• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Why local governments need freedom to deliver for Nigerians

Mohammed Bello Shehu, the chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), has emerged as a champion for Nigeria’s 774 local governments. In a bold move, Shehu has thrown his full weight behind the Federal Government’s push to grant these local entities complete autonomy.

This ringing endorsement marks a pivotal moment in Nigeria’s ongoing journey towards empowering the very level of government closest to the people – a development that could reshape the landscape of governance at the grassroots. Shehu’s advocacy places local government autonomy on the national agenda, raising the question: could this be the turning point for true democratic representation at the community level?

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In a statement released by Maryam Umar Yusuf, head of information and public relations at RMAFC, Shehu underscored a pivotal truth: local councils, as the third tier of government, must operate independently of state control to fulfil their mandate of effective grassroots governance.

“The constitution of Nigeria recognises federal, state, and local governments as three tiers of government,” Shehu emphasised. “Each tier draws funds for their operation and function from the federation account created by the constitution.”

The current political landscape, however, paints a grim picture. Local Government Councils (LGCs) are entangled in a web of state government dominance. This means that state governments hold undue influence over LGCs, effectively stripping the people of their right to elect leaders who can truly address their local needs.

This stranglehold extends far beyond the electoral process. It stifles political independence by limiting the LGCs’ ability to make their own decisions. Administratively, state oversight can restrict LGCs’ freedom to manage their own affairs. Most crucially, fiscal dependence on state governments cripples the LGCs’ ability to deliver essential services and infrastructure to the people they serve. Without control over their own finances, LGCs are left hamstrung, unable to respond effectively to the needs of their communities.

Shehu’s argument for full autonomy is not just a bureaucratic necessity but a lifeline for democracy. Imagine a Nigeria where local governments are free to govern without the heavy hand of state interference. This vision promises a cascade of benefits: reduced poverty, decreased rural-urban migration, and a more vibrant, democratic local election process that attracts qualified candidates and fosters better governance.

“Full autonomy will engender good governance, transparency, and accountability at the local level,” Shehu said. His vision extends beyond administrative reform. He posits that autonomy could significantly curb the security challenges plaguing the nation—banditry, kidnappings, terrorism, and electoral violence—by ensuring that funds meant for local governments are devoted to rural development.

Envision rural areas flourishing with increased agricultural productivity and income generation. Autonomy can transform local governments into engines of wealth creation and socio-economic upliftment, drastically improving living conditions in rural communities.

Shehu also pointed out that the spate of insecurity across the country could be tackled more effectively with autonomous local governments. These entities, being the closest to the people, would empower the local population to determine and address their own development needs, fostering a more engaged and proactive citizenry.

Unleashing the full potential of local government in Nigeria paints a transformative picture. Local councils, free from the constraints of state control, could blossom into vibrant hubs of self-governance. Here, leaders chosen directly by the people they serve would hold the reins. They could recruit and manage their own staff, ensuring a workforce intimately familiar with local challenges.

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Furthermore, independent financial resources, raised through innovative means, would empower these councils to prioritise projects and services that directly impact their communities. Decision-making wouldn’t be a distant echo from a state capital, but a dynamic conversation happening right on the people’s doorstep.

Local councils, with the authority to craft bylaws specific to their unique circumstances, could become laboratories of innovation. This wouldn’t be just bureaucratic autonomy; it would be a beacon of hope for a more equitable and efficient governance system, where the power to shape a better future rests firmly in the hands of the people themselves.

Mohammed Bello Shehu’s call for local government autonomy is not merely a bureaucratic proposal; it is a clarion call for a more democratic, responsive, and resilient Nigeria. By embracing this vision, Nigeria can unlock a new era of empowered communities.

Local councils, acting as incubators of locally-driven solutions, can tackle challenges that have long plagued communities.

Why is it impossible to imagine rural areas with improved infrastructure, built and maintained by local leaders who understand the specific needs of their people?

Empowered cities could become hubs of innovation, crafting solutions that can be shared across the nation.

This is not just about strengthening local governance; it is about building a stronger, more unified Nigeria from the ground up.

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