Nigerian League Table Of Government Administration By Tolu Ogulesi
Think of it as you would a football league, only that in place of clubs you’ve got state governors, and instead of an annual calendar you’ve got a quadrennial one. Thirty six participants, competing for top honours. It’s not even a month yet since the kick-off whistle was blown, but a clear leader has already emerged; Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State. The Action Man of the “New Governors’ Cabal”. He’s cut down the number of ministries in the state from 19 to 13, abolished the allocation of fertilisers to big men, and has just announced that the state will henceforth not be spending public funds on Ramadan welfare schemes. He has also brought a commendable diversity to his cabinet: One of his special assistants is younger than 30, the new Head of Service is a woman, and there are a number of non-indigenes who have been appointed Special Advisers. Clearly el-Rufai means business – as much as he did as the Federal Capital Territory minister a decade ago; compared to the situation in Kaduna, it feels like Abuja has been taking a nap.
Closely following him on the league table, in my opinion, is Governor Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos State. Ambode has spent his first weeks in office doing stuff: scrapping or merging ministries and agencies, creating new ones, and piling up the miles touring the state and making important decisions. On one of his tours last week, he ordered the relocation of some major bus stops choking the flow of traffic, as well as the construction of a much-needed pedestrian bridge.
For Governor Samuel Ortom of Benue State, his claim to the spotlight has come from a very different angle: The new governor has just got approval to borrow N10bn spending money. The same thing with Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State; N10bn also. It’s looking like N10bn is the new magic number, knowing our penchant for copycatism, expect a flood of N10bn loans into state government coffers in the weeks ahead. On this Governors’ League, I’m not sure exactly where to place these early borrowers of money. Surely, you don’t want to kick off your administration by piling up more debts.
Were this to be Nigeria’s football league, the governors’ rankings I have written about above would be the Nigerian National League, while the Federal Government would be the Nigeria Premier League, the crown jewel. And of course, it makes sense, extending that line of thinking, to speak about the third-level league that no one pays any attention to: Local government administration. I wish I could write about a functioning league table for this lowest division, but alas I’m not aware there’s anything happening here to warrant writing commendably about.
Most of the blame for this state of affairs should go to our state governors, who demand to be properly treated by the Federal Government but see no hypocrisy in going on to treat the local government areas like slaves. Just imagine if our states were treated by the Federal Government the same way they routinely treat the local governments. What we call local governments today are no more than fiefdoms of the state governors.
This cannot be overstated: We desperately need functioning local governments in Nigeria. We need our local governments to work, and not just in revenue collection, but in running efficient schools and hospitals, building and maintaining roads, motor parks and public toilets, and ensuring that births and deaths are duly registered (the 4th Schedule of the Constitution, which spells out the “functions” of local governments in Nigeria, is worth reading and circulating). We need local government administration to attract great administrative talent; our finest brains should consider running for office at the local government level as much as they’d consider positions at state and federal level.
But this will not happen unless and until we free these local governments from the straitjackets of the state governors. The 1999 Constitution in Section 162 rather ambiguously yokes the states and local governments together by spelling out something called the “State Joint Local Government Account” to be controlled by state governments, and “into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.” From the SJLGA, the constitution mandates state governments to transfer money to the local governments “on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by” the National Assembly and state Houses of Assembly. While in theory this should confer on local governments some semblance of autonomy – since there is no basis for a governor withholding from a local government what is due to it – in practice, this is not the case. The state governments do as they please with the joint accounts; for many governors, it is yet another slush fund, like their security votes.
In keeping with our penchant for re-inventing the wheel, there have been several committees and panels set up to reform local governments over the last four decades. Yet, we’re still caught in a web of confusion regarding exactly what local governments should be doing; what their rights (with regards to state funding and oversight) and responsibilities (with regard to the citizens) ought to be.
As citizens, we need to add the clamour for local government autonomy to our (already lengthy) list of demands, and commit to hassling our state governors for this with the same aggressiveness with which the states and governors have been hassling Abuja on the issue of “true federalism”. Regular elections must hold at the local governments, under the supervision of credible State Independent Electoral Commissions. We also need to pay attention to the workings of the Joint Account. (At the moment, I believe state governments directly pay primary school teachers – who are within the oversight of local governments – from the account, and teachers unions have insisted they would like that arrangement to continue, based on the horrible experiences in the past when local governments were expected to do the payments themselves).
It feels fitting to end with these words from the May 29 inauguration speech of President Buhari (who, it must be noted, upon assumption of office as a military ruler 30 years ago reduced the number of local governments in Nigeria from the 1,000-strong legacy of the Shagari years to the 301 that Obasanjo handed over to the civilians in 1979). Buhari said: “Constitutionally, there are limits to powers of each of the three tiers of government but that should not mean the Federal Government should fold its arms and close its eyes to what is going on in the states and local governments. Not least the operations of the Local Government Joint Account. While the Federal Government cannot interfere in the details of its operations, it will ensure that the gross corruption at the local level is checked. As far as the constitution allows me, I will try to ensure that there is responsible and accountable governance at all levels of government in the country. For I will not have kept my own trust with the Nigerian people if I allow others abuse theirs under my watch.”