By Okiemute Esiri
The 36 state governors of Nigeria are united in their opposition to allowing local governments absolute autonomy. Nigeria’s local government system is dysfunctional due to governors’ disproportionate power over the third tier of government through the use of unpopular pooled accounts, as well as widespread abuse and political patronage.
President Muhammadu Buhari on May 20, 2020 signed an Executive order that guaranteed financial autonomy of state legislature, judiciary and local goverment and Up untill now, the order is yet to be implemented due to the refusal by the ‘comandos‘ governors.
In Nigeria’s political dispensation, governors are very powerful. After the President, whom the respected outspoken Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Matthew Kukah, described as being the most powerful in the world – regardless of who occupies the office – the governors are next in the power-wielding game.
Some of these governors are also treated as demigods in some states, and it’s not only because of their titles, though that helps, particularly when combined with the cliche, “His Excellency.”
It’s all about the synthesis of the immense forces bestowed upon them by the constitution and the vast resources available to them.
Despite these powers, it seems that governors are dissatisfied, and this is evident on how they intervene with the governance and financing of other branches of government in their jurisdictions, such as the judiciary, legislature and the local goverment administration.
However, in their pursuit of greater authority, they will often go to whatever extent, including disregarding the law, disobeying court rulings, and refusing or battling official procedures. Without a doubt, this has harmed governance at the subnational level.
The states are required by the Constitution to hold local government elections, governors tend to nominate caretaker committees in order to maintain control of local government funds and to install their cronies in positions of power in order to increase their presence at the local level.
As a result, appointees feel compelled to show allegiance to their backers, even though it means neglecting their responsibilities to the people they serve. This will explain the lack of growth at the grassroots level.
Let us consider how local governments could carry out some of the duties outlined in the Nigerian Constitution. Construction and maintenance of bridges, sidewalks, streetlights, drains, and other public highways, parks, gardens, open fields, and other public facilities; provision and maintenance of public conveniences, drainage, and waste disposal; and establishment, maintenance, slaughterhouses, markets and motor parks; assessment of privately-owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a state, collection of rates, radio and television licences, establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm, naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses; registration of all births, deaths and marriages; control and regulation of out-door advertising and hoarding, movement and keeping of pets of all description, shops and kiosks, restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public, laundries, and licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor.
Unfortunately, most state governments have taken over some of these functions, especially when it comes to tax collection. For example, most state legislatures have cleverly usurped the right to manage and oversee out-of-door advertisements and hoarding, as well as other tax outlets that are the prerogative of municipal governments, and are profiting handsomely from it.
The abolition of joint accounts would relieve local councils and improve their power, as well as relieve governors of the pressure of public expectation. This would also force local governments to fulfill their statutory obligations.
Most local councils in Nigeria are only able to pay wages due to the operation of joint accounts, and what is left is often too small to spend on production, and therefore always ends up in officials’ personal pockets. While the joint account was created with the intention of reducing corruption in local councils, it has turned out to be the worst thing that has ever happened to the local government system.
The governors are benefiting fat on the resources of the local goverment councils and that is one reason they are opposed to Local Goverment autonomy.
Why are the governors adamant and unwilling to allow local government in their states to enjoy absolute and sincere autonomy? The answer is yet unknown but majority of Nigerians believe the governors are corrupt and trying to hide skeletons in their cupboard. We will be posting coments and videos from Nigerians on the streets. You can also send in your comments and we will publish them.