The Sun News

Giving power to local governments

Victor C. Ariole

There is but one contract in the state – that of association; and this of itself exclude any other.

   – J. J. Rousseau

Local government should be the basis of Association in Nigeria.

Why people say that the USA constitution is lean in size, but more respectable than the elaborate Nigerian one, is because the minimalist approach it adopted in presenting it mattered most. Like Rousseau says above, “contract of association” is sufficient to render any other contract a mere abstract; hence, ironically, inclusive of everything that makes different people tend to be one or never to be one. In effect, any law binding such association must first and foremost seek for the agreement of all the constituents of such agreed-upon-association, not in ochlocrasy manner – “a yes” exclamation.

Each legislator must educate the crowd that sent him/her what any bill entails and may establish “a yes” or “nay” response before voting at the parliament. On the of January 17,  2018, I noticed that in Newark, New Jersey, where an Asian looking young lady was addressing a crowd along the “Prudential” or Broadway corner, as they listen to how she was going to defend their cause on the “Dreamers” vote. The people in the crowd were of varied complexion – Black, White, Yellow – and the little but great lady was tutoring them on the need to stand by the Dreamers.

I was surprised to hear that she is of the Republican Party, the same way the Black lady of Haitian origin representing Utah is also seen in the congress, supporting the Dreamers.This is where Rousseau’s talk of “democracy is best suited for a small state”: comes in. Rousseau was saying that a legislator is like a prince elected to represent a people who share common affinity and who put their trust in that single person to educate them well on what represents, best, their interest and go ahead to defend it at the parliament. Nigeria, as far as my knowledge permits me to know, is better represented in its about 10,000 autonomous communities which can, as well, transmute to Local Government Areas.

I find it difficult to believe what I see in some States – whether Sokoto, Kaduna, Borno, Plateau, Kano, Lagos, Imo, Rivers, Ogun, Osun, Enugu, etc, all of them States crowded by universities; and you still cannot make out the human development index values’ correlationship with such knowledge producing universities. It is assumed that universities perform community services and such services ought to reflect on the people found in either the autonomous communities or if you prefer it, the current 774 local governments in Nigeria.  Politicians should allow universities’ services permeate their constituencies.

There used to be a young guy I knew when I was living in Festac and he was excelling as the chairman of the Local Government; thereafter, after his exit, Festac became worse and I can’t say what has happened to him. He was in charge during his time and he was doing the needful to keep the place in order; and that is how LGA ought to function.

When power comes closer to the people, they will not mind who the President or the State Governor is. It is what they practice in CHS – Confederation Helvetique Swiss – Switzerland.

Without advocating for confederation in Nigeria as federation is still valid, there is a great need to place some exclusive powers on Local Governments or on autonomous communities. In effect, like Federal Government is exclusively in charge of the Military and External Affairs, the LGA must be made to be exclusively in charge of power generation and local aesthetics, like clean environment and recreation and tourists’ centers or parks. Beyond that, the State Government can control other activities or coordinate economic activities for mere compensation or stabilization effects, allowing the strong communities to play welfare card for the weak ones or place competition bonuses for deserving communities. I am yet to see any local government in Nigeria that cannot be made to be economically viable. The worst communities in Borno or Katsina could at worst be transformed to wind energy farms.

Switzersland does not have a canton that is guasi dependent on the central. In effect, dependency could only be seen as contract based dependency; that is, freedom to associate with Romance, Tessinois, Romanche, Italian or German  Canton. That is the foundation upon which the confederation law operates; first, freedom of association; and it is given the name Romance Cantons or Dutch Cantons or any other cluster among the five main languages’ clusters of French, German, Italian, Tessinois or Romanche. And, like herd of deers fight back when a lion picks one of them and the picked one is able to cry for help, and they get it rescued, a given canton is rescued by its affiliates when in distress. Just remember that Zurich, leading the German/Dutch affiliates, had found itself always fighting, or stressing itself, for the well being of members of its affiliates.

Now, imagine a Nigerian case where the identified 24 local governments linked to Nigeria’s borders are given greater fiscal autonomy, and refineries are built there to produce fuel in abundance for our neighbouring countries, they will add a great deal to the GDP of Nigeria and they could constitute themselves as affiliate for economic lobby group. 

It is indeed preposterous for Nigerian leaders or NNPC managers to be crying of fuel smuggling in Nigeria when it is the only commodity that has proved, for fifty years now, to be the most comparatively advantageous to Nigeria among its peers in Africa.

The truth is that, it is a natural heritage like land and if you cannot put it to better use for the betterment of humanity, you must allow whoever can do it for the greater majority to exploit it; this is the basis for the exploitation gimmicks of the multi-nationals.

On restructuring in Nigeria, it is better allowed to be, first, on who such communities want to associate with as per their economic or social interest so as to restructure the Local Governments on economic or social affiliation basis upon which they could be allowed to make laws that guide their association. The laws could be concurrent or exclusive to them – whether traditional, Sharia, Christian, Jewish, or common law.

Federal law could be exclusive to the extent that the citizen of Nigeria would want to affiliate, most, with a local government or any government level that approximate best the Federal constitution of Nigeria. So, as you can see, the State of California where most of the Dreamers live prefers to exclude itself from the immigration law of Trump just as, seemingly, the State of Utah prefers to be seen, more, as Christian State than others.

Let Nigerian restructuring, if ever meant to be purposeful, start with giving powers to the LGAs and find ways to make the LGAs cohesive, socially or economically.

Ariole is Professor of Francophone Studies, University of Lagos.


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