Hon. Muftau Adewale Egberongbe, Member House Of Representative, Apapa Federal Constituency presentation at the seminar organized by LG NEW ACADEMY, February 2020.
TOWARDS EFFECTIVE GOVERNANCE AND DEVELOPMENT: THE ROLE OF GRASSROOT LEGISLATURE
The concepts of development and good governance have come to occupy a more “prominent position in the discourse of both national and international politics. The legislative arm is vital organ of government that can promote good governance and development. As a matter of fact, the need for effective performance of the legislative arm of government to foster good governance and development in a governmental system has, over the years, been one of the most frequently discussed issues in contemporary Nigeria. This paper generally examines the challenges and impediments faced in Nigeria by the grassroot legislature over the years, the paper discussed the role of grassroot legislature. The paper concludes with the prescriptions for better legislative political terrains and the steps to be taken to make the Legislature in Nigeria more relevant to the sustenance of the ingredients and values of development and good governance.
Keywords: development, governance, grassroot legislature, democracy, rule of law, transparency etc
Emerging trends point to good governance as a panacea towards accelerated development in economic, political and social sectors of nations. As such, nations striving to develop randomly must embrace good governance as a steppingstone. No doubt good governance and development are attained through shared efforts of all the institutions of the government mostly throught the uses of the compelling right of legislative arms in times of oversight in making salient laws that compels good governance and enhance developmennt for the political system. In Nigeria why both federal and state government enjoys total separations of power, the case for the local government pose a different face, as the grassroot legislature constitutionally is not in existence. There have been varying interpretations of the constitutional status of local government as the third tier of the federation. Although the 1976 reform of local government attempted to clarify this, it did not provide the legal framework to underpin any fundamental structuring. Similarly, the 1979 constitution and the current 1999 constitution failed to provide the necessary constitutional backing to operationalise the change. This lacuna created the opportunity for manipulation by both the federal and state governments. Section 7(1) of the 1999 constitution 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”. The constitution assumes that the law relating to local government creation would be made by the state houses of assembly. Thus the legal framework does not see local governments as a third tier of government, but merely recognises local government as an appendage of state government where the latter enjoys absolute discretion over the former.
The constitutional status of the federal and state governments is clear and unmistakable. Thus Chapter V, Part I (Sections 47–89) of the 1999 constitution makes extensive provision for the legislative arm of government at the federal level. Similarly, Part II (sections 90–129) of the same chapter makes provisions for legislative arms of government at the state level. Provisions are also made in respect of the executive powers and functions of the federal and state governments. These provisions automatically accord the federal and state governments the constitutional autonomy and legal framework required for their operations. No such provision exists for local governments, and it is for this reason that their constitutional guarantee of third-tier status should be treated with circumspection.
In the second schedule of the 1999 constitution, two types of legislative power are categorised, namely the Exclusive Legislative List and the Concurrent Legislative List. It is curious 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.
Moreover, a close perusal of the fourth schedule of the 1999 constitution, where the functions of local government are listed, 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 ”. This 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 (a)–(k). This indeed marks the onus of discuss, as the perimeter for scaling development emanate from the grassroots, which makes the grassroots government very fundamental, but the big question is can good governance be guaranteed and development attain in any government without the operational networking of all arms of the government.
3.0 CONCEPT OF GOOD GOVERNANCE
First and foremost its better we understand the concept of Good Governance and what Development entails before we delve into the subject matter. Good governance on the other hand means: the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). Governance can be used in several contexts such as corporate governance, international governance, national governance and local governance. Since governance is the process of decision making and the process by which decisions are implemented, an analysis of governance focuses on the formal and informal actors involved in decision-making and implementing the decisions made and the formal and informal structures that have been set in place to arrive at and implement the decision.
Government is one of the actors in governance. Other actors involved in governance vary depending on the level of government that is under discussion. In rural areas, for example, other actors may include influential land lords, associations of peasant farmers, cooperatives, NGOs, research institutes, religious leaders, finance institutions, political parties, the military etc.
All actors other than government and the military are grouped together as part of the “civil society.” In some countries in addition to the civil society, organized crime syndicates also influence decision-making, particularly in urban areas and at the national level. Similarly formal government structures are one means by which decisions are arrived at and implemented. At the national level, informal decision-making structures, such as “kitchen cabinets” or informal advisors may exist. In urban areas, organized crime syndicates such as the “land Mafia” may influence decision-making. In some rural areas locally powerful families may make or influence decision-making. Such, informal decision-making is often the result of corrupt practices or leads to corrupt practices.
