Deepening grassroots development in Ogun via home-grown democracy
On Monday, July 26, 2021, the local government electoral process came to a conclusive dénouement in Ogun State. Governor Dapo Abiodun swore in the 20 newly elected local government council chairmen of the state, thus signposting that all democratic institutions have been emplaced in the Gateway State.
The planning, execution and delivery of the process attest to the credentials of the State as a leading light in the Nation’s political firmament. For Governor Dapo Abiodun, it was a dream come true as he activated a new vista in governance at the grassroots level through a free, fair, credible and thorough process. It was the first time since 2016 that elected representatives would be sworn in to government in the state at that level.
Within their first 10 days in office, many of the new Council chairmen behaved like Olympians in the Governance race. It is not surprising because many of them came into office largely prepared for the challenges of their offices. From the sound of the buzzer of inauguration, for instance, Wale Adedayo, a veteran journalist and one-time Chief Press Secretary to ex-governor, Gbenga Daniel and just elected chairman, Ijebu East Local Government rolled out graders on Iwaya Road, Isapodo, Ijebu-Ife, the next day. Days later, he supervised the channelisation of drainage around Itele Central Mosque and received Ijebu East Local Government chapter of the National Youths Council of Nigeria.
The same story is replicated in Ogun Central where former Secretary to Obafemi/Owode local Government also just sworn in as Chairman in the LGA, Adesina Ogunshola. His tutelage in governance seems to have prompted him to commence the building of 50 units of low cost houses within the local government in his first year in office. Hungry for impact, Sheriff Musa, newly inaugurated Chairman of Ado-Odo/Ota Local Government in Ogun West Senatorial District commenced with Citizens Engagement and accepted a charter of demands consisting of the priority areas where the citizens want the chairman to focus on. It speaks volume about inclusive and participatory governance that Governor Abiodun preaches.
For Adedayo, fondly called Babalawo: “…We are going to make sure that all our roads are properly maintained and the gutters are free for easy flow of erosion. The major causes of flooding in most part of Ijebu East LG is the blockage of the existing drainage system. This is being attended to across the local government area. The government will do its own part of drainage evacuation while the residents of the local government area should henceforth shun dumping of refuse in the drainage…”
And on youth empowerment, it is premised on the State promise to “tackle the challenges of teenage pregnancy, unemployment and positively engaging recalcitrant youths together”.
These are said to be DA-mentored chairmen. They emerged from a mosaic of aspirants, thoroughly sieved through in a complex selection process that was inclusive and the enthusiasm of parties that vied for the coveted offices across all the 20 LGAs and the 236 Wards. It also attests to the fact that the people were ready to embrace change at the grassroots before and after the 2021 LG poll in Ogun.
Expectedly, the rallies attracted unprecedented crowds where the Governor not only gave his scorecard but marketed each of the candidates of his All Progressives Congress as the leader of the party in the State. For him, it was strategic to score the bull’s eye and beyond body language enthused that he was not only good at winning a free and fair election like he did in 2019, but that he is capable of midwifing a rancor-free and trustworthy democratic process.
Speaking during the ceremony in Abeokuta Gov. Abiodun promised to provide good governance which would continue to strengthen the local government administration in the state.
Although APC won all the chairmanship seats in all the 20 councils in the state, thus attracting bad blood from one wing of an opposition party, the factionalised Peoples Democratic Party which attempted to discredit the legitimacy of the polls, it turned out it was a sour grape when majority of the other opposition parties endorsed the outcome of the election as a true reflection of the electorate’s wish.
Chairman of the Inter-Party Advisory Council (IPAC), Ogun State Chapter, Abayomi Arabambi was unequivocal in his commendation of the Babatunde Osibodu-led Ogun State Independent Electoral Commission (OGSIEC) when he enthused: “Ever since in the history of Ogun State and Nigeria, we have never conducted the free, fair, and peaceful election of such… And INEC should come and learn from Mr. Babatunde Oshibodu-led OGSEIC”.
The road to victory was a long haul. It took a toll on the governor and the leadership of the party to separate the wheat from the chaffs. Not only were the aspirants screened, there was conscious effort to ensure that only those with track records were fielded.
