A position of responsibility is a mandate from God, He will ask us what we have done with it — Prof. Matto

Posted by News Express | 28 July 2018 | 4,443 times

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•Prof. Kabiru Matto

Prof. Kabiru Matto is the Kaduna State Commissioner for Local Government Affairs. In this interview with EMMANUEL ADO, syndicated columnist/host: ‘Let's Talk’, Matto, among other issues, speaks on the induction workshop for the new LG chairs, reforms and the 2018 Kaduna State Local Government  Law, which  introduced ‘ a presidential system’ at the local government level 


Question: It has been a very hectic time for you: From the All Progressives Congress (APC) primaries to the local government election and, now, the swearing-in. Let’s start with the sole administrators who recently handed over to the newly-elected chairmen. How well did the sole administrators who manned the local councils in the last one year or so perform?

Prof. Kabiru MattoI think the sole administrators that handed over to the newly-elected chairmen, to say the least, were the best crop of public officers from the Kaduna State Civil Service. And what I mean by that is that, they were very diligent; most of them were so innovative and, of course, provided the necessary leadership zeal that the government required in order for the various transformation programmes that were carried out in the local governments to take effect. In a nutshell, the local government sole administrators were very effective. They were able to preside over the affairs of their respective local government areas with dexterity and excellence that today, in Kaduna State, we have local government councils that are able to execute multi-million naira projects. 

This is the reality and a development that did not hitherto exist in the Local Government System in the state; and, I am sure, also in most parts of Nigeria. So, in a nutshell, they were among the best crop of civil servants you could get: they displayed a high sense of maturity and patriotism in the discharge of their responsibilities. And, I think, they have created a very large vacuum that the elected local government council will have to put in a lot of effort in order to measure up and excel more than the sole administrators. They were really good! And that is why the governor remains very grateful to them; he has continued to express his gratitude to them for the service they rendered to their state. It is an opportunity that they got and I dare say that most of them took this opportunity very seriously and imprinted their names in gold. And they would continue to be proud as leaders of these respective local government areas: for the services they rendered and for laying a foundation that will subsequently lead to the liberation of the third-tier of government, which many Nigerians have been clamouring for in the last few years; being the closest level of government to the people. Meaningful development cannot take place within the general polity, if development at the local level is not fostered. That is precisely what the local government sole administrators that have just left office achieved in Kaduna State. 

You have spoken highly about their achievements. Before I go to the next question, I want to know: are you thinking of sending them off, considering the quality service that everybody acknowledges? 

Well, of course. Like I said, His Excellency, the Governor, has thanked them and he has directed us as a ministry to communicate his gratitude to them. And the good thing about the government of Nasir el Ruffai is that, we have been trying to break the myth which previously existed, when people take to the profession of teaching. Substantial numbers of these sole administrators were actually classroom teachers or school administrators. The intention of the government was to show Nigerians or show the citizens of Kaduna State that it does not matter what kind of job you do. Previously, teaching was condemned to a specific class of people. It is only when you lack job in the ministry, in the bank and other areas that you get back to the classroom. And that is why today we are infested with this very difficult scenario. If the worst of us are teachers then, of course, that spells doom for the educational system. So, most of them were classroom teachers and school administrators that were deployed to these local government areas.

So, you can see! Perhaps, one of the reasons why they had to put in their best, in order to be able to establish the fact that a teacher is also capable of providing the necessary administrative leadership. And I remember also that this government, at inception, came up with the idea that you could be a teacher and rise to Grade Level 17; which is the peak of public service. You could also be a teacher and then become a permanent secretary. That is, restoring the integrity of the institution of teaching. And that is precisely what we did. So, what is happening now is that the Head of Service of Kaduna State, the respective ministries and other government departments where these sole administrators came from have been mandated to appropriately place them, based on the records of their performances in the respective local government areas. 

Given the remarkable service that they have delivered, could it be that the reforms helped them in achieving what they were able to achieve?

