The current face-off in Ogun State between Governor Dapo Abiodun and Wale Adedayo, the Ijebu East council chairman, has again brought to the fore state of the third tier of government and collapse of governance at that level in Nigeria.
The Legislative council in Ogun State had last week suspended Adedayo, days after he accused Governor Abiodun of mismanaging local council funds in the state.
In a series of posts on his Facebook page last Thursday morning, Adedayo had said his councillors were being coerced to sack him.
However, the development is an apparent punishment for Adedayo for standing up against Governor Abiodun over the alleged illegal diversion of local council funds in his state.
Across Nigeria, the situation is the same, where state governors have hijack council funds, which can be seen as a general failure of governance at the local government area.
The Nigerian constitution, in section 162 prohibits state governments from interfering with local government funds, but state governors are widely believed to meddle in the use of funds belonging to the councils.
According to the current sharing formula, the federal government gets 48.5 percent, state governments 26.72 percent, and local government 20.6 percent from the federation account.
Recently, state and local governments had asked the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission to increase their shares of the federal allocation.
Despite this large sum budgeted for the third tier of government, Nigerians have often wondered what such money are used for?
In a country where accountability and good governance by elected public officials is near zero, many Nigerians have simply turned blind eyes on what is happening in the council areas in recent times.
Due to years of inefficiency, and general lack of inactivity, most Nigerians have lost hope that the third tier of government can provide any sort of democracy divided to them.
For many, part of the reason for the failure of governance and development at the grassroots is the absence of democracy.
Adedayo is perhaps, the brave one among his colleagues who cannot come out to say what is aching them.
In a country where people hardly challenge the action of governors and senior government officials, Adedayo’s protest is seen in many quarters as sacrilege and received backlashes.
But it perhaps, reinforced the overbearing influence of Nigerian governors on the running of government in the country in the current republic.
Although Governor Abiodun has denied the allegation, saying that he had on several occasions given extra funds to councils in the state to meet their operations.
In most of the councils across Nigeria, state governors often appoint cronies and loyalists as administrators and caretaker committees instead of conducting elections and allowing democratically elected officers to run the affairs of the people.
Even in states where council elections are conducted, the electoral commission controlled by the state often manipulates the process for the ruling party to sweep all the chairmanship positions.
Observers say such a situation questions the democratic credentials of these state governors.
In reality, however, no local government in Nigeria works for the people. Instead, every household is its own local government, sourcing its basic needs- water, electricity, education, and healthcare, wherever they can be found.
Exhausted by local government fund diversion and failure of governance at that level, Nigerians understand that they must fend for themselves.
“While local government corruption is a global problem not unique to Nigeria, it is nevertheless crucial to address. It fuels democratic backsliding, communal conflict, and poverty,” Abdul Wando, African researcher and lecturer at King’s College London, said.
Wando, who is Borno State born, noted that while local government corruption is a global problem not unique to Nigeria, it is nevertheless crucial to address.
“It fuels democratic backsliding, communal conflict, and poverty. By hurting governance outcomes at the subnational level, local government corruption is quietly hobbling Nigeria.
“Frequently overlooked, Nigeria’s local governments are disproportionately important; if they functioned well, they would be best positioned to meet people’s basic needs and to build their resilience to cope with everyday challenges.”
Out of 774 local governments nationwide, about 238 across 13 states are currently led by administrators appointed by the governors. The states include: Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross River, Edo, Gombe, Kwara, Osun, Plateau, Taraba, Yobe and Zamfara.
The consequence, as captured by a research carried out by the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Abuja, showed that across the grassroots, health services are inadequate, there is limited potable water, primary education is in a comatose, teachers are either not available or protesting poor pay, and general absence of public infrastructure nationwide.
While the essence of local government is to bring democracy closer to the people, successive governors have failed to conduct elections at the local level, thereby eroding democratic governance.
Former President Muhamamdu Buhari had said that corrupt state governors collect funds on behalf of local government officials and remit only half of the money collected to them.
Local government employees have also accused state governors of misappropriating funds collected on their behalf from the federation account and, in some cases, stealing the funds meant for the local government.
The situation above has led to calls for local government autonomy, which means that the local government authorities no longer want to be at the mercy of state governments.
Many analysts are of the view that local government administration in Nigeria needs to be reviewed for them to be able to carry out their constitutional role.
Adelaja Adeoye, public affairs analyst and politician, said that rather than frequently having head on collusion with governors, the local government chairmen should push for full implementation of autonomy, which will legally empower them to function not as an appendage but as a fully functional executive tier of government in Nigeria.
Adelaja further stated that being the closest to the grassroots, the councils are the best to directly carry out programs that would benefit Nigerians, especially infrastructural projects.
According to him, “The states have not been able to implement the JAAC effectively, which is causing all the drama we are seeing in Ogun State between the Ijebu-East Local government chairmen Wale Adebayo and the State Governor Dapo Abiodun.
“The state governors, who wield the biggest executive power should work closer with these LGA chairmen across board, so that people at the grassroots can feel the dividend of democracy, rather than drama and power tussle.
“The invasion and subsequent suspension of the Local Government Chairman is not necessary, the fight is just about funds, and the quest to serve the people.
“Implementation of local government autonomy has not fully kicked off, and that’s the reason most of the state government are appointing commissioner for chieftaincy Title and local government administration, which deals and directs the affairs of LGA.”
Abiodun Omolegan, a lawyer, said there must be a cancellation of the joint account of the state and local government, just as he insisted on autonomy for local government as the best for this country. He called on the 10th National Assembly to make laws to give more powers to the third tier of government.
“I think part of the thing we need to do is that the state electoral body should be stripped of the responsibility of conducting elections into councils.
“That bill failed during the last amendment by the National Assembly, but it is very important if we want to free them from the governors, let INEC be conducting LG election,” Omolegan added.
Sola Ogundimu, a political analyst, said the failure of councils, partly account for the high poverty and infrastructural neglect in the rural areas across Nigeria.
“There was a reason why the local government was set up and you can see this system has failed. I strongly believe that is why we have high infrastructural neglect and poverty among our people in the rural areas.
“Empowerment programs from the federal government and states don’t get to the rural people, because the government is far from them. The National Assembly needs to act and it is only legislation that can save the situation,” he said.