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Local council autonomy and insecurity

By News Express on 11/05/2019

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Two news items broke on May 6, 2019 about the same time – but in two different locations in Nigeria – that perfectly addresses the burning issue of widespread insecurity in Nigeria.

But an observer of events in contemporary Nigeria needs to either develop the nose for news, as a professional journalist would ordinarily be required to possess, or you become a deeply reflective analyst with the gift of what the Greeks called Epikeia or the sixth sense, to be able to decode the security import of these two wholly unrelated scenarios that played out in Katsina and Abuja respectively.

I begin from what is near to what is far or from the part to the whole, as logic experts would.

In Katsina State, the Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumuni Kabir, pointedly asked the visiting Federal Government delegation to inform President Muhammadu Buhari that there is general breakdown of law and order in Katsina, and that the state needs security. We will narrate the comprehensive version of this intriguing episode.

In Abuja, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) - a newly-created financial intelligence gathering agency that plays pivotal role in the anti-graft crusade in the country - issued a guideline banning financial institutions from releasing money recklessly from the joint state/local government account, if such money has not reached the specific account of such stated local government areas. We will return shortly to this piece of information. But permit me to call for the abolition of this so-called joint state/local council account. 

Just before digressing, i alluded to the check and balance that the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit has put in place to watch over local governments’ funds from being stolen by governors. This is where the nexus between the two events occurs: the traditional institution is the nearest to the grassroots.

The people who reside at the grassroots constitute nearly 60 per cent of the entire Nigerian population. But the economic wellbeing of the local government areas is not sound.

This means that poverty is more in the local areas than it is in the urban centres. Recall that recently the global poverty index pointed towards Nigeria as becoming the emerging global capital of poverty with over 90 million of the estimated 200 million Nigerians living in absolute poverty. Nigeria took over from India which has 20 times the size of our population.

Also, poverty means that there is a serious gap in food security and even human security. Nigeria faces food insecurity, human insecurity and border areas’ insecurity. The statement of fact made by the Emir of Katsina regarding insecurity in the state, indirectly points to the general breakdown of security in the local government councils, which accommodates the largest number of Nigerians.

Now, the Abuja development which is about the salutary order made by the National Financial Intelligence Unit, seeking to provide safeguards to monitor the spending of resources accruing to local government, if meticulously implemented, has the potential of addressing the hydra-headed crisis of poverty and insecurity that afflicts the local governments.

One of the quickest ways of checking the high incidence of insecurity related events, such as kidnappings and banditry across the country, is for the governing class in conjunction with the civil society to demonstrate practical will-power to restore autonomy and workability to local governments. It is a fact that if local governments are enabled to become functional as it were, then the bulk of the poverty and crime related issues that we see will inevitably be checked.

Worried that insecurity has impeded development in the rural areas, the Emir of Katsina, urged the Federal Government to gather the courage and enforce the law on bandits and other criminal elements in the country.

The emir stated this while receiving the Federal Government delegation that came to condole the government and people of Katsina State over the death of Justice Mamman Nasir on Monday in Katsina.

“The Federal Government should stand up and find criminals who have been terrorizing innocent people. The government should give security agencies the mandate to deal with criminals squarely.

“The lack of complete enforcement of the law had given armed robbers, kidnappers and other criminal elements the chance to be disturbing members of the public. Traditional institutions are ready to support and encourage security agents to flush out criminals from their hideouts’’

Conversely, the NFIU issued guidelines to stimulate the reduction of crime vulnerabilities created by cash withdrawals from local government funds across the country.

The acting Chief Media Analyst of NFIU, Ahmed Dikko, made this known in a statement in Abuja on Monday. He announced that the effective date for operation of the guidelines was June 1.

He urged all financial institutions, relevant stakeholders, public servants and citizens to ensure full compliance with the provisions of the guidelines, which had already been submitted to the institutions.

“The guidelines include full enforcement of corresponding sanctions against violations,” he stated.

Dikko said that cash withdrawal and transactions from State Joint Local Government Accounts (SJLGA) “posed (the) biggest corruption, money laundering and security threats at the grassroots and to (the) entire financial system and the country.”