Of course! The problem is that the local government system has been strangulated by the inability of political leadership to take the right decisions; and that is precisely what the government is doing. Taking the right decisions that are probably unpopular, but for the good of the system and for the betterment of the future of the citizens of this state and of Nigerians as a whole. The decision of government to restructure the local government administration, to also subject the teachers to competency test, especially at the primary school levels, has gone a long way in liberating tremendous resources, that the sole administrators used to provide basic goods and services in the local government areas. Without the reform, it would have been impossible for most local government areas in Kaduna State to have any resources to take home. The reform has considerably taken away all those excesses that were previously not adding any value to the system. The local government system in Kaduna State, as in most other states of the federation, was adulterated to the extent that it became an avenue of dispensation of political favours: to either political thugs or people who could not secure employment in other places; a dumping ground kind of. And it became an integral part of the tradition of the people to accept this abnormality, because it is an abnormality. 

You don’t work and you receive salaries at the end of every month and you think somebody is favouring you. No! Rather, it created tremendous laziness in the psyche of the people. So, the reforms, the restructuring of the local government system was responsible for the success; easing out those who did not have anything to do with the local government system. And, secondly, it liberated resources that are now being deployed for the good of the people; thirdly, also in the primary education sub-sector. In fact, the best from the society is what is supposed to go into teaching because education is the reproduction of yesterday, today and tomorrow. If the foundation is faulty, then, of course, whatever super structure that is going to be put on it obviously will be as fragile as the foundation. Unless political leadership is able and ready to take the bull by the horn, by taking decisions that are strategic, even if they are unpopular.... just like Mallam Nasir el- Rufai keeps saying: ‘We will not refuse to take the right decisions simply because we are afraid of the next election.’ The issue is that one must take the right decisions that will remove the society from this state of decadent paralysis, in its moral, social, economic and political fabrics. If we do not do that, then, of course, we are only postponing the day of judgment. What we are doing is to make sure that all policies we take are pro-people in nature.

If the local government election that we are coming from is anything to go by, it clearly sends a very serious signal that, indeed, majority of the citizens of Kaduna State are at home with these painful reforms that the government of Nassir el Ruffai has implemented. They have bought into it and I’m hopeful that come 2019, when we go to the general elections, the citizens of the state will show their appreciation like they have done in the local government elections, by voting massively for Mallam (el Rufai). So, we are on the right track and I’m very optimistic. And, like the governor will continue to say and some of us will continue to emphasise: ‘Governance is a trust between God and the people, between God and the leadership, and between the leadership and the people.’ When we die, we have questions to answer from our Creator: what we did with the mandate and blessings because to be in a position of responsibility is a mandate and blessing from God and God will ask us what we have done with it. We would rather tell God that we have taken strategic decisions to correct the wrongs that we found in our society, than to simply say we have taken decisions in order to address the grievances of a very few segment of the society and satisfy the caprices of the moment, as against enduring structures that would have succeeded in liberating the society from the shackles of backwardness and all sorts of negativity. 

I must congratulate you, because I have been to, at least, four or five local governments. I have seen the market at Kuaru, a multi million naira project. The one that interests me the most is the recycling plant built by the Giwa Local Government Council, and Birnin Gwari doing multi-million naira roads. So, I must appreciate your efforts because, these are things I can attest to. Still on the reforms, are you satisfied with the implementation so far? Are there areas that you will be demanding, insisting that the new chairmen pay greater attention? 

Well, you see, implementation of the reform is an on-going process. It is not something mechanical that you start and you finish immediately. It is something that has to continue, overtime. For instance, now that we have democratically elected local government system in place, the law provides that the local governments can hire people from grade level one to grade level six; from grade level seven and above, it is the responsibility of the Local Government Service Board to hire, to discipline and also to promote. We have already designed the organogram for every local government area. Hence, offices, positions, job description and officers to carry out these responsibilities are there and we don't expect that any local government area will go contrary to it. In essence, we will continue to preach to them, we will continue to advice them that what you found in place, the resources that you are using to impact positively on the lives of the people at the lower level is accruing simply because the state government has been able to reduce this burden, take it off from you.

Now if you want to go back to the vicious cycle of poverty where nothing is left at the end of the month then, of course, you can take that road. But, the local government laws do not allow that and I am sure that the supervision of the state government through the Ministry of Local Government Affairs will also not create that opportunity for any local government that wants to go back to where we are coming from.  It is a past that is ugly and I do not think anybody would want to revisit a time of pain. Rather, we look into the future with tremendous hope and with the desire to even have more resources. 