Admitting that the APC team was the best, the IPAC helmsman said he could not fault the methodical approach of the ruling party because “it’s very imperative for the governor to choose the best hands that can work with him at the grassroots. And as we all know that, in all the three tiers of government: local, state and federal government, local government is very close to the grass root”.
Yet nothing was taken for granted. APC took time to travel the length and breadth of the State to campaign. At every stop, the campaign team led by the State governor himself had one project or another to inaugurate in each of the 236 wards. New ones were promised and none of the local government had less than 52 projects with the imprimatur of the governor since he assumed office on May 29, 2019, thus rekindling hope that APC was poised to churn out more dividends of democracy to the people.
By his deliberate and focused approach, the statement being made by Prince Dapo Abiodun is simply in tandem with the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution. His mission, clearly stated, is to ensure that a reliable team of managers is vested with the responsibilities enshrined in the Constitution to consider and make recommendations to a State commission on economic planning or any similar body on issues such as economic development; collection of rates; establishment, maintenance and regulation of cemeteries, burial grounds, slaughterhouses, motor parks and public conveniences; registration of all births, deaths and marriages; and assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State, among others.
The Schedule also defines the functions of local government council to include, among others, its participation in the government of a state in the areas of provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of materials; and provision and maintenance of health services.
Of course, these functions are critical to grassroots development and the sustainability of our environment. The local government council being the closest to the people and its viability can most likely be in doubt or subdued, if its governance is not owed by the people. In other words, if the local government council is not a democratic institution, how does it defer accountability, dedication to duty and responsibility to service to the people?
It is in this context that we can categorically say that no state in Nigeria is committed to grassroots democracy as a driving force for grassroots development than Ogun State. And in fulfilling its promise to ensure that local government councils in the state derive their powers and autonomy from the people, the Ogun State Independent Electoral Commission (OGSIEC), on July 24, 2021, conducted election into the 20 local councils in the state.
In fact, such is the commitment of the State Government, under His Excellency Prince Dapo Abiodun, towards democratising grassroots governance that the state intended to conduct the election much earlier than on July 24. Upon the inauguration of Local Government Transition Committees on July 17, 2020, with a view to conducting the election subsequently, the state recorded its first case of COVID-19 on February 27, 2020, thereby making it irresponsible not to consider the health emergency as a priority ahead of an election. That was the sole reason the LG Transition Committees stayed in office for 18 months.
Once there was a sign of near-normalcy in this new-normal era of COVID-19, Prince Abiodun swung back into action by inaugurating OGSIEC on March 18, 2021, in line with the provisions of the Nigerian constitution.
Abiodun has always maintained that, as a direct beneficiary of the electoral system and democratic process, he finds Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution sacrosanct.
“The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall, subject to Section 8 of this constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils,” the section reads.
And, after casting his vote at Ward 3, Iperu1, Unit 002, Ita Osanyin, Iperu, Ikenne Local Government Area, the governor reiterated his commitment not just to grassroots democracy but also to its autonomy.
“What currently obtains in the state is that the local governments are independent because we give them free hand to operate. We will respect the autonomy of the local government. They are the third tiers of government; much closer to the people. Our administration will give all the necessary support to them to ensure that they carry out their constitutional responsibilities in line with the resolutions of the Southern Governors Forum,” Abiodun had assured.
At the inauguration of the elected LG officials on July 26, Prince Abiodun cleared any doubt as to where the local government derives its powers by charging the people to demand accountability from their elected officials.
“I call on all the people of our dear State, particularly at the Local Government level, to hold these Council Chairmen to account. You have voted them in. You should also ensure that you continue to give them suggestions on how to improve the lots of the people in their areas. We must understand that the democratic process does not end at electing representatives but also in helping them to do what we have elected them to do,” he said.
To emphasise the significance of the recently-concluded local government council polls in Ogun and bookmark the commitment of the present administration to grassroots democracy, the last time council election was held in the state was in 2016. With the successful and peaceful completion of the LG election, new lease of life has been breathed into local council governance after five years.
It is for this reason that we hope that the retreat being organised for the newly-elected council officials would bring them up to speed with the shared prosperity mentality embedded in the “Building our Future Together” agenda of the state government.
·Somorin is the Chief Press Secretary to Gov. Dapo Abiodun