Ahead of the two-day Zonal Public Hearing scheduled for 26th and 27 of this May by the National Assembly Review of the 1999 Constitution, ambushing 4 Principal Officers of the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria was a herculean task but coincidentally, It was their emergency meeting recently in Abuja where the duo of the Deputy National President Hon, Jega Marshal, the Chief of Staff to the National President Hon Itiako Constatine Ikpokpo were present before being joined by the National Treasurer Hon Maifata Muazu and Hon Solomon Onah the National Publicity Secretary. In this joint interview, they bare their minds on some issues and outcomes as captured by Obiora Orji.
The 1979 constitution, which provided the legal framework for the 1976 reforms, plunged the local government system into a crisis of identity, and ever since then, the local governments and Councils in Nigeria have remained an idea which its time is not ripe and in search of relevance, how true is this Hon Ikpokpo?
Well looking at the prevailing experience so far, I must say without equivocation that the combined effects of constitutional gaps and reform contradictions have rendered Nigeria’s system of local governments and councils operation like an unfortunate ‘orphan’ gauging their contribution to governance and service delivery and that is why the present ALGON Exco has been mandated by the National President Hon Alabi Kolade David to articulate all issues for the public hearing, that’s one leg of it, the other is that ALGON is embarking on a ‘take it to the needy approach by mobilizing all Nigerians to the Zonal Hearing to honestly reflect their concerns for strengthening the system which has been the people’s longstanding position, very unambiguous and important I must conclude.
Though ALGON is set to get it right now as we can see from recent available records showing that almost 31 out of the 36 states in their various LGA/and Councils are already democratic through elections and with more set to join this month and next what is motivating to this good omen? Hon Jega?
Thank you, as a matter of fact, ALGON will use this opportunity to appreciate the Nigerian Governors Forum for taking the bandwagon initiative of conducting regular elections and ensuring non-interference in some states recently. It has shown that they are heeding to the cry of Nigerians who are desirous of a change for a truly grassroots participatory democracy and ‘unity of command’. I am personally happy that the impact of this Zonal Hearing no doubt is a response to the hunger espoused by the people for a well-structured and operational dynamics of the local government system in Nigeria, to me, it has been widely acknowledged. Just like such is in the national conversation as well for the state Judiciary.
Hon Maifata, there are so many hues and cries out there that the local government should be given the status of a federating unit in the constitution, with its powers and functions clearly spelled out; the constitutional mandate of the system receiving direct allocation off from the State Joint Local Government Account issue has been before now encouraged by both NFIU and the Federal government, is there any change in the system or how has it affected speedy development across the LGA/Councils?
From our record across the country, it has become popular. The regime of fiscal federalism is winning numerous support, to me, such has evolved and with some serious measures to instill fiscal discipline among local governments and has encouraged both hard work and self-reliance, it has enabled some LGA/Councils to explore opportunities to increase their internally generated revenue with the support of the State Governors.
One issue on the front burner is that of a clear and unambiguous definition of the powers and functions of local government so as to help local governments and councils improve their revenue base to cater for its vast needs like: (utility bills, taxes, rates, revenues} and fund public services without over-reliance on statutory allocations from the Federation Account. This is exactly what we are doing in Nasarawa and I can assure you that we are on the same page with all LGAs/Councils through ALGON and the resolve of the NEC.
It has been the desire of the present ALGON Exco led by Hon Kolade David Alabi to see to the true extension of the principle of federation by bringing government to the grassroots level through a coordinated effort, lobby, programmes, advocacy to the federal and state to see us partners in progress.
Honestly speaking, the Local governments and Councils are created with the ultimate goal of bringing the government closer to the people at the grassroots to accelerate development and to enable the local population to participate and hold those in power accountable for their governance roles. That accountability is if the constitution is well defined, yes so far the federal government through the NFIU has helped to a large extent and I think the impact is being felt though the economy is not too good at the moment for every Tier of the Government.
With the widespread compliance by State Governors, ALGON is happy and well situated as the purpose vehicle to drive increased development. Such measure has helped to de-escalate inactivity and therefore engage the system with projects, maintenance from what is left after salaries and overhead in the LGA/Councils.
It is my belief that the Zonal Public Hearing will provide another persuasive opportunity to encourage and mobilize people for local participation in governance. Unfortunately, if the 1976 reform of local government and councils or 1999 Constitution were well designed to favour the system. It would have led to a stronger local government system, several attempts to clarify it did not provide an adequate legal framework to underpin the desired fundamentals to make the LGA/Councils work satisfactorily.
