This piece is an expose on the servant/master relationship between the state governments and the local governments. It is also to correct the erroneous perceptions that the local governments are irredeemably corrupt, inconsequential in the body politic as far as democracy dividend deliverables are concerned and that they are mostly manned by misfits. It serves as a public service effort to present a first-hand account of the factors
negating effective local government administration in the country using Anambra State as a mirror.
Why Anambra? It is doubtful if any other state operates the type of local government system as it obtains in Anambra. The State has the worst local government system of administration in the country. It practises total abrogation of the powers and functions of the local government as spelt out in the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as Amended). The local government system operating in Anambra State is retrogressive, anti-people and above all unconstitutional. The state is not alone in this anomaly but it tops the chart.
I was one of the 316 men and women who won election into the various Councillorship positions in 20 out of the 21 local government areas in Anambra State in January, 2014 (there was no election in Nnewi North Local Gvernment Area). We were subsequently sworn in the same month of January, 2014. And our tenure elapsed in January, 2016 – a term of two years. Maybe it is necessary to highlight that the aspiration and actualisation of the ambition took the majority of us (Councillors) 12 years – 2002 to 2014. The long interval was because election was not conducted into the third tier of government in the state throughout the 12-year period. The interregnum covered the last one year of the Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju administration, the Dr Chris Ngige rule, the Dame Virgy Etiaba stand in era, and seven years 10 months of Mr. Peter Obi government.
At a time we were lampooned as the longest political office aspirants in history. Nonetheless, when the dream eventually materialised and “the Word became Flesh”, I was overjoyed. I looked forward to duty with great expectations and promises. But alas! The reality did not match the expectations. What obtained was in utter contrast of what should be. The system is in tethers in Anambra State. The local governments exist only in name in the state, the physical structures known as the local government headquarters are mere edifices. All the functions of the local governments including the finances are usurped by the state government using the Ministry of Local Government Affairs and the State Joint Account Committee, a.k.a JAC.
The first shock one had was the revelation that our tenure was two years and not three. The Anambra State House of Assembly had in its wisdom passed a law – “Anambra State Local Government Administration Law 2011” curtailing the tenure of Local Government political office holders in the state to two years from the date of swearing in. As if that was not retrogressive enough, we realised that the monthly Federal Allocations to the local government will end up in Awka, the state capital, from where they can dole out any amount according to their whims to the local government Chairman for upkeep allowances. Also sources of revenue generation for the local governments like motor parks and markets were seized by the State Government, though they were benevolent enough to release the abattoirs to the local government. The local government cannot procure any material or undertake any work without the approval of the State Government through the Ministry for Local Government. To test the no procurement or work directive, we noted that our Legislative Chambers had no window blinds. We made formal requisition to the Executive Chairman of the Local Government, but he was unable to do anything and till we left office the curtains were not provided. Even the desks we used were the ones we met when we came in.
Perhaps, the one incident which revealed the depth of the subversion of democratic ethos in the running of the local governments in Anambra State was the budget passage exercise for the year 2014 budget of the local government. After our inauguration and during the assigning of various committees in the House, the Leader of the Legislative Council had made me the Chairman House Committee on Finance/Appropriation and Public Accounts. I was eager to prove my mettle with my first real duty. Little did I know there was no Finance to appropriate as the budget passage exercise ended up mere window dressing. How? I will explain.
The 2014 Appropriation Bill passage of the local government enjoyed the full trappings of the legislative tradition befitting such enterprise. The Executive Chairman of the Local Government presented the Appropriation Bill to the Legislative Council with pomp. He was accompanied to the budget presentation ceremony by the respective Supervisors of the Local Government, the Head Local Government Administration of the Local Government, the Treasurer, and the various Heads of Department. The entire Legislative Council members were in attendance. The presentation went well but where the problem laid was the budget defense process at the Committee level by the Supervisors and Heads of Departments.
At the committee stage of the budget passage process, we invited all the Supervisors and the Heads of Departments of the various administrative departments of the Local Government to come and defend the estimates allotted to their departments. It was here we learnt how everybody has been rendered irrelevant in the running of the Local Governments. Everybody, including the Chairman, the Supervisors and Heads of Departments told us point blank that they made no inputs into the figures and projects captured in the budget. They did not know how they were arrived at. Everything in the budget proposal was prepared in Awka. After one month of muscle flexing, the futility of our efforts dawned on us. It did not matter if we ‘ayed’ or ‘nayed’ the contents of the document, the outcome will amount to nothing. It was obvious the budget just serves as cover for proof of how the local government funds were spent. Reluctantly, yet regrettably we accepted our impotence and ‘ayed’ it for them. But the questions on our lips were: how
can we perform when we were not allowed inputs into a budget meant for our people? Can outsiders know the needs of our people better than us? For how long shall we go on this way?
The case was the same in all facets of local government administration in the state. The Executive Chairman of the Local Government was rendered so impotent that he could not authorise the simplest of tasks. He lacked the power to even sanction erring staff. There are issues on which the Head of Local Government Administration and the Treasurer can override him. On the issue of Finance, everything is domiciled with the State Joint Account Committee. On a monthly basis one reads the monetary allocation figures as released by the Federal Allocation Committee which accrue to the Local Governments but these monies never reach the beneficiary Local Governments.
It was total annihilation and it explains why all I have to show to my community as the project I attracted to them during my stewardship as their Councillor are one culvert and a market stall of 12 sheds. The free summer vacation classes I organised for students in 2014 including the Youths Soccer Tourney were funded from savings from my previous employment in Port Harcourt. They were in partial fulfillment of my electioneering promises.
I had sailed to victory on the wings of populism as I have served my community in various capacities and still do. I am the pivot of youth affairs in my town. Therefore it is disgraceful and a shame that I could not use my position to impact positively on my people especially the youths despite the hope I gave them and their belief in me. This disgrace one bears as a fallout of the subjugation experienced at the hands of the State Government and would have been a bit more tolerable had the State Government not extended the same anarchical treatment to the personal earnings of the Local Government political office holders. Our statutory emoluments were withheld by the State Government and where some were
paid (salaries) it was about 30 percent of the legally stipulated wages. Till date, none of our allowances has been paid by the State Government. The denial of our constitutional financial benefits has pauperised and impoverished one. My colleagues and I remain the only set of political office holders who came out of office poorer than when we went in.
The operation of the Local Government system in any form unknown to the letters of the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as Amended) is criminal. It is an aberration. All men of goodwill must condemn the stultification of the Local Government system in the country especially in Anambra State. We must rise up to demand the dismantling of all structures which aid the state governments in emasculating the
The States Joint Account Committees apart from being drain pipes are conduits for corruption. The Unified Local Government System has outlived its usefulness. Forty years after its adoption, one does not think there is any local government anywhere in the country presently without enough home-grown manpower to run its affairs. The same applies to the Local Government Service Commission usually domiciled in the state capital like the Ministry of Local Government Affairs. The Ministry of Local Government Affairs has no right superintending the Local Government except the Federal Government can be persuaded to create a similar Federal Ministry of State Affairs to supervise the state
governments. The pith of my logic is let us set the local governments free to thrive on their own. Like the state governments, let them enjoy full autonomy and dictate the course and pace of their existence.
Finally, I am waiting for the government of Anambra State to pay me the backlog of short-paid salaries during the two years their law permitted me to serve, and also to offset all my withheld allowances.
Hon Uzoekwe served as a councillor in Aguata Local Govt Council (2014 -2016)