To further illustrate the fundamentals of good governance, we shall itemise some elements or characteristics of good governance.
There are eight (8) major characteristics of good governance, which include; participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law.
Participation by both men and women is a key cornerstone of good governance. Participation could be either direct or through legitimate intermediate institutions or representatives. It is important to point out that representative democracy does not necessarily mean that the concerns of the most vulnerable in society would be taken into consideration in decision making. Participation needs to be informed and organized. This means freedom of association and expression on the one hand and an organized civil society on the other hand
ii) Rule of law
Good governance requires fair legal frameworks that are enforced impartially. It also requires full protection of human rights, particularly those of minorities. Impartial enforcement of laws requires an independent judiciary and an impartial and incorruptible police force.
Transparency means that decisions taken and their enforcement are done in a manner that follows rules and regulations. It also means that information is freely available and directly accessible to those who will be affected by such decisions and their enforcement. It also means that enough information is provided and that it is provided in easily understandable forms and media
Good governance requires that institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders within a reasonable timeframe.
v) Consensus oriented
There are several actors and as many view points in a given society. Good governance requires mediation of the different interests in society to reach a broad consensus in society on what is in the best interest of the whole community and how this can be achieved. It also requires a broad and long-term perspective on what is needed for sustainable human development and how to achieve the goals of such development. This can only result from an understanding of the historical, cultural and social contexts of a given society or community.
vi) Equity and inclusiveness A society’s well being depends on ensuring that all its members feel that they have a stake in it and do not feel excluded from the mainstream of society. This requires all groups, but particularly the most vulnerable, have opportunities to improve or maintain their well being.
vii) Effectiveness and efficiency
Good governance means that processes and institutions produce results that meet the needs of society while making the best use of resources at their disposal. The concept of efficiency in the context of good governance also covers the sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of the environment.
Accountability is a key requirement of good governance. Not only governmental institutions but also the private sector and civil society organizations must be accountable to the public and to their institutional stakeholders. Who is accountable to whom varies depending on whether decisions or actions taken are internal or external to an organization or institution. In general an organization or an institution is accountant’s to those who will be affected by its decisions or actions. Accountability cannot be enforced without transparency and the rule of law.
Development on the other hand entails “improvement in country’s economic and social conditions”. More specially, it refers to improvements in way of managing an area’s natural and human resources. In order to create wealth and improve people’s lives.
Dudley Seers while elaborating on the meaning of development suggests that while there can be value judgements on what is development and what is not, it should be a universally acceptable aim of development to make for conditions that lead to a realisation of the potentials of human personality.
BASIC INDICATORS OF DEVELOPMENT
There are many different measures used to assess the development gap, each one offering an alternate way of dividing up the world with regards to how developed it is. Here, we shall look at some of the most common indicators of development. The following points highlight the four key indicators of development.
variety of factors may contribute to differences in life expectancy, including:
According to World Bank figures, life expectancy at birth in developing countries over the past 40 years has increased by 20 years. However, these
increases were not evenly distributed. Indeed, in many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, life expectancy is falling due to the AIDS epidemic.
The percentage of those aged 15 and above who are able to read and write a simple statement on their everyday life.
More extensive definitions of literacy include those based on the International Adult Literacy Survey. This survey tests the ability to understand text, interpret documents and perform basic arithmetic.
GDP Per Capita
GDP per capita is the commonest indicator of material standards of living, and hence is included in the index of development. GDP per capita It is found by measuring Gross Domestic Product in a year, and dividing it by the population.
Evaluation Of The HDI
The HDI index is for a single country, and as such does not distinguish between different rates of development within a country, such as between urban and traditional rural communities.
Development is largely about freedom, but the index does not directly measures this. For example, access to the internet might be regarded by many as a freedom which improves the quality of people’s lives.
As with the narrow measure of living standards, GDP per capita, there is no indication of the distribution of income.
In addition, the HDI excludes many aspects of economic and social life that could be regarded as contributing to or constraining development, such as crime, corruption, poverty, deprivation, and negative externalities. GDP is calculated in terms of purchasing power parity, and the value can change.
UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND GRASSROOT LEGISLATURE
In conceptualizing Grassroot government, local government means government at the local level, or government at the grassroots. This implies that local government is the closest government to the people.
Local government is defined by the United Nations (1959) as a political subdivision of a nation which is constituted by law and has substantial control of local government affairs including the power to impose taxes. The governing body of such an entity is elected or otherwise locally selected.
