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Gov. Abdulrazaq and the local government conundrum
Politics

Gov. Abdulrazaq and the local government conundrum 

By Adebayo Abubakar

The meaning of the word Hypocrisy would be further enriched, if one goes historical about the principle of federalism in Nigeria, as it affects the autonomy of the three tiers of government, namely; Federal, State and Local Governments. During the rein of President Goodluck Jonathan, the 36 Governors, led by the then Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, NGF, Rotimi Amaechi, took the Federal Government to court, challenging the legality of the Excess Crude Account, which constitutionally belongs to all the federation units, and the decision of the Federal Government, to transfer $1bn (One Billion US Dollars) from the account to the Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF).

The federal government later capitulated; conceded defeat to the State, and gave the state governors, what was due, their respective States, in an out-of-court-settlement arrabgement.

But the same cannot be said of the age-long impunity and illegal annexation of what is constitutionally due, the local government, by the State Governors in Nigeria.

For proper understanding of the point this piece is trying to make; federalism is a constitutional arrangement that divides power of legislation into, the Exclusive, Concurrent and Residual lists, and distributes same among the three tiers of government – Federal, State and Local Governments respectively . On the Exclusive list are those items, on which only federal government can legislate, while the Concurrent list consists of those items on which both State and federal can legislate; and the residual list contains only those items that are peculiar to a certain locality on which either the local or State government is allowed to legislate.

But since we started practicing, what some public policy analysts call, “Unitary Federalism”, we have been having some funny characters out-step their bounds, embarking on acts that make mockery of the 1976 Local Government Reform, which makes local government the 3rd tier of government.

In most Nigerian States, local government have been emasculated fiscally and rendered politically effeminate by their respective Governors. Local Governments have been practically swallowed by the Governors, for reasons that are not unconnected with the need to be politically in charge. They starve the local government chairmen of funds, so as to be able to manipulate them to their bidding, during electioneering. They use the post of local government caretaker chairman to settle political IOU, hence their vehement refusal to conduct council elections. And wherever and whenever they do conduct, they leave no stone unturned, in ensuring that their hand-picked candidates emerge, thus giving their parties a 100% clean sweep at the poll, against the popular wishes of the people.

These Governors most often mistake the local government treasury for the right hand pocket of their “Agbada”. Once the allocation arrives from Abuja, they only pay the salaries and allowances of the illegal occupants they’ve installed and keep the rest.

This has no doubt eroded the relevance of the government at the grassroot, which is meant to perform some basic functions, like the maintenance of Trunk-C roads; establishment an running of primary schools and sometimes, secondary schools. Today, many local governments in Nigeria, can no longer pay their workers’ salaries, let alone pay the salaries of primary school teachers, or embark on provision of social amenities like public toilets or provide low-level security in the rural areas.

The culverts in my community and by extension, the entire local government are the ones constructed by councillors and Chairmen of the defunct SDP and NRC, between 1990 and 1993.

Recently, the Association of Local Government of Nigeria, ALGON, Ọ̀yọ́ State chapter secured a landmark legal victory at the level of the Supreme Court, when the action of the Ọ̀yọ́ State Governor, Seyi Makinde, in removing elected local government chairmen and councillors was declared null and void. In spite of this coupled with the executive order-10 signed by President Muhammadu Buhari, prohibiting State Governors from touching Local Government funds; to some Governors, it “business as usual”- rustling funds belonging to the local governments.

It would be recalled that, the President had, in order to preserve the (financial) autonomy of the local government, signed the Executive Order No. 10 of 2020, on the 22nd of May 2020. This however does not deter some State Governors from dipping their finger into the oily coffers of the local government; cornering their allocation, after neutralising them by suspending the democratically elected officials, and appointing Caretaker Committee (some like to call it Transition Implementation) Committee.

Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq of Kwara State is no exception as the festival of impunity has a comfortable space in his government. Immediately, after he assumed office, in June 2019, Governor Abdulrazaq showed some “body language” that suggested, it would be “business unusual”; that he would not tamper with, or interfere in, the day-to-day running of Local Government in the State. Not a few people applauded him; including yours sincerely. Do not blame us. A good wine, tastes twice as good, to a tongue that has been tasting bad brew. What our immediate experience on how non-existent the local government system, and by implication, administration, had been, should be blamed for our “wild optimism”.

