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Justice Minister, Fagbemi wants State electoral commissions scrapped

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The Attorney general of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi has advocated for the scrapping of State Independent Electoral commissions.

Fagbemi made the call on Monday at the National Discourse on Nigeria’s Security Challenges and good governance at the local government level held in Abuja.

According to Fagbemi, inspite of the constitutional provisions that were meant to safeguard local governments’ autonomy, there have been cases of arbitrary dissolution, abolition or fragmentation of local governments by the higher tiers of government, particularly the state governments.

The Minister contended that the provision of the constitution under section 162 (5-8) on State Joint Local Government Account, which empowered the state Assemblies to decide the revenue to their local government facilitated state encroachment on local revenues.

“Cases of state hijacking of local government revenues abound from 1999 to date In consequence of these weak constitutional provisions, the lifespan of the local government councils is at the mercy of the state governments.

“There is no consistent pattern of local government elections. Some State Governors dissolved their Councils and appoint Caretaker Committees. There are several cases of abuse of the Joint Account by different state governments across Nigeria.

“This has undermined the financial autonomy of the local government, as well as their ability to deliver on their statutory responsibilities On the fourth point relating to observed problems/challenges in the way we are implementing the constitutional/legal provisions and what those problems are:Under a true federal structure, the autonomy of local government is adequately guaranteed.”

Fagbemi further explained that one of the persisting challenges of Nigeria’s federalism is the persistent failure to grant autonomy to local government as the third tier of government.

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“Although, the LGAs as the third tier of government in Nigeria and as enshrined in the constitution is ostensibly meant to serve as are an institutional framework for effective service delivery to the grassroots and the overall national development; however, LGAs in Nigeria have been performing poorly in provision of essential services to the people due to absence of autonomy.

“The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria did not provide adequately for the political autonomy of the local governments. The resultant effects of these inadequacies are that the state governments have the discretion to determine the nature, content and direction of local government elections and political activities.

“The failure of the constitution to articulate a clear line of authorities to both the state and local authorities and the continuing debate over the involvement of state governments in distributing local government allocation from the Federation Account has affected the capacity of LGAs to provide essential services at the grassroots.Rather than function as a tier of government, LGAs have been operating as an appendage of the State governments in Nigeria.

“The constitutional provisions on State Joint Local Government Account (section 162 (5-8)) have placed the local government councils in a political bondage.Politically, due to the flaws in the electoral process in the country, what is obtained is a virtual selection and not election of local government functionaries.

“Local government chairmen are always imposed on the people by the State Governors. This erodes the three elements of good governance at the local government level, which are citizens’ participation, transparency and accountability. The imposed chairman will be accountable only to the Governor rather than the people. This results in lack of transparency and non-involvement of the citizens.

“High level and rampant corruption.The absence of administrative and fiscal autonomy to LGAs created a dependency situation than independent one conceptualized under a true federal system of Govt. The local governments in many instances have continued to suffer fiscal emasculation in the hands of state governments. In all these unwholesome abuses, Sections 7 and 162 of the 1999 Constitution among others have been an escape route for many State Governments to manipulate the Local government and reduce same to a mere department in the Governors’ office.

“State joint local government account (SJLGA) has been the anti-development instrument used to frustrate every progressive and patriotic action to make the Local Government work since the return of the Country to democracy in 1999.And finally, what are the solutions/recommendations to the observed problems/challenges: LGAs are created by the Constitution.

”Accordingly, in a tiered system like ours, constitutional amendment is imperative before a new system of local government administration can be instituted.Good governance at any level of governance is not possible without the transfer of authority, responsibilities, capacity and resources.

“This is even more so for the LGAs.Accordingly, constitutional reforms should, among other things, aim to: increase fiscal and administrative autonomy of Local Govt system to enhance its effectiveness and efficiency; fiscal autonomy should be balanced with fiscal restraint by strengthening the internal controls system, processes and infrastructure for public financial management;ensure inclusiveness and citizens participation in the governance of LGAs.allow the legislative arms of local governments to decide what they should do with revenue accruing to them;need to capacitate LGAs for effective governance. Capacity building involves equipping local government officials with the necessary skills and knowledge to perform their duties effectively. control corruption and institute transparency and integrity in financial accountability of LGAs.

”Transparent and accountable governance fosters public trust, while efficient service delivery enhances legitimacy and stability.Investing more in local government administration with institutionalised internal and external oversightEnsure adherence to the rule of law by upholding the principles of justice, fairness, and accountability Conclusion:

“The ability of LGAs to perform developmental functions, particularly in a federal system like Nigeria revolves around the nature of the relationship between the federal, state and local government any major reform of the Local Govt System will invariably require the alteration of the Constitution and other incidental legislations touching on Local Government administration.On the other hand, constitutional alteration can only be achieved through consensus building and commonality of purpose between the three tiers, as with the three arms of Government.

“We are therefore challenged to play our respective roles, when called upon to do so. The best time to act is now.To achieve this, many experts have proposed that there is need for the scrapping of the state independent electoral commission. Their functions and powers should be transferred to the independent national electoral commission because the state independent electoral commission remain an appendage to every incumbent governor.

“This is perceived as the root cause of the problem of local government administration in Nigeria. I commend the leadership of the House of Representatives for this bold initiative, which not only signifies an intent but also the desire to fully reposition our governance structures and systems, which will enable us to find lasting solutions to our enduring security and governance challenges.

“I happily look forward to further engagements on this crucial issue with the leadership and members of the House of Representatives, as with the National Assembly at large.”

 

 

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