Opinion

Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi :Our Failing Which Prepared Governors To Fight Local Councils’ Autonomy

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Let me begin by letting you know that what you are about to read isn’t what I planned to present you today. Although, the topic I had in mind to write on was still informed by the National Assembly’s proposed amendment to the constitution which called for the granting of financial
and administrative autonomy to the nation’s third tier of government, the perspective would have indeed been remarkably different. But something happened along the way as you shall soon find out.

Like most Nigerians, I had thought that the said proposal was fait accompli for the highly anticipated independence for our heavily abused local councils. We had all reasoned that its autonomy was cocksure to take effect in no time. In fact, it was the euphoria and excitement of
most Nigerians about the matter that led me into joining them in the assumption, yet, charging them to begin learning how to keep a watchful eye on council chairmen and their counselors. I felt that since local governments are on their way to having autonomy, the least we as Nigerians should do is to begin getting ready to effectively monitor them like we do to the federal government.

Seeing how sections of the media could not hide their bias for local governments being granted autonomy, I started putting facts together that would help me draw the attention of all who care to listen to the given that the proposed amendment will expose local councils to so much resources and influence, hence the need to hold those overseeing that level of government accountable. Ergo, the need for us not to continue turning a blind eye to the now customary inactivity and nothingness we get from grass-root administrators. Earnestly speaking, this was the direction the essay you are reading now would have taken.

But that was not to be as we now have to pay dearly for conveniently forgetting the powerful force that would constitute a stumbling block to the beautiful legislation. And the obstacle wasted no time in reminding us that it is very much around waiting for our object of joy to get to its vicinity. It bears stating this object of joy plainly. It is basically an amendment to the constitution carried out by members of our National Assembly that would make our grand norm to clearly set out the provisions for funding, tenure, elections powers and responsibilities of
local governments in the country and remove them from the mercy of state governments.

As beautiful a legislation many agree this to be, those to be affected by it were prompt in letting us know that that stumbling block they had always been hasn’t suddenly changed to become a stepping stone. These very powerful personalities stopped the lullaby even before the baby could fall asleep. If you are still wondering the set of people being referred to here, then should you be told that it is none other than our governors! They are the Ceazers who wasted no time in seizing our fit of euphoria about being bequeathed what would make our country better.

But before you begin raining all manner of causes on these killjoys; let’s take a look at how impolitic we ourselves acted! We actually could have deferred to them. Once members of the National Assembly adopted the proposal, we would have pended our jubilation and diverted the energy into soothing and massaging the ego of the overlords. We should have made them understand that it wasn’t by happenstance that federal legislators adopted the proposed amendments at this point in time. That it was because the present dispensation was winding down. As such, the lawmakers figured that whatever proposal they are coming up with would
have nothing on those currently in the saddle, but have everything on those coming post 2015.

You can be sure that if we had taken this course instead, they wouldn’t have come so hard in turning the Blues we are enjoying into Metallic Rock. They wouldn’t have been so pitched against the proposal to the extent that their Nigeria Governors Forum, NGF, which had been
factionalized for over a year now, adopted common position on a matter for the first time since its estrangement; one that re-enacts how the Passion of Christ obliterated the age-long animosity between King Herod and Pontius Pilate.

However one looks at it we goofed! Even if we found it difficult massaging the ego of the emperors we have as governors, we should be kept mum when the proposal for local governments’ autonomy by the National Assembly happened on us. Who knows, our quietude on the matter could have caused other proposed amendments to shroud this particular one that they would have none of. We could even had played up those amendments which favoured them and made so much noise about it to the extent that they would have been so enthralled and serenaded into ordering their states’ assembly members to approve everything. Can you now see how uncommon common sense is?

Our National Assembly members who want us to believe they are serious about having local governments become independent of state and the federal government could have also helped by importing into the amendments proposals the governors would find so irresistable, just like they awarded life pension to their principal officers. It doesn’t matter if they handed their respective states to outgoing governors as retirement benefits. They could have simply transmuted the states to become the governors’ estates. If that is not enough, they could have proposed for them to go to the Breton Woods institutions and borrowed whatever amount they want as severance benefits. Now, tell me how they would have concerned themselves with local governments’ autonomy when they should be so busy trying to figure out the exact amount they would
want to secure. Please o, if the satire is lost on you; just know that I am kidding!

But then, that does not mean we shouldn’t have played out everything in our bag of tricks to get the governors to side with us on the proposal in question. We just had to because of how powerful our warped system has made these guys. I am talking of the same set of people who made their states’ assemblies to spill out the honey poured into their mouth  by the National Assembly. Remember that the federal legislature had in an earlier constitutional amendment proposed for state legislatures to be independent of the state executives, headed by governors. The same governors ordered their assembly men to vote against being independent.

Aren’t we then daydreaming when we think the governors wouldn’t have their way in this instance? Now you can understand why I proposed that it wouldn’t be out of place for us to do whatever we can to placate them into letting us take our local councils away from their firm grip.
Remember the Jang faction of the NGF did not mince words in letting us know of their confidnce in the proposal being thrown out when it gets to the state houses of assemblies. In fact, his faction was reported to have said that they will mobilize lawmakers in their states to block the amendment.

The federal government, civil society activitists, stakeholders in the local government systems, rights groups, the media and all else interested in our nation having a working local government
administration system worth its name had better risen up to the  continued tyranny of our state governors. One keeps wondering what democracy we practice which sees the whim and caprices of 36 persons prevail over important matters that can set our nation on the path of prosperity.

Until those who can rein these governors in (that is if we have any person or group with that ability) go ahead to do just that, the best we can do is to massage the egos of the governors and promise them heaven and earth whenever we want to get things out of them. We failed to do  this. As such, it essentially became our failing which led the governors to get ready to fight the autonomy aptly granted our third tier of government by the National Assembly members.
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Article written by Ugochukwu Ugwuanyi @ugsylvester

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