There is something that most people never knew about that is just coming out now: it is the bailout. Many of the local governments were owing; and then the rich ones like Birnin Gwari were bailing them out. Will you bail out anybody that decides to deviate from the path of growth that you have set for them? Will you, for instance, force Birnin Gwari to help Kaduna North, again?

It is not even possible that we do that any longer, because each of those local government councils now has their elected councils in place. And like I said, the reforms have also created avenues where many of the local government areas that were in poor financial state are going to bounce back.  For instance, with the reforms in place, it is likely that Kaduna North, Kaduna South, Chikun are going to be the richest local government areas in Kaduna State, and not Birnin Gwari; not Igabi, as it is the case now, because there are a lot of openings for these local governments to do so.

There is no space for local government council to go back to where we are coming from. We can only tolerate a system where the local governments increase incrementally. That is to say, we are trying to build a local government system that is truly federal, that is presidential in nature. What do I mean by truly federalism? It is not a guarantee that simply because, for instance, Birnin Gwari can afford to pay district heads maybe, N20,000, so Kaura Local Government Area must also pay N20,000. It is against the theory and practice of fiscal federalism. For instance, the reason why government always gets into crisis with labour movement is the uniformity of salaries. For instance, Zamfara State councils should not pay the same salary structure with Lagos State or Bayelsa State that makes a lot of money from oil, with Rivers State or even with Kaduna State. Lagos State makes more revenue from internal resources than it gets from the Federation Account. So, it can do many things that we are unable to do. We will begin to teach our local government councils the ethics of cutting your coat according to your cloth.

This is what the theory and practice of fiscal federalism simply means. Giwa mustn't have the same kind of establishment that Kaduna North has. For instance, Kaduna North does not farm, so we do not need agriculture department. But you probably may require more revenue officers in Kaduna North, Kaduna South, Chikun and Igabi, because of the number and sizes of their market and areas, more than in Kaura, Kauru. So, this uniform application of benefits and cost is what is responsible for the low-level growth in many states in this country and, invariably, in many local government areas. And I think the labour movement must come to reality; must  come to terms with the fact that it is not necessary and it cannot be acceptable that if you say minimum wage is N18, 000, it does not mean that workers in Kaduna must earn N18,000. Lagos can make its own N25,000 because it has the resources to do that. So, this is the foundation of the current reforms that we are carrying. Like I said, it is an ongoing process, it is not a mechanical thing ...it will continue to unfold. And, as human beings, there are going to be one or two areas where we will find one lapse or another in the process of the implementation, which we hope to correct with time.

Given that you have been part of the constitutional amendments, working as a consultant with the National Assembly: Is autonomy a problem for the local governments? 

What the National Assembly has been trying to do is to create a scenario that we have already created in Kaduna State, and what is that? It is the total lack of abuse or elimination of abuse in the state local government joint account.  In Kaduna State, we run unified government system because the Constitution has provided that laws for the good governance of local government councils shall be made by the states’ House of Assembly. The local government, as democratic as they are with their legislative arms, is only empowered to make bye-laws. They will make bye-laws, their appropriation laws and what have you will all pass through the council. It’s going to be appropriated by Kaduna State House of Assembly. So, this is one area that we have successfully accomplished.  In Kaduna State like I said, at the end of the joint account meeting every month, local government councils take homesubstantial amount of money that they use in the provision of basic services to their respective communities. That is the autonomy that people are talking about.

The 1999 Constitution (as amended) is not insensitive to the Nigerian reality, which is why it created the local government joint-account. Agreed, some state governors take advantage of the situation and delve into local government funds. In Kaduna State, however, we don’t do that. In Kaduna State we make sure that every local government area gets what it deserves at the end of the day. What we simply do is to make sure that we guide them in terms of expenditure control, etc. So, we don't have a scenario of arbitrariness and abuses in the implementation of the appropriation as passed by Kaduna State House of Assembly by the local government. Democracy is not only about codification; it is also about the attitude and readiness on the part of the people to abide by the laws as they are provided for. If you have all the laws in place and the attitude is negative, you are unlikely to achieve any meaningful results.  In Kaduna State, we have local government autonomy, I will tell you that and you are free to go round and see. You are free to attend our joint account meetings, and you are free to go to our local government councils and see how they operate with tremendous leverage and freedom. 

