Nigerians want the National Assembly to pass a new law granting autonomy to local governments in the country in order to shield them from being squeezed by state governments who would not want them to run independently or get financial autonomy
| By Augustine Adah | Dec. 10, 2012 @ 01:00 GMT
LACK of financial autonomy is gradually crippling the operations of local government administration in Nigeria. Many elected local government chairmen are finding it difficult to pay staff salaries and other entitlements. Many of them could also not execute tangible projects that would affect the lives of the people positively. The problem is caused by the Joint Account Allocation Committee, JAAC, policy which permits state governors to make some deductions from the monthly allocation to the local governments under the guise of doing complimentary joint projects before sending the balance to them. The result is that after the deductions, the local governments hardly have any fund left to run their affairs.
This is partly the reason some of them are unable to pay salaries or undertake new projects. In some cases, the local governments attribute their problems to accumulated debts inherited from previous administrations and corruption which is the bane of governments at various levels, including the local councils.
In Kogi State, many local governments are, owing staff salaries between three and 12 months. In Ogun State, local government workers in the 20 local government areas embarked on warning strike for three days over non-payment of workers’ salaries last September. The situation was not different in Plateau State where activities at the council secretariats in the 17 local government areas have been paralysed for more than two months.
John Tsinima, secretary, National Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE, Plateau State, berated the lackadaisical attitude of the government to the workers’ strike. Several protests were carried out by local government workers last month in Abia State over the delay in the payment of their salaries.
The problem in the local government administration recently forced the Bayelsa State House of Assembly to suspend four local government chairmen in the state over mismanagement of resources. When Realnews visited Ugwolawo, headquarters of Ofu local government area, Kogi State, the secretariat located along Idah road, was deserted. Only a few staff of the council were seen on duty because many of them did not come to work daily due to several months of unpaid salaries.
According to Mustapha Usman, assistant secretary, NULGE, Ofu Local Government Area, apart from the 13 months, salary arrears and leave bonuses that have accumulated for a long time, the local government is also owing the staff more than N19 million, being staff monthly contributions to the cooperative society which the past council chairmen had deducted without remitting to the cooperative accounts. The deduction had been going on for a long time until recently when the union ordered the former director of local government and the present liaison officers to stop it since the deducted amount was not being remitted to the cooperatives bank account.
The non-remittance of deductions by the council has further worsened the financial condition of the members of the cooperative society because the union normally assisted them any time they had financial difficulty or when payment of salary and other benefits were delayed. “Despite several appeals the union made to the local government to pay the money, it refused claiming that it lacked enough funds to meet its obligations”, Usman said.
As a result of delay in the payment of staff salaries, many local government officials have resorted to farming and petty trading to make ends meet. In view of this ugly situations, Usman and other Nigerians have called on the National Assembly to expedite action in the passage of the bill that seeks to grant autonomy to the local governments in Nigeria.
Adetunji Oyebolu, former chairman, Surulere local government in Lagos State, who has been an advocate of local government autonomy in Nigeria, has urged the federal lawmakers to see the assignment as very important. “The local administration, which is supposed to be the closest government to the people at the grassroots, has not been able to perform its statutory obligations because of undue interference from both the governments at the federal and state levels,” Oyebolu said.
If passed, the bill on local government reform currently before the National Assembly would grant autonomy to the 774 local government areas in Nigeria. Unlike before, part of the autonomy would enable them to control the monthly allocations from the federation account without the state governments’ interference.