Going by the provisions of the fourth schedule, section seven of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), the Local Government Authorities as the third tier of government-coming behind the states were created and charged with the responsibility of bringing governance closer to the people through the following functions;
Collection of rates, radio and television rates, Establishment and maintenance of homes for the destitute or infirm licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than the mechanically propelled trucks) and establishment, maintenance and regulation of markets, motor parks and public conveniences.
Others include; Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightnings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of the state; naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses, registration of all births, deaths and marriages. Assessment of privately opened houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the state. Control and regulation of outdoor advertising, shops and kiosks, restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public among others.
To perform this role, Nigerians have for a very long time advocated that the monthly federal allocations for the 774 local Government Authorities in the country be paid directly into local council accounts without the involvement various state governors.
That prayer appeared to have been recently answered with Mr President signing of the Local Government autonomy Bill into Law/Act on the 1st of June, 2019. The enforcement and effectiveness as reported by this newspaper on Saturday, 6th July-Saturday, July 13th, 2019 Volume 4; No 118, has become an immediate mandate. Particularly, as the Act was preceded by new guidelines issued by the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), for local Government fund withdrawal throughout the country which bars the Governors from tampering with funds meant for local government councils.
Arguably, a great development but can this change the backward attitudes of an average local council staff or its political office holders?
To us as a responsive news medium that daily interfaces with Local Government Councils both within and outside the state, the above worries cannot be described as unfounded as we have learned valuable lessons from the operators of the Local Councils which has made us just like the vast majority of Nigerians to conclude that the challenge which exists in local government councils goes from financial to include attitudinal.
As an illustration, in some states, local council staff only exist in name as they have since abandoned any pretence of bold thinking. They have become simply salary takers, devoid of any sense of contribution towards the development of neither the local government area nor the state in general. They lack the precise qualities needed for success in any given nation.
This sordid state of affairs are responsible for the dilapidation of roads and streets, and the disappearance of street lights, parks, gardens and public highways in virtually all the local councils in the country –Ika South and Ika North-East local councils no exceptions.
Also, this same lackadaisical attitude wrapped in self-interest provide answers to why they only become effective and efficient in responsibilities such as; a collection of rates, radio and television rates, licensing of trucks, maintenance and regulation of markets, motor parks and public conveniences. Assessment of privately opened houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such property and control and regulation of; outdoor advertising, shops and kiosks, restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public among others
The motivating factor here is personal gain and not public good.
In as much as we celebrate the direct payment of federal allocation to the councils which will definitely curtail state governor’s interference; it is our views that the council chairmen should judiciously use these monies to improve not just the infrastructures within the council but the socioeconomic well-being of the people.
It will assist in changing this narrative if the people develop the political will to ask for explanation on how allocations received from the federation account and the internally generated revenues are spent.
By Jerome-Mario Utomi