In his own contribution to the definition of local government, Oyediran (1988:8) views the concept as: Government in which popular participation both in the choice of decision-makers and in the decision-making process is conducted by the local bodies, which while recognizing the supremacy of the central government, is able and willing to accept responsibility for its decisions.According to the Federal Government Guidelines for Local Government Reform (1976), local government is: Government at local level, exercised through representative councils, established by law, to exercise specific powers within defined area. These powers should give the council substantial control over local affairs as well as the staff and institutional and financial services and to determine and implement projects so as to compliment the activities of the state and federal government in their areas and to ensure, through devolution of functions to these councils, the active participation of the people and their traditional institutions, that local initiative and response to local needs are maximized.Also according to Akpan (1984:28) from the above definitions, one can conveniently say that the term “Local government” is a theoretical abstraction which refers to sovereignty. Implicit in this statement is the fact that local government bodies are created and derive their powers from the state or central government. Local government bodies have corporate legal entity (person) subject only to limitations provided in the law establishing it or as may be made by the State House of Assembly and can sue and be sued in its name, it could hold property and dispose same as the law permits, can source, borrow and internally generate money to meet its financial obligations.(section 37 of Company and Allied Matters Act 2004). Additionally and importantly too, representatives at the local council at all times are to be popularly elected in obedience to section 7 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
FUNCTIONS OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
The functions of Local Governments are detailed in the Nigerian Constitution and include:
• Economic recommendations to the State;
• Collection of taxes and fees;
• Establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm;
• Licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts;
• Establishment, maintenance and regulation of markets, motor parks and public conveniences;
• Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, drains and other public highways, parks, and open spaces;
• Naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses;
• Provision and maintenance of public transportation and refuse disposal;
• Registration of births, deaths and marriages;
• Assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State; and,
• Control and regulation of out-door advertising, movement and keeping of pets of all descriptions, shops and kiosks, restaurants and other places for sale of food to the public, and laundries.
THE GRASSROOT LEGISLATURE
Grassroots legislature otherwise known as the local council, are the law making arm of the local government. A Local Government Councillor is a member of the Local Government Council who participates in the decision-making of the Council and represents the local community in that decision making. He also contributes to the strategic direction of the Council through the development and review of key strategic documents of the Council, including the Council Plan.
The Councillor is obliged to consider the diversity of interests and needs of the local community and observe principles of good governance and act with integrity. In addition, the Councillor participates in the responsible allocation of resources of Council through the annual budget and facilitates effective communication between the Council and the community
The council is the main representative organ of local government. A council is an essential part of every unit of local representative government. The role of the council as a representative body varies with the evolution and the mechanics of the processes of local government in each country. The degree to which a local unit has a representative government depends largely on two factors. The one factor is the extent to which the membership of a council represents and is answerable to the public, and the other factor is the extent to which the council has the authority and power to define local policy objectives and to have these objectives implemented (Humes & Martin, 1969: 80-81 ). A unit of local representative government has one or more representative organs with some authority to govern. Almost invariably one of these organs is the council, which offers the opportunity to discuss and give advice on local issues, but also has the responsibility for making decisions authorizing or directing the local staff to perform tasks. The council makes decisions by such acts as passing the budget, enacting ordinances and by-laws and making or approving appointments (Humes & Martin, 1969:82). The council approves and in many cases amends proposals submitted to it, and generally may take the initiative in making proposals. A council with decisive authority may take decisions regarding matters of overall policy objectives or of relatively more minor matters concerning the routine co-ordination of staff (Humes & Martin, 1969: 82). The number of members of local councils varies, in general, with the population of the unit of local government. The size of councils, however, is also closely interrelated to their role in local government structures. The largeness or the smallness of the council affects its representative character, its effectiveness and the nature of its deliberations (Humes & Martin, 1969: 86).
THE ROLES OF GRASSROOTS LEGISLATURE IN PROMOTING GOOD GOVERNANCE AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
However, being a councillor is hard work. Every day you will be expected to balance the needs of your local area, your residents and voters, community groups, local businesses, your political party and the council. All will make legitimate demands on your time on top of your personal commitments to family, friends and workplace.
