By Simeon OSAJIE
A University Don, Prof. Festus Imuetinyan has posited that Local Government Administration as presently constituted in Nigeria can not catalyst national development as it suffers from the challenge of forced uniformity in the face of endemic diversity.
Prof. Imuetinyan who stated this in Benin City while delivering a lecture titled, “Sustaining An Autonomous Local Government As A Catalyst For National Development: The Role of NULGE”, as part of the programmes lined up for the 2022 NULGE WEEK said, the present system is not patterned to achieve any developmental goal. “It is rather a smooth vehicle for the transfer of centrally collected funds to the pockets of States’ political elites,” he said.
Prof Imuetinyan emphatically said that the 1999 Constitution makes it possible for State governments to cripple Local Government Councils financially by routing the amount of money standing to the credit of Local governments in the Federation Account (FA) through a joint State Local Government Account rather than directly to local councils. This arrangement he said adversely affects the fiscal autonomy and viability of most local governments.
“Some State governors make inexplicable deductions or unduly delay the release of funds from the joint accounts to local-government chief executives. Local government chairmen are bullied by state governors to surrender much of their statutory allocations under duress. When they fail; they find other ways to replace them with caretaker committees of selected loyalists.
“Expenditure and project discretion has become a thing of the past. Most states expect their Local governments to seek and obtain permission to embark.on projects. Local government projects are inspected periodically by officials of state governments,” he said.
Going further, the University Don added, “More financial load has been placed on Local governments’ share of the Federation Account. For example, funds for primary school teachers’ salaries and pension charges are now charged centrally to the Local governments. The central deductions at source of these charges and several other unfunded mandates in environmental and social spending by the State Governments tend to leave many Local Governments with little funds. And unfortunately, many Local governments especially those in the rural areas have limited access to productive tax bases.
“State governors have also been accused of plotting with the State Houses of Assembly to shorten the tenure of elected local government officials in order to put their supporters in office. Local government chairmen have argued that State governors (especially where the chairmen come from a party different from the governor’s) plot to remove them by using the audit powers of the State.
Prof. Imuetinyan, who is also Commissioner, Federal Character Commission, Abuja, said, “It would seem that State governments are getting away with the encroachment upon local government functions mainly because the anticipated democratically elected local Councils are nowhere to be found. What we have today are mainly Sole administrators, Caretaker committees and civil servants appointed by the Governors and they are not expected to challenge the authority of the Governors that appointed them. Even where elections are conducted, the state appointed Electoral Commissions ensures that only loyal friends in the government party succeed.”
While acknowledging the fact that Edo State is one the few states in Nigeria that have brought local government staff into the main stream by appointing some of them as Permanent Secretaries, Prof. Imuetinyan enjoined NULGE as the major Trade Union in the Local Government system in Nigeria to ensure that the present unified local government system which is unwieldy, is jettisoned.