At the induction workshop for the new chairmen, is that what the deputy governor, Arc Bala Bantex meant when he said that he wished he was a chairman under the Nasir el Rufai government?

Precisely, that’s what His Excellency, the Deputy Governor, was talking about because he was a chairman twice in Kaura Local Government, and he knew the emasculation; he knew the difficulties that they faced in the hands of the then government. These difficulties have been completely eliminated; the bottlenecks have been completely removed. The local government councils now have sufficient latitude to enjoy the rights the Constitution has given them. They have their personnel, they have their wherewithal and latitude to operate freely. So, any local government chairman; any local government official will be happy to operate under the current scenario. Governance is all about attitude, the right attitude. If you do not have the right attitude, forget it: you are not going to get it! And that is precisely what we are doing; that's what we are working on. 

You conducted an induction workshop for the new chairmen: Why was that necessary? 

Well, it was necessary because: first of all, in the past three years, we had appointees of government as heads of the local government councils. For the first time now, we were able to hold election in the 19 local government areas in the state, democratically-elected councils emerged.  In four others, election seemed impossible and so what government did was to come up with a caretaker committee, which resulted in the creation of full councils, on caretaker basis. Now, the retreat was specifically intended at making sure that we induct the elected chairmen and the appointed chairmen into government, for them to understand two or three critical issues. One is the new local government law, which is an innovation and the first of its kind in this country. Second is that, for the first time in the history of the local government system in this country, in Kaduna State today, we have what we call Local Government Development Plan. The development plan streamlines areas of concern so that there will be no duplication of resources or throwing resources at problems and issues. What it seeks to do is to harmonise the efforts of the local government in all the critical areas. In health, in education, in rural infrastructure vis-a-vis and side-by-side with what the government is doing. So, you do not continue to duplicate and apply resources in the same direction and, at the end of the day, results are not achieved. This is the essence of the local government plan which was a central focus. And that's all. Thirdly also, there is the issue of assets and liabilities.

It’s a three-tier system; the state has its own relative autonomy. There are certain functions in the constitution that are residual in nature, which are assigned to the local government councils. The state normally carries out concurrent responsibility as enshrined in the Constitution.  Now, it is important that as a unified local government council, there are a lot of things that the state supervised on behalf of the 23 local government areas. Let me give you an example: in Kaduna State today, we have established 255 primary health care centres in virtually all the wards. We have 255 electoral wards in Kaduna State and in each ward we have a primary health centre that is built and functional. They are being furnished now. The responsibility of primary health care lies with the local government and 40 percent lies with the state. Primary education is the responsibility of the local government. You are aware that we have engaged in rehabilitation and reconstruction of thousands of primary schools in Kaduna State today. Now, these are responsibilities of local government. But for standard, for the purpose of quality, these activities were supervised by the State Ministry of Education and the State Ministry of Health, on the other hand.

But the resources that were deployed to them were mainly derived from the local government councils. One hundred per cent, for instance, for primary schools is from local government councils and 60 per cent for primary health care is from local government council. Therefore, there has to be a reconciliation between the state and the local government so that those who are taking over will know very clearly how things stand: the township roads that were constructed in Kauru Local Government Area, in Kubau, Kudan , Sabon-Gari, Zaria, Chikun or in Kaduna South were awarded to major companies that provided value for money. Again, in the case of environmental issues, you know the clearing of grass and what have you. In the major urban local government areas – Sabon-Gari, Zaria, Kaduna North, Kaduna South, Chikun, Jama'a - the waste disposal was contracted on their behalf to capable organisations that have been carrying them out. The thinking of the governor and the thinking of the government is that the local government areas, the local government administration, just like the state and federal administration, will have definite time-frame.

For instance, the local councils elected will have three years’ tenure. In Kaduna State henceforth, the local government council will be inaugurated on June 26 every three years, and the legislative councils will be inaugurated a week later; just like we have in the state and at the national level. We want to do that and we have already established that this date will be sacrosanct; to the extent that we now know when SIECOM will begin the preparation for the local government election and then, we also know when they are going to be inaugurated. We have also encouraged them tremendously to make sure that anything they do as councils, they will be doing it based on the provisions of the law, as passed by the Kaduna State House of Assembly.

Prof. Matto

Source: News Express

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