How Nigeria’s Governors Are Crippling Local Government Affairs Through Illegal Operations Of JAAC, Comrade TITILOLA-SODO Reveals

Comrade Bayo Titilola-Sodo, the newly elected Nigeria Labour Congress, and President of Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Oyo state chapter needs no introduction. Well versed in labour matters and undoubtedly a champion of workers’ welfare, Titilola-Sodo is one of the arrowheads of the struggle for the empowerment of local governments in Nigeria. In this interview with Westlifemag Publisher/EIC, BABS-OLURIBIGBE ADEOYE, he spoke, among other issues, on how the state governments in Nigeria have been crippling the affairs of local government through illegal operations of Joint Account and Allocation Committee. Excerpt.

What is the major reform in local government administration in recent years in the past four years in Oyo state?

The major reform that had happened in the last four years was the creation of Local Council Development Areas out of the existing thirty-three local government areas in the state. All the LCDAs have taken off, with officers posted to man various posts in various LCDAs.

What are those challenges associated with the creation of the LCDAs?

Well, we have normal challenges. There were teething problems such as how to share assets and liabilities between the mother local government and the offspring thereof, the creation of offices for various officers, and financial challenges to both the old and the newly created ones. But with time, all these challenges are being surmounted.

Is there any serious issue(s), yet to be resolved between the state government and local government workers?

Of course, the only issue between the state government and the local government workers is about salaries’ arrears. In this instance, I will use the mother local government areas as examples, because it is the staff in the mother local governments that are shared between them and the LCDA created from them. Therefore, the salaries of workers are still being paid from the local government areas, where the LCDAs are created from. So, we have some local government councils with serious issues of salaries arrears. The worst is the Lagelu Local Government, we also have in the same category, Egbeda, Ibadan North West, Ogbomosho North and South local government areas and so on. Infact in the entire Ibadan, I think we can say only about four local government areas are up to date in the payment of salaries of their staff, the rest are owing between one and six months.

   The problems may not be solved until the government agrees to review the mode by which resources, particularly funds are being share out to local governments from the Joint Account and Allocation Committee (JAAC). As we are kept saying, in all the other neighbouring states, the salaries of local government staff are added up and deducted from the allocation coming from Abuja before the rest are distributed to the local government. But the template which they are continuing to use in Oyo state despite our various appeals and suggestions is to only deduct the salaries of primary school teachers, part of the pensions of the retired staff, and then, they distribute the rest to the local government, that is where we are having problem.

   A place like local government, due to the indices being factored into the distribution of funds will usually get an amount of money that may barely sufficient and in some cases not sufficient at all to pay even a month salary. But it is our hope that there should be a rethink, so that we can copy the template in five other states in the south-west zone, the template that has engender peace, that has promoted equality

What are the steps being taking by the national leadership of the NULGE, to ensure quick passage of local government autonomy in Nigeria?

Thank you very much, you will notice, particularly in the last three years, we have engaged Nigerians, generally in groups, societies and we were supported excellently by the civil society organisations, including the mother union, which NULGE is affiliated, the Nigeria Labour Congress. Infact, at the last delegate congress in Abuja, a motion was moved and adopted for all workers in Nigeria to engage the government in ensuring that the local government system in the country is empowered through what we affirmed as local government autonomy.

   Now, what are the factors required in this autonomy? One, we spoke about political autonomy and that is not politics per se but about election into local government councils in Nigeria. The only time, election into the local government councils can be described as free and fair was in 1999, when the federal body in charge of electoral matters, Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted elections into the local government councils. But since when the various state governments in Nigeria started using their own electoral body to conduct local government elections, the party at the helms of affairs in every state of the federation, usually sweep all the chairmanship seats, including the councillorship positions. Although, the electoral bodies in all the states of federation put independent in their nomenclature, they are dependent and always doing the bidding of the political parties in power in their respective states.

    The second one is financial autonomy. There is a section in the Nigeria’s constitution 1999, as amended, chapter 2, section 182, which provides for the state/local government Joint Account and Allocation Committee (JAAC). This provision has been the undoing of local government in Nigeria. Since when the administration of former President Obasanjo, agreed with the then state governors to implement, the provision of that section in the constitution, now the operations of that committee (JAAC) have been anything but legal. The idea of setting up the committee, having the state governor as the chairman, is to share out all revenues to the local government in each state. But what do we have? We have various deductions. They suppose to put all the funds together and then share out to respective local governments for their operations. But today, the committee has been turned into contract awarding body, procurement body, doing all sort of things on behalf of the local government in all the states in Nigeria without exception. That is not the intendment of the drafters of the constitution. That section has been effectively employed to cripple local government administration in Nigeria by respective state governors. Furthermore, the schedule 4 of the constitution, provides certain items that are exclusive to the local government for which they could generate revenues. One of them is tenement rates and that is the procedure all over the world, whether a federal, unitary or whatever system. In the United States of America, it is the local government that collects tenement rates, so also in the United Kingdom, and everywhere in the world. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, the state governments have usurped the function, because it is the veritable source of revenue. Under some guises, the state governments have made their respective houses of assembly to enact law, to indirectly take over that function from local government, ditto, for advertisement, motor parks, markets, abattoir and so on. If local government councils are allowed to generate their own revenues, they would have been more effective and better managed than what we are seen presently.

   The third leg is administrative autonomy. For decisions to be taken, we have in every local government area, chairman, vice chairman, councillors, and career officers, working with them. Yet, they cannot take any decision on their own, they must always revert to the state government for approval to embark on any project. The question is how could anyone at the state government understands the locality more than the elected chairman and councillors from the area?

Is local government working in Nigeria?

Yes, it is working subject to the limit of the control applied by the state government.

About two year ago, the national assembly after considering the report of its constitution drafting committee passed the local government autonomy bills and transmitted same down to various state houses of assembly for approval, what is the state of things now?

Already, the national assembly had passed those bills and transmitted them down to the state houses of assembly as required by the constitution. Since it is a constitutional amendment matter, not only must the national assembly passed it, two thirds of the thirty-six state house of assembly, meaning twenty-four states must also passed the bills and transmit same to the President for his accent before it becomes law. But unfortunately, when the three bills concerning the local government autonomy were transmitted to the states houses of assembly, they all betrayed Nigerian people, they betrayed Nigerian masses, because at all the rallies, engagements we had, Nigerian people spoke in unison, demanding for the empowerment of that tier of government, that is acceptable to them, that can meet their needs, yearnings and aspirations. But their representatives at various states’ houses of assembly found one excuse or the other not to consider the bills at all. Out of twelve states that considered the bills, only nine passed it while three said nays. In the case of Oyo state, the situation is more pathetic. Since the bill passed the first reading about five years ago, it couldn’t go further. When it was presented again for further reading, majority members of the state house of assembly frustrated it. Despite the efforts of some of them to ensure that the bills were considered and passed, the late speaker of the house insisted that no decision should be taken and instead promised a public hearing on the issue, which never seen the light of the day till now.