For those Nigerians who think, and rightly too, that the raison detre for the creation and continued existence of local government areas as the third tier of government in a federal state is to bring development to the grassroots and improve the living standards of the rural dwellers, reports from across the country in recent months must, surely, be disheartening. It is very disturbing that instead of becoming agents of development in the grassroots, as envisaged by law, local governments in Nigeria are increasingly becoming cesspools of corruption and a breeding ground for fraudsters.
Strangely, Nigerians seem to have focused their attention more on the goings-on in Abuja, where, admittedly, many outrageous and obscene things are the order of the day, without being bothered by the inanities similarly taking place at the council level.
The failure of Nigeria’s democracy since 1999 to deliver the desired gains, and as well mitigate the attendant pains, to the citizens is more because we have all failed to interrogate the quality of governance derived at this critical tier of government and hold the operators accountable. Abuja stinks with corruption and graft, but so are the 36 states and 774 local governments across the country. In fact, Stephanie Hanson, in the article, Nigeria’s Creaky Political System, published by the U.S-based Council on Foreign Relations in 2007, claims thus: “The most egregious graft (in Nigeria) happens at the state level.”
There is nowhere this “egregious graft” is more evident as in the management of the huge monthly allocations from the Federation Account Allocation Committee to the local government areas in the country. What seems to rankle the more, however, is that nobody appears to give a hoot what happens to the huge allocations accruable to the councils every month at a time when statutory functions such as the repair of local feeder roads, streets, construction of public health centres, maintenance of local dispensaries, parks, gardens as well as markets and abattoirs, which the local government could easily perform, are essentially left unattended to.
Interestingly, the Federal Government through the Ministry of Finance in 2006 began publishing in national newspapers and magazines the amounts it distributed monthly to states and local governments in the country as part of its reform efforts to combat corruption. Sadly, this has not yielded the desired results.
When the allocations for the month of June 2010 which was shared in July was published recently, I took particular attention of two councils: Oshodi/Isolo in Lagos State, the council area under which my residence falls, and Ohaji/Egbema in Imo State, where I come from.
While the latter was said to have received a total of N103,990,113.29 comprising N84,753,444.36 being gross statutory allocations and N19,236,668.93 from value added tax, the former was a recipient of a very princely sum of N291,685,158.48 comprising N141, 610,992.20 from gross statutory allocations and N150,070,166.28 from value added tax.
It surely borders on unspeakable irresponsibility and uncommon criminality that with these huge allocations, these two councils, like many others, cannot point to anything of note in their areas of jurisdiction to justify such revenue.
The case of Oshodi/Isolo Local Government, which has, in all intents and purposes, failed woefully in the performance of its statutory responsibilities, is particularly pathetic. This is more depressing because it appears it is more content deploying bizarre methods of revenue generation, besides the federation allocations, than ensuring quality service delivery to the people.
If not, how can one explain the murderous state of most of the streets and roads that traverse the council area? A mention of just a few of such roads may suffice here: Daudu Street, Old Ewu Road, a very strategic link road connecting the international airport road, Olaiya Street, Ajenifuja, Afariogun and Church Street , which incidentally leads to its secretariat.
The Isolo side of the council area, now under the authority of a local council development area, is no less shameful with the popular Ago Palace Way in Okota a poster child for what an urban road is not supposed to look like, with craters and gullies big enough to swallow cars dotting the whole stretch of the road.
There is no way the council chairman as well as the chairperson of Isolo LCDA, can justify the salaries and allowances they collect monthly with the shameful and embarrassing state of these and other roads. Schools, it must be noted, are neither in a better shape though. Or, must state governments, this time, the Lagos State Government, do virtually everything while councils just share huge allocations they get from the federation account without as much lifting a finger to do anything?
The last time I visited my home state of Imo, there was no evidence that any semblance of government existed or performed any task anywhere near Ohaji/Egbema, an oil producing community All the roads, for lack of a more appropriate word, that connect the local communities and towns are better not described. And, to think that this same council area receives huge allocations monthly without anyone within asking questions or someone answering any makes it more depressing.
Amazingly, while the council areas wallow in neglect amidst huge federal allocations, the same cannot be said of the council bosses whose lifestyles and fortunes have since experienced tremendous transformation. Nigerians die daily from avoidable and preventable diseases such as cholera because of lack of access to good drinking water, which the councils should provide given their allocations.
It is in an attempt to unravel this intriguing riddle that the anti-corruption agencies have recently swooped on a number of council bosses. In Imo State, for instance, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has reportedly commenced investigations into allegations of diversion of billions of naira of local government funds in the state.
In the same vein, operatives of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Commission recently rounded up the chairman of Oluyole Local Government Area of Oyo State and nine councillors sequel to a petition against them over alleged violation of the Anti-corruption Act 2000 bordering on “gross misconduct, illegal acquisition of properties worth several millions of naira and diversion of council funds into private purse.”
However, an effort by three councillors in Oshimili South Local Government to report alleged mismanagement of their council funds to the police led to their suspension recently. According to Bob Okonta, the leader of the House, the councillors “did not follow the due process of bringing the issue before the House”, even though he did not deny the allegations.
Many people have accused state governments of hijacking the funds meant for the councils, a charge which has been denied by state governments . But, if the states are to be believed, it is left to be seen why they are not asking the councils how their funds are being mismanaged and bring those found culpable to book. Or, is fraud no longer fraud because it happens in the states and councils?
Democracy presupposes that leaders, at all levels, should always be responsive and accountable to the electorate. We demand no less from council leaders who supposedly are closest to the people. Community leaders, town unions and traditional rulers should begin to ask questions and demand explanations about how councils funds are managed when services are not been rendered to the grassroots. Mismanagement of council funds by whatever form should no longer be taken as a given by the people.