As a councillor you will have many different roles to balance. As the local elected representative you will engage with residents and groups on a wide range of different issues and take on an important community leadership role. At the council you will contribute to the development of policies and strategies, including budget setting, and you may be involved in scrutinising council decisions or taking decisions on planning or licensing applications. The key roles of local legislature are highlighted below:
REPRESENTING YOUR LOCAL AREA
A councillor’s primary role is to represent their ward or division and the people who live in it. Councillors provide a bridge between the community and the council. As well as being an advocate for your local residents and signposting them to the right people at the council, you will need to keep them informed about the issues that affect them. In order to understand and represent local views and priorities, you need to build strong relationships and encourage local people to make their views known and engage with you and the council. Good communication and engagement is central to being an effective councillor.
As a local councillor, your residents will expect you to:
• respond to their queries and investigate their concerns (casework)
• communicate council decisions that affect them
• know your patch and be aware of any problems
• know and work with representatives of local organisations, interest groups and businesses
• represent their views at council meetings
• lead local campaigns on their behalf.
Community leadership is at the heart of modern local government. Councils work in partnership with local communities and organisations – including the public, voluntary, community and private sectors – to develop a vision for their local area, working collaboratively to improve services and quality of life for citizens. Councillors have a lead role in this process.
DEVELOPING COUNCIL POLICY
Councils need clear strategies and policies to enable them to achieve their vision for the area, make the best use of resources and deliver services that meet the needs of local communities. As a local councillor you will contribute to the development of these policies and strategies, bringing the views and priorities of your local area to the debate. How you do this will depend on the committees and forums you are appointed to. However, the council’s policy framework must be signed off by full council, on which every councillor sits.
PLANNING AND REGULATION
Councils are not just service providers, they also act as regulators. As a councillor you may be appointed to sit on the planning and regulatory committee, considering issues such as planning applications and licenses for pubs and restaurants and ensuring that businesses comply with the law. In these roles, councillors are required to act independently and are not subject to the group/party whip. Most councils arrange special training for this.
CODE OF CONDUCT AND STANDARDS
As a councillor you will be required to adhere to your council’s agreed code of conduct for elected members. Each council adopts its own code, but it must be based on the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s seven principles of public life. These were developed by the Nolan Committee, which looked at how to improve ethical standards in public life, and are often referred to as the Nolan principles.
These principles apply to anyone who works as a public office-holder. This includes all those elected or appointed to public office, nationally and locally, and everyone appointed to work in the civil service, local government, the police, courts and probation services, non-departmental public bodies and in the health, education and social care sectors. All public office-holders are both servants of the public and stewards of public resources. The principles also apply to everyone in other sectors delivering public services.
All standards matters are the responsibility of individual councils, which are required to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by councillors. You must register any disclosable pecuniary interests for yourself, your spouse or a partner you live with, within 28 days of taking up office. It is a criminal offence if you fail, without reasonable excuse, to declare or register interests to the monitoring officer.
Other roles of Local Government legislature are:
i. Law making: the local council makes bye laws for the grassroots government.
ii. Brings the people into government: Considering the fact that the composition of local council are from lowest corridor of the masses, this therefore create room for political participation of the people, through their local council in deciding their own personal affairs.
iii. The local council helps in curtailing the arbitrariness of the Executive council of the local government.
iv. They rectify appointment made by the Executive chairman
NIGERIA GRASSROOT LEGISLATURE AND THE BASIC IMPEDIMENTS
i. Unnecessary Shuffling of Legislative Members:
ii) Lack Of Proper Lawmaking Processes
iii. Lack or Absence of Town Hall Meetings
iv) Lack Of Capacity And Experience
v) Dependent Nature Of The Grassroot Legislature
i) Unnecessary Shuffling of Legislative Members: One of the most popular means used in distabilising local government legislative arm is by removing those that stand against the interest of the ruling class. With every election comes there is probability of changes in power.
In Nigeria, If the current leader is unable to retain power then the it is certain that the new ruler will bring in his own cartel men will remove anyone who he sees as not been on his side regardless of whether he is competent or not.
ii. Lack of Proper Law Making Processes: So many local government councilors don’t know the processes of law making. In a situation whereby When the ruler is the one who decides the law to be made, when members of the legislature are shuffled anyhow like pack of cards and when inexperienced and incapable individuals are not the ones making the law then there is bound to be error in the law making process.
iii) Lack or Absence of Town Hall Meetings: Most people don’t know the councillor representing their ward due to their unavailability. The councilors don’t use to call for town hall meetings that will make them hear directly from the area they are representing. I wonder how the government intends to manifest or express the will of the individuals they govern when they don’t hear from the individuals directly.
iv) Lack Of Capacity And Experience: Some Local Government Councillors are not qualified for the positions they occupy. Most of them get into these positions either by appointment or blessings of political leaders, they sees it as reward for their loyalty and service. They don’t know what it takes to run their offices and have little or no communication with their governing councils and spend most of their time in their respective State capitals as opposed to their base of operation.
v) Dependent Nature of the Grassroot Legislature: The arms of government are supposed to work independently to ensure checks and balances but that is not the case especially at the local level the legislature is so dependent on the executive government that it cannot take a stand of certain matters else it faces the exasperation of the executive arm.