He noted: “With this analysis, the unit decided to uphold the full provisions of section 162 (6) and (8) of the 1999 Constitution.

“State Joint Local Government Account shall be paid in, allocations to the local government councils of the state from the Federation Account and from the government of the state.

“The amount standing to the credit of local government councils of a state shall be distributed among the local government councils of that state and not for the other purposes.

“As far as the NFIU is concerned, the responsibility of the account as a collection account is fully reinstated.”

The NFIU must bark and bite by empowering credible community-based religious and non-governmental organisations with the knowledge about periodic accruals to local government councils and provide capacity-building face-lifts to these non-governmental organisations to partner effectively with the Federal Government to provide strict oversight on the use of these resources.

However, since the inception of the 1999 Constitution, the local government areas have become the cesspools of corruption whereby state governors arbitrarily steal from the funds that ought to accrue to these entities from the Federation Account. Besides, even the internally generated revenues of these councils are stolen. Auditors are also part of this corruption scheme.

The result of corruption in the local government areas is that wealth redistribution becomes skewed in favour of only those who are exercising political authorities in the state capitals and the nation’s capitals. This is the fundamental cause of the insecurity we see in the local government areas, which have ripple effects across board.

To underscore the importance of the local government areas, the United Nations offices for public administration says that local government is : “A political sub-division of a nation or (in a federal system) state, which is constituted by law and has substantial control of local affairs, including the powers to impose taxes or to exact labour for prescribed purposes. The governing body of such an entity is elected or otherwise locally selected.”

Nigerian Constitution in section 7(1) defines democratic election as the only legal means of setting up local council authorities.

Hence, the definition of local government was made more clear by Kirk Green (Ola and Tonwe) who submitted thus: “Each unit of local government in any system is assumed to possess the following characteristics: a given territory and population, an institutional structure for legislative, executive and administrative purposes, a separate legal identity, a range of powers and functions authorised by delegation from the appropriate central or intermediate legislature and, lastly, within the ambit of such delegation, autonomy, subject always, at least in Anglo-American tradition, to the limitation of common law, such as the test of reasonableness.”

Okaru, former head of Federal Inland Revenue Service, said: “The high rate of corruption at local government level is as a result of overdependence on oil revenue with its attendant laxity on the part of the three tiers of government to explore other sources of revenue. Revenue generation and its effective management are critically important for the survival of local government councils.”

According to her, local government administration has abused the weak tax regulatory system for personal gains, a situation which had complicated the tax system and led to multiple-taxation in the economy (Onwuemenyi).

Mrs Okaru also condemned some local government officials for instituting personal and unofficial revenue generation machinery, thereby encouraging multiple-taxation and placing heavy burden on the tax-payer. She noted that, many local government chairmen generate personal taxes for personal gain, using the so-called levy collectors who, themselves, have multiple receipts (Onwuemenyi). Also along this line, Arowolo (2008) opined that, hard-earned and limited resources accrued to and raised by local governments are always mismanaged. Priorities are misplaced; projects are done not according to or as demanded by the people but, regrettably, in tune with the selfish end and aggrandisement of the political leadership in collaboration with senior bureaucrats at the local government level of administration.

“Generally, wide-scale embezzlement by officials at the grassroots has made the needed development of grassroots a tall dream and has rendered them financially incapable to discharge their constitutionally assigned responsibility (Arowolo). Adeyemi O. Oluwatobi, made references to all the aforementioned.

The Supreme Court reinforced the essence of constitutional autonomy of the local government somehow when it recently voided laws enacted by the states’ Houses of Assembly which allow governors to sack elected Chairmen of Local Governments and Councilors and replace them appointed administrators.

The media recall that it has of recent become a tradition among governors to dissolve the Executive Councils of the states’ LGs and replace them with their appointees and cronies, who they call caretaker committees.

But in a landmark unanimous judgment of five Justices of the Supreme Court, the apex judicial body described the practice as “executive recklessness”, which must not be allowed to persist.

The judgment by the five-man panel, led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour was on the appeal in relation to the dissolution of the 16 Local Government Executives in Ekiti State, during Kayode Fayemi’s tenure.

