‘Local Govt Administrative Structures Are So Dependent On The States’
Former President of Association Of Local Government Of Nigeria (ALGON) and Former Chairman Enugu South Local Government Area, Mr Ozo Nwabueze Okafor in this interview with LAWRENCE NJOKU IN ENUGU speaks on the issues affecting council areas in the country and why it may linger for long.
What will you say should be done to enable local government councils play key developmental roles?
The local government system supposed to play a key role in the development of the country, but this has not been the case. When I was ALGON president, I have always said that we need to strengthen our local government system to make it more functional. Presently, instead of even getting stronger, the system is getting weaker by the day. The structures of the councils are getting increasingly weakened. Even those with elected councils have been dissolved and even when tenure elapses, and you discover that most states would no longer organize elections into the council seats.
So if you ask me, I will say that the first step to ensure a functional local government system is to have a democratically elected executive council. This will have full complement of both the executive and legislature, who will make appropriation through the budget and give to the executive to implement and a legislature that will have oversight on the activities of the executive.
But where we have caretaker committee which has become the rule everywhere, you will find out that the local government cannot deliver their mandate. You can see that the situation is getting increasingly worse than we used to see it before.
Is it just about periodic elections, what are other challenges confronting the system?
Periodic elections may not necessarily be the issue, but it is the starting point. We must have a council made up of councilors representing various wards that make up the local government. It is only when you have this composition that will represent interests that the people could be carried along. Periodic elections create an interface between the people and government. This is because local governments not only bring government closer to people they bring people closer to government.
If we have a democratically elected council system, it makes governance easier. For instance, assuming one comes from an area without electricity, that representative will work hard to bring it to the attention of the council leadership. The state governments are so removed from the communities and it is the council leadership people that should bridge the gap.
Somebody who is elected feels that his mandate came from the people and he owes them something in return. For this reason he must work very hard to leave a legacy in spite of all the challenges and constraints he might face. He works hard to see that there must be something tied to his name. But once you have this makeshift arrangement called caretaker committee in which they have no sense of security, where they could be dissolved
any moment; it gives no room for planning and concentration in governance. You find out that within a particular budget year, you might have four different caretaker committees which might affect budget planning and implementation. This is because there is no sense of security and someone who is not sure of his job cannot plan.
The implication is that there won’t be development as somebody somewhere will be calling the shot, which is not to the advantage of the councils’ leadership and people at the grassroots. So constituting caretaker for local government system is part of the problem facing development of
Council areas. I want to seriously say that any government desiring development should allow elections into the councils.
What do you say about managing the local government resources?
The administrative structures in the local governments are so dependent on the states. You have in the states what is called local government service commission. They post workers to the local government, control them and are also in-charge of disciplining them. So it is a situation where more or less, the workers owe their allegiance to a commission in the state. This is a very big challenge.
I was thinking we could have a situation where each local government has their own service commission or council where they will be in charge, employ according to their needs, promote according to their needs, deploy also according to their needs.
Sometimes, you see a situation where the commission over-employs workers that is not needed in the local government. This is where you see redundancy in the system; you see people come to work, not doing anything only to collect salary by the end of the month.
At times, you may begin to wonder where the advice to do is coming from. But the system is such that you should abide by whatever you see and that is why, at times you see councils paying huge salaries and you will be wondering the level of productivity that warranted such.
The resources available to local governments are part of the problem. You discover that the joint account makes the councils dependent on state government for survival and where such is the practice, you cannot act on your own. This is because the amount of deductions in the end leaves the local government with little or nothing to embark on any developmental project.
For instance, in the issue of teacher’s salary, the law says that the local government shall participate in the payment of the salary. It did not say that local governments should carry the burden, but you discover that the state government will deduct the money outright without recourse to what the council was going through.
In the same local government you will see teachers receiving full salary, while other segment of workers receives half salary and that is because the resources are not enough. So let us strengthen the structure of the local governments by allowing it engage staff, discipline staff, employ according to their needs. Joint account system should be expunged from the constitution.