One thorny issue that has cropped up in the ongoing debate for the amendment of the 1999 Constitution is the type of local government system the nation should operate. While most Nigerians want an independent local government system, others, especially Governors under the aegis of Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), are against moves to grant the councils autonomy. While the debate is still on, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, called for outright scrapping of the councils.
Sanusi had in his presentation at the Second Annual Capital Market Committee Retreat in Warri, Delta Delta, espoused that it is wasteful for the Federal Government to continue to fund the running of 774 councils as a third tier of government in the country.
The CBN boss wants only the Federal and State governments to be retained as tiers of government so as to reduce the amount of money the nation spends in maintaining an over-bloated bureaucracy occasioned by the extant, distorted three tiers of government. Sanusi is disturbed that 70 percent of Federal Government’s revenue is utilised to pay salaries and entitlements of civil servants, leaving 30 per cent for the development of infrastructure for 167 million Nigerians. No doubt, the councils, as run presently, do not constitute a tier of government.
The state governments control the councils, their finances and those selected or elected into them. This possibly explains the overt inability of the councils to develop the rural areas, which the framers of the Constitution had in mind while creating them. Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution in guaranteeing the local government system states that “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Governor of every state shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”
Our experience so far shows that this Constitutional provision has been observed more in breach because most of the 774 councils are run by appointees of the various state governors. The Fourth Schedule of the Constitution states that the functions of a local government council, among other things, include “the consideration and making of recommendations to a state commission on economic planning or any similar body on the economic development of the State, particularly in so far as the areas of authority of the council and of the State are affected”.
Particularly, the councils’ duties include, among others, the collection of rates, radio and television licences, maintenance of cemeteries, establishing and running of markets, outdoor advertising and running of primary schools. Based on the provisions of this schedule, local government system is tailored to be under the control of the state governments, thereby reinforcing the governors’ position on the matter. Therefore, in keeping with Sanusi’s argument on the scrapping of the councils, we call for the amendment of Section 162 (3) of the Constitution, which makes the councils partakers of the proceeds of the Federation Account.
We believe that if this Section is amended, then the present local government system should be scrapped and states can create any number of councils as they deem fit. The beauty of Sanusi’s suggestion is that the 36 states of the federation will constitute the federating units. Adding the 774 councils as federating units to it would be an invitation to anarchy because having such a system would amount to having a state within a state. An autonomous council system will make their chairmen emperors and will ultimately undermine the power of the states over their councils.
Having autonomous 774 governments in addition to the 36 states and the federal government will constitute a huge drain on the economy.