Oyetola: To be regal in defeat!

One of the reasons Nigeria has not progressed in directions desirable is its muddled local government administration, or more pointedly, the councils’ subsumption under so-called states’ structure. This situation has meant that councils, which clearly do not enjoy a life of their own, are permanently routinely subject to whimsical bursts of governors who have often basked in the affliction that whatever cash meant for the tier should be automatically vired into state coffers!

It seems an understatement to declare them as jinxed! Even when proper elections are conducted, the events leading up to such elections are often so doctored by sitting governors that outcomes hardly offer the people the best of representations. The governors have perfected schemes to handpick/impose their preferred candidates, rubishing supposed sanctities of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs). Recall that opposition parties, in lacking faith in the process, often popularly withdraw their participation in such elections. The alternative of caretaker leaderships seem no less worse, as the governors, just in avoiding what they often consider avoidable cost – time and finances – of constituting SIECs, simply directly impose puppets on the councils.

Either way, they keep the funds that legitimately belong to the councils, determine what projects to be done, and when and how. To apply a more appropriate, rather sympathetic, language, governors think for, never with, the councils! Of course, are governors not custodians of funds under the Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC) system?

The governor should be statesmanly enough to know the limits and not sully the terrain worse. Is Nigeria not having enough errors to cause headaches?

Autonomy for the councils would basically entail financial independence, that is funds get to them direct from the federation account so they could determine the when and how of disbursement of such funds, much as they could internal cash accruals. It would also involve that leadership succession is sufficiently immune to the vagaries of politics at the state level. For now, this does not happen and cannot, even as the houses of assembly, in protecting interests of their principals – state governors – further subject the councils to oversight scrutinies!

It is in this dismal light the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Osun State has jumped at the throat of outgoing Governor Gboyega Oyetola, warning him not to conduct any election at the councils in the twilight of his administration to mine the path for the incoming governor, Ademola Adeleke.

The party, in a release signed by Abioye Hashim, secretary, Osun PDP Legal Committee, noted it had gathered the All Progressives Congress (APC) government had finalised arrangements to embark on what it called “illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional voyage.”

According to the statement, based on the provision of Section 28 of the Electoral Act, 2022, APC had failed to sensitise the public at least 360 days before the holding of the election, and, on Section 29 of same Electoral Act, did not also invite the parties to submit the list of their candidates minimum of 180 days before the election.

PDP insists if Oyetola did that, his motive would be less than noble, and his purposes questionable. The party can hardly be faulted! They ask why the governor did not conduct the election immediately the tenure of last council administration ended late last year, rather than suddenly waking up to the reality that the councils should be moved from under caretaker leaderships which he then installed to substantive elected lords which will be in office for another three years!

Indeed, there is no gainsaying that democratically elected council officials are a vehicle to strengthening good governance and delivery of democracy dividends. The idea behind the elections is to bring more people into governance process, create employment opportunities, cater to diverse interests of the communities, and ensure even developments. One clear fact is the presumable closeness/familiarity of the council members with townspeople, and council members’ awareness about actual concerns of the communities. Entire members, including the chairmen and their councillors, who mostly live within the communities, are as much aware of the needs and lacks as the residents, and would hardly require tutorials and reminders when occasion calls for people-centric, community-focused budgeting and projects execution. By extension, therefore, it would also be needless to miss those to blame when genuine lacks are left unattended through irrelevant budgeting!

Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed”. However, owing to the subsumption of councils under the control of the state governments, on several occasions, many states had hounded democratically elected council chairmen and councillors off offices, replacing them with members of their own ruling parties as caretaker committees. In some states, as the case has been with Osun under Oyetola, government would simply decide not to conduct elections, preferring to run the councils with caretaker committees. Voter apathy has typically typified local council polls from Lagos to Oyo, Ogun to Rivers, and across other states.

Read also: Osun: How Aregbesola-Oyetola faceoff robbed APC of victory

Factually, the Nigerian story reveals a third tier which seems specifically jinxed! While all citizens are local, most citizens had waited for moments like this to announce they belong better to either the state or federal, and are often ready to feed both tiers with resources, including natural ones, which essentially issue from localities. But localities which should enjoy a lion share of resources, are, at 20.60 percent, getting the smallest fraction of federal allocations at the moment, while 52.68 percent and 26.72 percent go to FG and states respectively. This muddled mathematics is reason for yet unsuccessful fight on fiscal federalism.

President Muhammadu Buhari in an interview last year spoke glowingly on the centrality of local government administration to the good of Nigerians, admitting the destruction of the local council system was the root of the challenges that the country is currently facing.

His words: “…If the federal, state, and local systems were being followed properly we would not have all these problems. But the problem is that the local government has been virtually killed. And that is not good for this country because those that become local council chairmen are being compromised. You as a local government are supposed to receive N300 million. A document is given to you to sign that you have received N300 million but you are given only N100 million.” The way forward for the country is for national assembly to expunge the provision for state electoral commissions from the constitution and allow the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conduct all elections.

For Governor Oyetola to conduct election, just weeks to his vacating office, into the 30 local councils and area offices in his state, as being feared by PDP, is to evince a familiar error: perpetuate self interests; remain in office by other means; fulfil promises of political patronage and clientelism at the 11th hour and at the expense of decency and good faith; plant confusion and impose burdens for the incoming; sustain needless distractions; create enmity in the polity!

For not having yet categorically debunked the allegation, the ground for confusion and expression of fears by PDP seems well validated. But the one who genuinely seeks to partner in remedying a decay would not exhume/repeat an impugned practice. The governor should be statesmanly enough to know the limits and not sully the terrain worse. Is Nigeria not having enough errors to cause headaches? The way round this is for the governor to direct the council heads to hand over to the next superior career officers in their respective divisions. Oyetola could prove regal even in defeat!

Salawudeen, a freelance journalist, writes from Osun