Reps, state governors under attack over plans to abolish Local Government tier
The House of Representatives has come under attack over ongoing plans to pass a legislation that will finally abolish the Local Government tier from the 1999 Constitution.
BDSUNDAY authoritatively gathered that various interest groups across the country have commenced mobilisation of Nigerian workers across public and private sectors, with a view to halting the move by the House to stifle grassroots development.
The controversial bill for an Act to repeal the local government (basic constitutional and transitional provisions) Act and for related matters, 2018 which was sponsored by Edward Gyang Pwajok (APC-Plateau) has scaled through first reading and is being gazetted for second reading on the floor of the Lower Chamber.
“This Bill may be cited as the Local Government (Basic Constitutional and Transitional Provisions) Repeal Bill, 2018.”
According to the ‘memorandum of explanation’ of the proposed private member, it “seeks to repeal the Federal Legislation regulating Local Governments, which is covered by Section 7 of the Constitution.”
Some of the stakeholders, including the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) and Coalition of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) which expressed opposition to the intent of the private member bill, accused state governors of sponsoring the legislation which they described as “anti-people and anti-democracy.”
Section 7(1) of the Constitution (as amended) provides that: “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.
Subsection (7)2 also provides that: “The person authorised by law to prescribe the area over which a local government council may exercise authority shall (a) define such area as clearly as practicable; and (b) ensure, to the extent to which it may be reasonably justifiable that in defining such area, regard is paid to – (i) the common interest of the community in the area; (ii) traditional association of the community; and (iii) administrative convenience.”
Sub-section 7(3) of the Constitution further empowers Local Government Councils “within the state, to participate in economic planning and development of the area referred to in subsection (2) of this section and to this end, an economic planning board shall be established by a law enacted by the House of Assembly of the State.”
In the same vein, subsection 7(4) states that: “The Government of a State shall ensure that every person who is entitled to vote or be voted for at an election to the House of Assembly, shall have the right to vote or be voted for at an election to a local government council.”
In furtherance of its powers, subsection 7(5) of the Constitution provides that: “The functions to be conferred by Law upon local government councils, shall include those set out in the Fourth Schedule to this Constitution.”
In a interview with BDSUNDAY, Vivian Bellonwu-Okafor who spoke on behalf of the coalition of CSOs, urged the Legislature to prioritise policies and processes that would engender good governance. She further warned the legislature to shun all forms of activity that would aggravate the sufferings of Nigerians.
“This move by the House of Representatives to abrogate the third level of government is against all known wise counsel. Local council governments have the closest interaction with the masses, particularly at the grassroots. They organize and see to those sundry and otherwise everyday life matters of local communities and areas, in aspects such as commerce (markets), transportation, agriculture, human resources development etc, they also directly see to peace and security in communities and it’s structures.
“Granted, a bulk of local councils have not been carrying out their constitutional duties and responsibilities and thus have not significantly made their impacts felt by the local population they govern, but this is largely attributable to the meddlesome and overbearing roles State Chief Executives have been playing in this regard, as some of these governors simply see local councils as extension of their security votes.
“Many state governors outrightly confiscate the allocations of local governments, in some casses by virtue of the JAAC arrangement and simply administer same to their fancy, to the detriment of local council residents.
“This state of affairs and other failure-contributing factors were what the law-making body would have studied and applied themselves to solving through effective laws and strict oversight to check violations, instead of adopting an extreme and anti-people step such as that proposed,” Bellonwu-Okafor of Social Action urged.
In a swift reaction to the provisions of the bill, Ayuba Wabba, President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) expressed dismay over the sudden twist of the House to go against the wishes of Nigerians a few weeks after the transmission of the recommendations of the Constitutional amendment to Mr. President.
“We are totally against the bill because it will destroy the activities of the Local Government system. But what we are looking for is to strengthen, not to destroy. This is like abolition of the Local Government tier.
“We need to bring governance closer to the people and that is part of the insecurity challenges we are currently facing. Local Governments need to get their resources directly. Everywhere in the world there is Local Government, so no right thinking person will support the abolition of the Local Government in this country,” Wabba stressed.
Worried by the development, the NLC unveiled plans to consult with the leadership of the National Assembly and National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) with the view to halt the piece of legislation.
For his part, Ibrahim Khaleel, NULGE President ,who spoke with BDSUNDAY on phone, accused state governors of plotting a palace coup against the people by using democratic institutions and instruments to subdue the interests of majority of Nigeria’s population living in the grassroots.
“Firstly, let us place on record that we are against the bill. What we are craving for is Local Government autonomy. But this is a more dangerous legislation; sincerely speaking we can’t support that.
“The National Executive Council (NEC) will meet on Thursday to deliberate on this matter. We will also have a press conference on the lackadaisical attitude of the State Assembly and National Assembly to allow Local Government to be more visible.”
According to him, the outcome of the public hearings held in Jigawa, Zamfara and Kano states, jolted the State Assembly with the overwhelming support for Local Government autonomy.
Big Read |