MEASURES THAT CAN BE USED TO TACKLE THE BASIC GRASSROOT LEGISLATIVE CHALLENGES IN ENHANCING GOOD GOVERNANCE AND DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA.
There are numerous measures that can be taken to critically ensure that the legislative arm of government at the grassroot level meaningfully contribute to the the development of their local government, its not gainsaying that the councillors are the most closest set of public servant. They are close to the people, the measures that need to be taken are highlighted bellow:
i) Independent Legislature: The grassroot legislature need to be independent so that they will contribute meaningfully to their community affairs, when the local government legislative arm depend on the other arm, they will not efficiently perform. The government should allow the legislature function independently. There is urgent need to ensure that the other arms of government especially the executive arm does not exert it influence on the legislative arm at the local level.
ii) Organizing Town Hall Meetings: The grassroot legislature should endeavor to hear the opinion of those it governs if it is to express their will in term of law making. Town hall meetings shouldn’t just be organized at the local level but also at the state level too. Lagos State House Of Assembly under the leadership of Rt Hon Mudashiru Obasa have already taken a bold step by conducting town hall meetings in all the State Assembly constituency across the state. I implored other States to follow suits, it will enhance and influence our laws so that it will be a people centered one.
iii) Executive Influence: One of the major factor that has made the legislative arm of government at the grassroot level ineffective is executive interference, the executive interfere in almost all the affairs of the legislative arm, even when it comes to sharing of power among the members. Executive arm of government should stop making laws to suit their political ambitions. Laws which would benefit the lives of those they are governing should be implemented. The legislative arm of government at the grassroot level should be encouraged to always do the needful not to upturn or influence the bye laws made by the grassroot legislature.
iv) Competent Legislative Members: Mostly all the time you find out that people sees the grassroot legislature as a dumping ground for unqualified and unskilled individuals who are not worthy to be a lawmaker. They sees the position as reward to party and political allies. Competent hands and only competent hands should be appointed to make laws from the country. Legislative members shouldn’t be elected based on they are or where they are from but what they have done and what they can do.
v) Disciplinary Actions Against Non Compliance Members: There should be serious and severe penalties attached to offences. If the legislative government is to deter legislators from defaulting then it need to attach penalties more than the benefits for legislators who engage in controversial doings.
Things like fighting, scaling of the fence and so on shouldn’t go unpunished because I don’t see the sense in setting down rules when the individual that is setting them doesn’t act in a civil manner. The legislators at the local level need to setup up a hood precedence so that the people the are governing will respect them because of their composure, leaders need to lead by example.
vi. Strengthening of local government service commission: The Local Government Service Commission should be strengthened and accorded constitutional recognition. Given the commission’s laudable objectives, such strengthening would support the human resource and staffing development of local governments in Nigeria.
vii. There should be minimim standard qualification to seek elective position at local level: Minimum qualifications for eligibility to seek election as a local government chairperson or council member should be reviewed. In the light of the complex tasks of local governance and inclusive participation, the authors recommend that in order to stand as a local councillor, candidates should have a National Diploma or above, and at least 15 years of relevant experience. This recommendation is seen as fundamental to developing local leadership skills, which will enable local politicians to achieve national relevance.
This paper has dealt with the discourse of the problems, challenges and, impediments to the legislature and legislators at the grassroot level in Nigeria using the analytical examination of the concepts of development and governance as the point of departure. In the course of the analysis the concepts of development, good governance and its features were examined. The paper examined the self-inflicted impediments and problems, particularly various scandals, corruptions and avoidable crises foisted on Nigeria and Nigerians by the Legislatures and legislators particularly at the grassroot level, not without the relevant citation of the positive contributions of the institution to the local landscape. Some panaceas which can rescue the grassroot legislature from these problems holding her by the jugular have been vehemently recommended with the conclusion that the legislative arm at local government level can easily be used as an institution that will easily promote good goverance and development if these
recommendations are implemented.
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