_”The key to resolving the problems of African administration lay in the development of an efficient and democratic system of local government.”_ *Lord Creech-Jones, 1947.*
Historically speaking, what is known as local government administration today dated back to the colonial administration. As at then, the local system of administration was vested in the hands of Native Authority System. The system was made up of traditional chiefs and rulers. However, it was fraught with lack of democratic system and limited the rights of indigenous people to have their voices heard. It was more or less an imposition kind of system on the people with British officials performing the supervisory roles. The local people couldn’t be elected. It was purely a native authority !
The people were not comfortable with the above and consequently, the system had to be restructured. Since then, local government administration has gone through various phases of restructuring and the latest was the full financial autonomy to the third tier by His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari.
For the sake of knowledge, local government is the third tier of government of the federating entity called Nigeria. As a Federal System of government, each federating unit is expected to form a government with functions, powers, rights and limitations clearly spelt out in the constitution. As a Federal System, Nigeria has one central government, 36 states and the Federal Territory and 774 local governments. Each tier has its rights and limitations spelt out. However, each tier has the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary arms and on paper, each is expected to operate autonomously without influence from another tier except where otherwise clearly stipulated in the constitution.
That said, before the directive of the President granting full financial autonomy to the local government, the local government chairmen had always been tied to the governors’ apron strings. They operate, not according to the dictates of the constitution but according to the whims and caprices of the state governors. Ordinarily, there is nothing wrong in this if the intentions were genuine and if done according to the law of the land. However, this absolutely fails the litmus test of a Federal structure where each tier is a government on its own. Governors are not expected to serve as watchdogs where we have legislative arms designed to perform oversight functions. One executive officer is not mandated to checkmate another ‘ inferior ‘ executive officer. It’s a taboo in a Federal structure.
Now to the business of the day. Since the President has issued the directive and local government chairmen are now directly credited with their monthly allocations, what happens to those funds ? Would the autonomy reflect the expected governance at the local level ? What happens to the local system accounting and financial system in operation ? Would it remain the same or be upgraded ? Does the legislative arm of each local government have enough balls to interrogate and check the operations of the executive arm presided over by the chairman ?
Let’s be blunt with ourselves. Granting of financial autonomy is not as important as granting of political autonomy. That’s the real autonomy. Currently , the chairmen do not have the political autonomy and it is doubtful if granting financial autonomy would have any effects without full political autonomy.
As we speak, the councillors that are expected to checkmate the excesses of chairmen do not have the courage to do that. They can’t impeach a chairman even if they have that right granted to them. They are not politically autonomous. Your political career ends the day you dare move such a motion. Now, the councillors that are supposed to checkmate the chairmen can’t perform their oversight functions. So, what’s the relevance of the financial autonomy ?
There is a particular state in Southeast of Nigeria where the state governor is the determinant of who becomes the chairman of which local government. Since that still exists, do you think the chairmen have the rights to determine how to spend their allocations without directives or inputs from the governor ? Where then is the financial autonomy ?
To minimise the above, the Federal government should redesign the system of monitoring the local government allocations . The system should be upgraded from its current state of manual operation to electronic. There should be a centralised database for all the local governments with each local government having its unique identity number in the database system.
Each local government should be connected to its unique identity such that if local governments A, B and C spent amount of X, Y and Z, it would instantly be reflected in the database and the balances so reflected.
Now, this has many advantages. Firstly, auditing will be made easy since every money retired in the local government is instantly reflected. It would reduce financial misappropriation to the barrest minimum. The executive chairmen can now have more fund for developmental projects since financial wastages are drastically reduced.
We need to put efficient system in place as opined by Lord Creech – Jones. People at the local level deserve to enjoy the governance at that level. A robust system needs to be put in place. Political autonomy should be given to the local government administration. The chairmen were elected by the people the way the presidents and governors were elected. The sovereignty of the presidents originate from the people and so does that of the chairmen. So, the chairmen should enjoy full financial and political autonomy. Legislative arm of local governments should also be allowed to perform their functions without fear or favour.
In conclusion, if we fail to do look into the above,then, it is not yet uhuru as the current system in operation would only fuel more corruption at that level, especially with those chairmen that do not have the people at heart. Political autonomy should serve as a back – up for the financial autonomy. This is where the real autonomy lies.