President Muhammadu Buhari was truthful when he accused State Governors of “stealing” money meant for local government councils in their states. Citing a personal experience involving an unnamed governor, Buhari described as “terrible” how some state governors receive monies on behalf of local government councils in their states and remit half of it to the council chairmen, who pilfer the remnant, leaving nothing for developmental projects.

According to the President, ‘‘If the money from the Federation Account to the state is about N100m, N50m will be sent to the chairman, but he will sign that he received N100m. The governor will pocket the balance and share it with whoever he wants to share it with. And then the chairman of the local government must see how much he must pay in salaries, and to hell with development. When he pays the salaries of the big man, the balance he will put in his pocket.”

President Buhari was very mild in his choice of word to describe the relationship between the governors and the local government councils. Instead of saying that the governors “rob” local government councils of their statutory allocations, he said the governors “steal” local government money. For us, what these governors actually do is robbery. They forcefully take money that belong to local government councils and leave the balance to their chairmen to do whatever they like.

In 1978, when the uniform local government system all over the country was introduced under the Obasanjo military administration, the main sources of revenues for the councils were five percent federal allocation, and ten percent allocation from the state government, in addition to internally generated revenue of each of the councils. The local councils were to serve as third-tier government in the real sense of it, taking care of people at the grassroots.

But as the system began to degenerate and corruption took the centre-stage, state governments not only failed to remit their own ten percent allocation to the councils, but equally ceased money meant for the councils from the federal allocation. This is made possible by the fact that monies meant for the local councils from the federal government, pass through the state governments under the so-called state and local government joint allocation committee (JAC). This is where they do all the mathematics, where the councils are shortchanged.

The governor has his man in charge of the state and local government joint allocation committee. He is the one that decides what happens in accordance with the directives of His Excellency. The local government chairmen are stooges who were (s)elected by the governor, in the name of local council elections. So, they have no voice of their own. Whatever is given to them, they take, and will thankfully acknowledge it, as having received the whole money due to them.

The local government chairman will use part of the remaining money to pay salaries, if ever he will, and pockets the rest. In the circumstance, there will be no money left to carry out basic and statutory functions of the local councils, like construction of feeder roads, building and equipping of health centres, provision of rural electrification, sinking of water boreholes, building of primary schools and paying teachers salaries and allowances, as well as paying pensions and gratuities to retired local government workers, etc. And the people at the grassroots will continue to suffer.

The problem of local government administration in the country stems from the confused Nigerian political system, which is neither unitary nor federal. The Constitution has each of the existing 774 local councils listed as an autonomous political unit. Yet, it has empowered the state government to make laws for the running of the local councils under their jurisdiction.

In doing so, the governors are omnipotent, and they will tie the local councils in their area in their apron strings. Whatever they wish to do with these local councils, they will do it, including appropriation of the money that belongs to them, and nothing will happen. That is why the whole system has been in a mess, with the ultimate losers being people at the grassroots.

This state of affair has been going on since the dawn of the present Fourth Republic. But Buhari is just realizing it. What does he want us to do since he is already on his way out? In 2015, when Buhari was canvassing for votes, he told us that he will reform Nigeria’s political system, including granting local government autonomy. Seven and half years down the line, the man has done nothing. And Nigeria has continued to degenerate and to sink deeper and deeper.

The only hope for Nigeria is 2023. The Presidential Candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi, has promised us that he will take the bull by the horns and carry out complete reform of the entire Nigerian political arrangement. We believe he will do it, if Nigerians give him their votes in next year’s election.

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