Editor’s Diary: The Agitation for LG Autonomy in Nigeria and Ogundoyin’s Misinterpreted Comments

Nigeria is a country known for its diverse cultural heritage and complex political landscape with its fair share of challenges in governance, particularly at the grassroots level. One of the contentious issues that have stirred arguments and agitations in recent times is the heightened call for local government financial autonomy.

Local government autonomy actually refers to the ability of local government councils to function independently without undue interference from state or federal governments. 

In Nigeria, the local government system is constitutionally recognized as the third tier of government, with responsibilities ranging from primary education, healthcare, infrastructure development, market development, and grassroots governance generally.

Recently, the federal government filed a suit at the Supreme Court against the 36 state governments, seeking the enforcement of full autonomy of the local governments in Nigeria. There are 774 local government areas in the country. However, efficient governance at the the level of the third tier of government has been hampered by the overbearing influence of state governors.

Funds meant for local governments in the Federation Account are paid monthly to them through their respective state governments. But against expectations, the governors of the states retain the funds in joint accounts in the respective states and only release to the local governments what they wish. 

The local governments in each state have no say in the use of the funds in the joint accounts controlled by the respective state governors. This assertion may not be far from the truth as Nigerian governors have over the years conducted themselves in their approach to the symbiotic relationship between the state and local governments such that is similar to a ‘superior and its appendage’. 

Many local government councils are often seen as mere appendages of state governments, lacking the full autonomy to effectively serve their communities. Secondly, proponents of local government autonomy argue that decentralizing power and resources to the grassroots level will enhance democratic governance and trigger rapid development. 

In the suit instituted against the 36 state governors, the federal government urged the court to issue an order prohibiting state governors from embarking on unilateral, arbitrary and unlawful dissolution of democratically elected local government leaders (executive chairmen and councilors).

The plaintiff also prayed the Supreme Court to make an order permitting the funds standing in the credits of local governments to be directly channelled to them from the Federation Account in line with the provisions of the Constitution as against the alleged unlawful joint accounts created by governors.

Amidst the agitation, a statement credited to the Chairman, Nigeria Conference of Speakers of state legislature and Speaker of Oyo state House of Assembly, Hon. Adebo Ogundoyin, sparked controversy and was widely misinterpreted leading to criticism on social media. 

Ogundoyin, was last week quoted to have said the various states of the federation may not allow local government to have administrative and financial autonomy because of the fear that the federal government may use the local government against them.

According to reports, Ogundoyin, who recently spoke at a national discourse on Nigeria’s security challenges and good governance at the local government levels organised by the House of Representatives said granting financial autonomy to the level government will engender massive corruption at the local level.

The lawmaker argued that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and other anti-graft agencies will not have the required manpower and financial resources to investigate corruption at the local level. In addition, he stated that the federal government may become too powerful amidst call for devolution of power since according to him “he who pays the Piper dictates the tune.”

Among other things Ogundoyin was quoted to have said were that inadequate distribution of resource allocation since there are urbanized and rural local government areas, heavy corruption at the grassroots, usurpation of power by the center, LGs becoming answerable to the federal government, institutions such as the National Assembly, and antigraft agencies under federal control such that it could become a political tool to cause political instability in a state where a particular government is perceived to be political enemy among others. 

As evident in most cases of bandwagon effect in public discourse or matters of public interest, many have refused to critical assimilate the depth of Ogundoyin’s message as far as it was contrary to the expected express declaration of support for full autonomy for local governments and have instead thrown the messenger to the cross for crucifixion.

Considering the role played so far as the speaker of Oyo State Assembly in the Constitution amendment process of LG Laws since its commencement viz a viz his recent comment on full local government autonomy, it should be deduced that Ogundoyin’s expression was wrongly received due to the way it was conveyed and subsequently misinterpreted by his critics. 

First of all, most if not all Nigerians know that full autonomy for the local government is a phase in our democratic development process as a nation that has come to stay at this time. But we must be able to build this phase on a healthy foundation or we would already be moving from frying pan to fire in our quest for entrenched democratic practice as the grassroots. 

Some salient questions begging for answers before the full autonomy is granted to the LG include:

1. Has the relevant laws in the Nigerian Constitution being the grand norm been amended to birth commensurate democratic institutions and organs of government such as a functional legislative parliament, judicial system, and others that would properly create room for effective checks and balances in the administration of local government in Nigeria? 

2. Has the Nigerian Constitution been amended to remove the power of supervision wielded by the state assembly on local government and transfer same to the Local government legislative parliament in order to clearly define roles, power and authority of each arm of government? 

3. Would elections into elective local government offices henceforth be conducted by the federal government through INEC, by the state government through SIEC (State Independent Electoral Commission) or a new independent body would be created for such electoral function? 

4. Has relevant laws of local government legislative institution been strengthened in the grand norm (the Nigerian Constitution) such that a local government chairman and all of its administrative units are made answerable to the people through the local government legislature without having to merely make recommendations for state assembly for final decision? 

5. If Nigeria was ready to grant full autonomy to the local government without building the right legal framework and removing state governors’ interference with local government affairs because of the history of misuse of power and same is now being transfered to the federal government that is even farther from the people amidst agitation for decentralization of power from the center, would that amount to progress in our democratic evolution or a case of ‘one step forward and hundred backwards? 

We must acknowledge the fact that if the agitation for full autonomy which primarily hings on local government funds was genuine for grassroots development and not for unrestricted access to the ‘cake’ by local government chairmen, then approach to addressing this challenge must be holistic and go beyond just attempting to remove governors interference from local government funds, this is simple logic. 

And these among other concerns are perhaps what bothered Ogundoyin in his submission which led to the ongoing arguments and criticism on social media. We must in our quest for solutions see beyond sentiment into the realm of deeply rooted logical reasoning to avoid creating a bigger problem while trying to solve a smaller one. 

As Nigeria continues to grapple with the question of full local government autonomy, it is essential to foster constructive dialogue and seek sustainable solutions that prioritize grassroots development in terms of good governance as well as the welfare of the people. 

Collaboration between all tiers of government is paramount, and efforts should be made to clarify misconceptions and promote understanding among all. While the issue appeared a little complex and multifaceted due to inadequate laws for this new phase, it is imperative for stakeholders to engage in meaningful dialogue and work towards solutions that uphold the principles of democracy, transparency, and accountability.

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