Fierce formal and informal debates have continued to hold across the country after 27 State Houses of Assembly voted against local government autonomy in the ongoing constitution review process.
Only nine of the 36 state legislatures voted in favour. They are: Ogun, Ondo, Niger, Benue, Plateau, Bauchi, Cross River, Kwara and Bayelsa.
Even though the National Assembly voted in favour of financial autonomy for the 774 local governments in the country, the state Houses of Assembly, some of them backed by their governors, kicked against the proposal.
The Ondo State governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, is one of such governors who have openly opposed local government autonomy. This is even as his state House of Assembly voted in favour.
Speaking recently at a televised programme, “Meet the governor” organised as part of the first year anniversary in office, Akeredolu said those pushing for the local government were not sincere about it but only agitating for it to score political points.
His words: “On local government autonomy, I campaigned and I have not forgotten what I said about local government autonomy, there was not a time that I spoke about supporting local government autonomy
“I am a lawyer and I know what is called federating units of a federal government. Nigeria cannot be the only place where we would bastardise the institutions. We would come up with something we copied and we will just turn it into something, shrew it, and make it totally dysfunctional.
But a youth activist, Peter Modupe, has faulted the governor’s stand, stating his readiness to engage the governor in an open debate over the matter.
According to Modupe in an open letter, “any leader who desires the good of his people and the development of the grass root will support local government autonomy. it is very simple we want development to get to the grassroots”.
In his open letter, he made arguments in favour of the local government, criticising the governor for standing against a process that would “not only restore but improve socio-economic development” as local government autonomy “remains the fastest way to guarantee rapid growth at the frassroots and a viable democratic process in the country”
He wrote: “The 1999 constitution[as amended] recognizes local government as the third tier of government which as far as we are concerned is the closest to the people and there are provisions in the document that give the councils partial autonomy but the aberration of having a state/ local government joint account where monthly allocations from the federation account are paid into invariably means that governors can have access to allocations that are accrue to the councils for capital and recurrent expenditures. This has led to a situation where state governors appropriate funds meant for the councils, while staff and workers of the councils are owed several months arrears of salaries. The local government and the supremacy of democracy at the local government as defined by section 7 of the constitution remains unwavering. They must be given Autonomy to save them from governors hijacking their funds”.
According to him, “the people at the grassroots don’t know any other leadership apart from those councillors and Chairmen. If you don’t give them that opportunity you have completely disconnected them from democracy.
“No progress can be achieved in the local government if the present status quo of interference by the state governors is retained. Local government must be financially autonomous to achieve development in the rural areas. Autonomy will allow the councils to pay salaries and foot their various bills”
Writing further, he posited: “I strongly call for the removal of clauses 7, 8, 162 and any other clause in the 1999 constitution that compromise the autonomy of local government, it should be deleted to give free and unfettered meaning to “autonomy” to make them function as third -tier of government, they should be directly funded and the tenure of their executive and legislature should be fully stated. The current practice where governors are in charge of what rightly belongs to the local governments is unconstitutional.
“I hereby challenge the Governor of my state to an open debate. Democracy will continue to remain the government of the people by the people and for the people”.