Sooner, rather than later, the Governor however, started tilting towards what obtained under the past administration. During that better-forgotten era, local governments only existed in Abuja, but not on ground in Kwara State.

Governor Abdulrazaq first suspended the elected chairmen and councilors on grounds that boarder on allegation of corruption that in his view, needed to be investigated thoroughly. But up until this moment, no report has been returned in respect of the investigation, or conviction extracted against the indicted local government chairmen and councillors.

While the good people of Kwara State awaited the report of the investigation some sort of scandal broke out, when the immediate past Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Ms. Aishat Ahman-Pategi, was quoted by “media reports” to have alleged that, a princely sum of ₦300 million from local government allocation in the State, was being deducted and diverted on a monthly basis, by “God-knows-who”, without due process.

Be that as it may, it must be pointed out that, the fulcrum of integrity is transparency. Anybody who lays a claim to a modicum of integrity, must not severe working-relationship with transparency. There is no gainsaying the fact that, the administration of the local government in Kwara State since 2019 to date, is no less opaque than it was, pre-2019.

Ahman-Pategi who shortly afterward resigned from the cabinet, was later moved to the Ministry of Special Duties by the Governor, following an altercation that ensued between her and her counterpart in the Ministry of Finance, Mrs Florence Oyeyemi, who just got reappointed, following last year December’s cabinet reshuffle. Governor Abdulrazaq later, inaugurated a panel of inquiry to investigate the allegations that someone, under his administration, was diverting ₦300million of Local government funds every month. He appointed Retired Justice Mathew Adewara to head the panel. A while afterwards, the people of Kwara were told that, it was not true.

The suspension of the elected officers of the local governments brought about the constitution of the Transition Implementation Committee, TIC across the 16 local governments in the State, was challenged in the law Court, by a non-governmental organisation (NGO), that goes by the nomenclature-Elites Network for Sustainable Development, ENESTUD.

The presiding judge, Justice H.A. Gegele in his ruling, on Friday, the 8th of October 2021, described the action of the State Governor, Abdulraman Abdulrazaq as “executive rascality and abuse of power”, and therefore null and void.

Now, the local governments in Kwara State are in limbo, as there are no chairmen, or councillors to oversee the affairs of the councils because the statutory tenure  of the illegally suspended ones has ended, and they might therefore, be ineligible to be reinstated. More so, there was no consequential judgment to the effect that, they be returned to office, to complete their tenure. And as things stand right now, the body that has the statutory responsibility to conduct the election – the Kwara State Independent Electoral Commission KWASIEC, are locked in a legal battle with the state government, through its commissioners, over what they described as illegal dissolution of the commission, before the expiration of their tenure. So KWASIEC is technically non-existent at the moment. So the idea of an immediate election is effectively, out of the equation.

In a swift reaction, after the October 8 judgment in favour of ENESTUD, the State Attorney-General, Salman Jawondo said, the State Government would appeal the judgment and also apply for a “stay of execution” on the High Court judgment to enable it pursue the appeal, without any constitutional hiccup.

Law is not one of my areas of core competence, but I do know that, what happens next is dependent on the outcome of the application for a “stay of execution”, while the process of appeal continues. If the stay of execution is denied by the appellate Court, then it means election has to be conducted, by hook or crook. Meanwhile there is no properly constituted KWASIEC in place.

Considering the above scenarios, one should be pardoned for believing that, there is a calculated and well orchestrated plot to paralyse the Local Government system, by Governor Abdurahman Abdulrazaq, at least, while he reigns, so as to be completely in charge.

This is more so because, he has left no one in doubt, as to his unwillingness to conduct Local Government election, since he assumed office on the 29th day of May, 2019. The question of when he is going to conduct the local government election is one that his political appointees have made a good job of dodging, since the inception of his administration.

Although, the coordinator of ENESTUD, Dr. Abdullateef Alagnonsi, a Rwanda-based academic, opined that, there is nothing knotty about the scenario, as according to him, all the State needs doing is to, withdraw his appeal against the judgment of the National Industrial Court, in favour of the KWASIEC Commissioners, and let them function so that they can, as soon as possible, conduct an election for the local government chairmen and councillors, it remains to be seen, if Governor Abdulrahman Abdulrazaq would travel that route.

Abubakar writes from Ilorin.

You can reach him via 08051388285 or marxbayour@gmail.com

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