Hon Onah sir taking you back to the 1999 Constitution failed to provide the necessary constitutional backing to operationalize the desired change. Do you think that this lacuna may be addressed in lieu of the present Zonal Public Hearing which has been welcomed by all as it seeks to address numerous issues with that of LGAs and Councils as number 3 on the list?
Thank you, Eemh! Let me take you to the second schedule of the 1999 constitution, two types of legislative power are categorized, namely the Exclusive Legislative List and the Concurrent Legislative List. It is interesting to note that in the Concurrent Legislative List no mention is made of local government – a situation that further undermines the third-tier status of LGs/Councils.
ALGON is closely studying and perusing the fourth schedule of the 1999 constitution, where the functions of local government are listed, which hitherto reveals that local government councils are effectively administrative units of state government.
For example, item 2(d) referring to the functions of local councils provides that: “The functions of a local government council in the government of a state as respects the following matters… and such other functions as may be conferred on local government councils by the House of Assembly of the state” indeed such provision grants state governments unfettered discretion to decide on what local governments within their state can or should do, or to usurp some of the specific local government functions set out in item 1 from a to k. While I am in Enugu as a duly elected local government Chairman with the cooperation of the State Governor His Excellency RT. Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi due to his respect for law and order and liberal disposition, it is not the consensus experience across the states and LGAs and such is affecting the united growth of the rural area and its people’s participation in governance at that level.
No doubt a workable degree of financial autonomy recognized by the constitution is critical for the Councils now, for instance in some state, there has been a good measure of independence and that is why you see some states are developing better than others due to the support they enjoy by their Governors, how will this Zonal Hearing or the Constitution address such, Hon Jega?
However, if the new constitution contemplates the creation of the contentious Local Governments Disparity in tenure, the express sacking of democratically elected LG Chairmen and Councils without the legal teeth, Laws of the local governments and roles of state assemblies, Local Government Councilors, and appropriation/oversight, Account outside the state (SJLGA), then a true third-tier status of local governments will be obvious and that is why the call for replacing it with a new regime of fiscal federalism where local government councils would be accountable for funds directly allocated to them is gaining the support of the constituents in almost all the states.
Nevertheless, my state is a clear example of non-interference and has been very consistent with the support to the Governor the State Assembly and Councilors.
But beyond waiting for the Constitution, how has your Association been tackling the imbalance and lack of uniformed tenure, for instance, you see in some states having just I year, some six months others two years as the case may be, does this strengthen the local administration as programmes and policy direction appear to be inconsistent, Hon Onah?
Yes, we are lobbying the NGF, we are doing some awareness campaign through some CSOs and NGOs who has continued to show interest in the affairs of the Councils, There is also a strong union of the former elected local government Chairmen in Nigeria, they are always meeting, there are several states in Nigeria where issues like that have been in the court some have yielded positive results like the Supreme Court judgment on the Sacking of Elected Chairmen in kastina State, they have won the case and will get their full compensation, Oyo state had a similar case and the same day with Katsina a pronouncement by the Supreme court was in their favour and this is returning hope on the Councils.
Other outstanding like in Imo, and so on are being awaited so we are happy that justice is being served. Therefore we are making progress and another thing we are recommending is having a seamless local government tenure or regimes across the federation.
We believe such measure will bring about steady development that has been lacking in the communities, you know government is a continuum, I am sure it will definitely represent a necessary change as it will lead to a single system of local government widely respected compared to what we have in the Municipals and Counties abroad.
Will that also apply in the financial system, at least to ring-fence the local governments and Councils accruals/revenue to protect local government revenue from state encroachment your thought Hon. Ikpokpo?
I can tell you that many times the local governments and councils are no doubt incapacitated financially, not essentially due to interference but the size of responsibility it is confronted with in the 4th schedule to the 1999 constitution as amended, hence the need for amendment.
Take for instance, in my state Delta, the number of Primary school teachers, professional Medical practitioners, and other workers’ salaries alone are amazing let alone other salaries, pensions, leave allowances, as well as other capital and recurrent projects. Don’t forget that even with the little hope of potential sources of internally generated revenue, it can still not provide the desired fiscal security.
What if the local government’s incomes from rates, including property rates, education rates, and street lighting; taxes such as community, flat rate, and poll tax; and fines and fees, including court fines and fees, motor park fees, forest fees, public advertisement fees, market fees, regulated premises fees, birth registrations are all facing one challenge or the other from the states authorities either conflict of interest or usurpation of rights to function seamlessly.
Is your Association fan of restructuring Hon Jega?
