [Federation Account Allocation] does not mean that he stole it.” Quite.

The EFCC and its total neglect of its role with respect to Local Governments

I’ve been known to comment that if I was made EFFC Director of Operations I would open a Local Government division and spend a month a year in a different state auditing various Local Government councils. I would set a target of arresting at least one Local Government Counsellor a week. However EFCC has decided (or are legally required) to only investigate once petitions have been granted. I suppose it is impossible for an EFCC Official to loiter around a town in a given state seeking to elicit petitions. Oh well, the jamboree shall continue.

The Kano versus Lagos Debate

One of the things that you hear a lot about is that Kano and Lagos have the same population but Lagos has 20 local governments but Kano has 44. Kano is apparently 20,131 km2 while Lagos is apparently 3,577 km2 (Thank you google). So Lagos is about 18% the size of Kano but has 45% of the local governments. So if you do it by size, then technically someone somewhere could argue that Kano should have 112 to equalize on a size basis. Isn’t math fun.

Also the 20 tiny local governments in Lagos receive about the same amount as the 44 large local governments in Kano. This means that on average a local government in Lagos receives twice the amount of federation allocations that Kano does.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be a Local Government Chairman in Lagos.

Also if I was a Local Government Chairman in Lagos, I’d be mighty upset with the State Government and their attempt to shorten my ration. If I was said Local Government Chairman I’d also wonder why 20 local governments were not enough to administer a state the size of Lagos. I wouldn’t wonder out loud though, because the Governor would probably dissolve my Council in retaliation.

The Impunity of the State Governors

There is a statistic being peddled by the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) that says that only 17 of the 37 states had conducted local government elections in their state. This does not even count the states in which elections have been conducted but the councils have later been dissolved.

My favourite state is Anambra state that has not conducted local government elections since 1998. The current governor says that there was a court order preventing him from doing so. I wonder if the state ran out of money to pay a lawyer to challenge the court order. Maybe we should hold a benefit.

The Local Government in Nigeria is weak because the State Governments want it that way. The State Governments that should be a force for accountability are a force for lack of accountability. If State Governments said that the only reason we will dissolve you is if you are shown to be corrupt and inefficient, then things will change dramatically for the better.

However the corrupt and inefficient Local Government is the way that the State Government likes it and the only way that changes is if the State Government chooses to change.  This is a bit of turkeys voting for Christmas but hey, where there is life there is hope.

Conclusion

So there you have it five thoughts on Local Governments. The system of Local Governments is broken on very many levels. The amount of money sloshing around there should have a real impact on the lives of Nigerians. If Local Governments did their jobs in providing primary health, education, etc they could make a real impact in the lives of Nigerians.

However politicians have chosen to use it for the worst sort of “jobs for the boys” and corrupt practices, and have continually passed the buck. We need to demand greater transparency for our local governments and put pressure on states to increase transparency if the Local Governments themselves won’t, and on the Federal Government (EFCC in particular) to go after corrupt Local Government officials. The third tier of government is broken, and we need to fix it sooner rather than later.

– Follow this writer on Twitter: @IamSnazz

If your answer to the question “What will you do with an English degree” is “enter Finance, obviously” then you have a pretty good idea of who Chinaza is. He found other people who thought that made sense, and so that’s what he’s been doing for almost a decade. When he’s not doing that, he’s mostly making a nuisance of himself talking about Nigerian policy, gender issues, and a host of random things that catch his fancy. Twitter: @IamSnazz

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