The appeal marked: SC/120/2013 was filed by the Ekiti State Government. It had Prince Sanmi Olubunmo (Chairman of Ido Osi LG and Chairman of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria – ALGON, Ekiti Chapter and 13 others as respondents.

Fayemi, when the verdict came was Minister of Mineral Resources reportedly announced the dissolution of the councils in a radio announcement on October 29, 2010, when the elected council officials still had up till December 19, 2011 to end their three-year tenure. Fayemi ironically is back in office as governor.

The Supreme Court, in faulting the law purportedly relied on by Fayemi, held that section 23(b) of the Ekiti State Local Government Administration (Amendment) Law, 2001, which empowered the governor to dissolve local government councils whose tenure was yet to expire, violated section 7(1) of the Constitution from which the state House of Assembly derived the power to enact the local government law. Justice Centus Nweze, in the lead judgment, opined: “There can be no doubt, as argued by the appellants’ counsel, that the Ekiti State House of Assembly is empowered to make laws for Ekiti State.

“However, the snag here is that, in enacting section 23(b) of the Ekiti State Local Government Administration (Amendment) Law, 2001, which empowered the first appellant to bridge the tenure of office of the respondents, it overreached itself. In other words, section 23(b) (supra) is violative of and in conflict with section 7(1) of the Constitution (supra).

“Hence, it is bound to suffer the fate of ll laws which are in conflict with the Constitution, section 1(3) thereof.”

The judge said section 7(1) of the Constitution seeks to guarantee “the system of local government by democratically-elected local government councils and conferred ‘sacrosanctity’ on the elections of such officials whose electoral mandates derived from the will of the people freely exercised through the democratic process.

“The implication, therefore, is that section 23(b) of the Ekiti State Local Government Administration (Amendment) Law, 2001, which was not intended to ‘ensure the existence of’ such democratically-elected councils’, but to snap their continued existence by their substitution with caretaker councils, was enacted in clear breach of the supreme provisions of section 7(1) of the Constitution.

“To that extent, it (section 23(b) supra) cannot co-habit with section 7(1) of the Constitution (supra) and must, in consequence, be invalidated.

“The reason is simple. By his oath of office, the governor swore to protect and not to supplant the Constitution.

“Hence, any action of his which has the capacity of undermining the same Constitution (as in the instant case where the first appellant, ‘Governor of Ekiti State and others’ dissolved the tenure of the respondents and replaced them with caretaker committees) is tantamount to executive recklessness which would not be condoned.’”

Justice Nweze said the tenure of the local government councils could not be abridged without violating the supreme constitutional provisions.

“Simply put, therefore, the election of such officials into their offices and their tenure are clothed with constitutional force. They cannot, therefore, be abridged without breaching the Constitution from which they derive their force.

“The only permissible exception, where a state governor could truncate the lifespan of a local government council, which evolved through the democratic process of elections, is ‘for overriding public interest’ in a period of emergency.”

He upheld the earlier decision of the Court of Appeal on the issue and adopted the orders made by the Court of Appeal on the case in its judgment delivered on January 23, 2013. The Appeal Court had among others, ordered the Ekiti State Government to compute and pay all the allowances and salaries accruable to members of the dissolved councils between October 29, 2010 and December 19, 2011, both dates inclusive. The Justice directed the Attorney-General of Ekiti State to ensure that the orders of the lower court (Appeal Court) affirmed in his judgment, are complied with.

What we must do is to complete the constitutional amendment process to make local government councils autonomous. Because, if they are autonomous, the chances of seeing public procurement practices that are relatively crime-free is high. The chances of the local economy coming back on stream and providing the enabling environment for a revived sound local economy and job opportunities will significantly address some of the fundamental causes of insecurity and instability.

•RIGHTSVIEW appears on Wednesdays and Saturdays, in addition to special appearances. The Columnist, a popular activist (www.huriwanigeria.com, www.emmanuelonwubiko.com), is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).

Source News Express

Posted 11/05/2019 12:58:57 PM

 

 

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