LG’s and Councils are fundamental to the democratization process, as it remains the most potent instrument to mobilize people for local participation and to spread democratic values.
For instance, given the status of Nigeria as the largest democracy in Africa and the third-largest in the world, a constitutional framework that guarantees the powers and function of local government is essential to give voice to the far-flung parts of the nation be you in Idah, Akure, Bariga, Ogbomosho, Afikpo, Mangala, Fufore, Funtua, Dunukofia, Warri, Katsina-Ala, Dan Musa, Gwagwalada, Keffi or anywhere.
Everyone has endorsed that there are some constitutional fault lines that affect local government in Nigeria; ostensibly, such makes the constitution looks anti-democratic, I am a fan of truth and democratic values.
We need whatever can be done to achieve the strengthening of the local governments and Councils in Nigeria for maximum development. The desirability of local government administration in Nigeria has had considerable impetus since the return to democracy in 1999 no doubt so if it is through the restructuring that such will come it is a welcome development, Beyond Party leanings both the APC and PDP at several points accepted the need for restructuring.
The present government has promised to restructure, we are waiting but will say in my opinion that any political restructuring which may have the intent and purpose to downgrade local government administration may be resisted by the people because the people are wiser now and conscious of what is happening at their local governments and Councils. They now know the truth about how government works and want to be part and parcel of what is going on. It’s no longer business as usual. The Zonal Public Hearing, for instance, will help in providing a framework that will guide state actors especially the National and States assembly to make informed recommendations in the interests of democratic federalism through the anticipated new constitution.
Again, the principles of democratic inclusiveness and grassroots participation which will ensure the survival of local government are accepted and popular, like the state police, harmony in the tenure of the local governments as seen in states. Revenue unbundling from states, defining of functions and elections. Are you convinced that this Indeed will have a direct impact on local governments and Councils Hon Maifata?
ALGON is happy that the hearing will provide ample opportunity for participants to discuss and conclude on a wide range of political and constitutional issues affecting LGA/Councils, encouraged by the spirit of democracy and freedom of expression made possible by our 21 continuous years of democratic rule.
We are looking at favorable consideration on outcry for scrapping the SJLGA as I said earlier and replacing this with a state Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Since state houses of assembly make local government laws, the hearing should also ensure that a horizontal treatment between the state parliaments, let there be punitive measure should any of us attempt to exploit this power wrongly or use it to extract financial rewards.
If Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has unambiguously invested powers by pronouncing that a democratically elected system under that section is guaranteed why then all the breaches, infractions, and agitation for further powers at the grassroots even with the Constitution amendment, Hon Okpokpo?
Well, I am happy for the resolve of the Senate Committee led by Ovie Omo-Agege to listen to the people because the Constitution is for the people “we” and we need a new chapter that should make provisions for the organs, functions, and objectives of the Local Governments and Councils, for instance, such as the capacity to ensure the legislative and executive powers and functions of local government councils. Proper legislation, oversight, such that will automatically override the current ambiguous provision in Section 7, which gives some state governments the leeway to manipulate local governments, usurp their statutory functions and plunder their resources. Honestly, today the local units of governance which formed the nucleus of present Nigeria have not only been adequately positioned to its responsibilities as seen in the constitution.
The Local Government Service Commission should be strengthened and accorded constitutional recognition. We need a reversal in the FAAC allocation percentage what the Federal government is getting 52.68 should go to the local governments and states should retain its 26.72 while the 20.60 is taken by the federal government, it true then that we will mean business for our future development. What we are saying is not just the percentage or formula but to have reasonable funds that will address the existential challenges, unemployment, health needs, infrastructure, school infrastructures, roads, rural development, and so on.
Hon Onah, Is there truly any faction in ALGON, you did introduce yourself as the National Publicity Secretary?
My brother you are a Journalist, you have cut your teeth professionally, you are at latitude to professionally do your job, the thrust of investigative journalism call for an unveiling of matters that are shrouded in secrecy or by those in the position of authority. My brother I am your colleague, it is high time we speak truth to power and call a spade a spade. Any platform giving such visibility is an enemy of the press because the reporter has only succeeded in misleading the public without doing his investigations properly.
The BOT which is the conscience of the association has jettisoned the distraction of one Man and his nonexistent claim. There is no truth behind that, you are in our Office here at #10 Zambezi Street Maitama WAEC building, ànd we has one ALGON, one Constitution, recently strengthened by the General Assembly that was held in March 24th this year, and you have seen our staff here, our 21st Century office, functional and verifiable Website, the Director-General is Hajia Binta Adamu Bello a retired Federal Permanent Secretary. ALGON has for the umpteenth times disclosed to the public through the BOT that one Hon Maje is the IMC Chairmen, such is fictitious, preposterous, distractionary, and sponsored, just because some hitherto comfort zones that held ALGON at their apron-strings with all manner of transactional deals are no more allowed to further destroy ALGON, this is the crux of the matter, ALGON currently enjoys the loyalty and support of the NEC, the BOT, the Management, and staff.
This is why we are not relenting in giving the Hon Alabi Kolade David, leadership as the National President all the due solidarity. Unfortunately, Maje is not a NEC member of the Association, he is not the State Chairman of his state in Niger. This is where he has exhibited disrespect to the Constitution, and the concept of ignorance by staying with his phantom claim and falsehood. You can further do the needful by verifying the unequivocal truth, who is the Niger ALGON Chairman.
He is just going about deceiving the press and trying to destroy ALGON but we will not allow that henceforth.
In the light of the complex tasks of local governance and inclusive participation, there is the need for the fundamental development of local leadership skills, which will enable local politicians to achieve national relevance, in doing so, they will equally entrench developments, why hasn’t this been so for years, Hon Ikpokpo?
By and large, it may not have been the exact reflection on the situation but I can tell you that some states are doing very well especially in states where democratically elected Chairmen are found. This is why we are advocating for strengthening local participation in governance through elections.
The current National Executive Council (NEC) of ALGON with the support of the National President of ALGON, Hon Alabi Kolade David has continued to champion this course with fantastic programmes like the just ended ALGON Retreat focusing on the 5-year framework for development, ALGON has reached out to Morocco for development modules of the Moroccan Agriculture and rural infrastructural architecture, ALGON under Alabi has saved ALGON of its only pride (ALGON HOUSE in Maitama Abuja) from litigants who were bent in confiscating the building through all manner of phantom claims and Alabi with the support of the NEC, the BOT has said no to this.
ALGON just had its 2nd General Assembly since its inception in 1999, a feat that was like rocket science was achieved to strengthen the association and ingrain confidence and public trust, a lot is changing, we now have a 21st office century environment with a click of a button on the internet that gives you every information about ALGON.
The BOT is solidly behind ALGON, ALGON has neutralized the transactional mindset of the public which has rubbed its main focus and objectives which are contained in its Constitution (2, i-ix). We now hold the regular meeting even during the heat of pandemic we went virtual using Webinar and Zoom, ALGON under Hon Alabi has achieved an unrivaled domestic peace with the support of all the 36 state Reps and FCT as well as ensure confidence-building with the Nigeria Governors Forum, to mention but a few as I can go on and on and on, it has been a great deal of leadership and everybody is happy.
We have rebranded and the support across the states through the state Governors have been quite encouraging even in their compliance to the popular call for regular elections, we are seeing at the moment a new ALGON, I can authoritatively report to you that over 30 states are running a democratically elected system, today with Kaduna State holding election thereby making it 31 with Ogun and Cross River joining soon, we are still appealing for just a few other states like Katsina, Sokoto, Anambra, Imo to follow suit.
ALGON is at the heart of the people and we are promoting accountability and trust and that is why many state governors are no longer delaying in ensuring unbroken democratic to the democratic election, Nasarawa is coming soon, Kogi, Delta, Rivers state just had its own and more so it is becoming democratically interesting at that Tier of Government under Alabi.
Hon Maifata What is your advise to Nigerians over the security situation?
I can first of all on behalf of ALGON condole thousands of families that have lost their beloved ones from all manner of insecurity, Herdsmen, Cattle rustling, Banditry, Kidnapping, Killings of various degrees. Having said that, let me say that the Nigeria police, the Army and the entire security Agencies have the support of ALGON, unfortunately they have also become soft targets but I sure such will end giving their promises to the Nigerian people. We have always supported the security outfits especially the Nigerian Police Force, like when we did donated PRADO Jeeps, Medical equipment wears and so on.
All of us come from a local government and including the so-called bandits and criminals. ALGON needs the inclusion of the Council Chairmen in the security architecture because as grassroots people we know every nooks and crannies of the communities and we are always in touch with our local security outfits, the vigilantes, the Chiefs, imams, Igwe’s, Emirs, Obas, Amanyabo’s, and so on, we have town unions, market women groups, cooperatives, and other faith-based groups, ALGON look up to an end of insecurity using strong negotiation in the Zonal Public Hearing especially to address the issue of state Police and so on, insha-Allahu all will be to our favour for the betterment of the people.