Lateef Fagbemi, Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, has called for the abolition of State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIEC).

He stated that their functions should be transferred to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to safeguard the independence and transparency of local government election results.

Fagbemi has filed a lawsuit asking the Supreme Court to overturn 36 states’ alleged malfeasance in withholding local government funds.

He also requested the Supreme Court to halt the 36 state governments from dissolving elected local government councils and replacing them with caretaker committees.

Speaking on Monday in Abuja at the National Discourse on Nigeria’s Security Challenges and Good Governance at the Local Government Levels organised by the House of Representatives, themed, ‘Nigeria’s Security Challenges and Good Governance at the Local Government Levels,” Fagbemi said scrapping state electoral commissions would allow democracy to take its roots in the local governments through a robust constitutional amendment.

He said doing so would remove all encumbrances hindering the development of local governments and their ability to fulfill their constitutionally recognized functions.

He said, “To achieve this, many experts have proposed that there is need for the scrapping of the state independent electoral commission.

“Their functions and powers should be transferred to the Independent National Electoral Commission because the state independent electoral commission remains an appendage to every incumbent governor. This is perceived as the root cause of the problem of local government administration in Nigeria”.

He said despite the constitutional provisions to safeguard local governments’ autonomy, there had always been arbitrary dissolution, abolition or fragmentation of local governments by the state governments.

He noted that the provision of the constitution under section 162 (5-8) on State Joint Local Government Account empowers the state assemblies to decide the revenue to their local government.

He said this facilitated state encroachment on local revenues because states “have now hijacked local government revenues from 1999 to date.

“There are several cases of abuse of the joint account by different state governments across Nigeria. This has undermined the financial autonomy of the local government as well as their ability to deliver on their statutory responsibilities

“Under a true federal structure, the autonomy of local government is adequately guaranteed. However, one of the persisting challenges of Nigeria’s federalism is the persistent failure to grant autonomy to local government as the third tier of government.

“Although, the LGAs as the third tier of government in Nigeria and as enshrined in the constitution is ostensibly meant to serve as an institutional framework for effective service delivery to the grassroots and the overall national development; however, LGAs in Nigeria have been performing poorly in provision of essential services to the people due to absence of autonomy”.

The AGF also said the absence of administrative and fiscal autonomy to LGAs created a dependency situation than the independent one conceptualized under a true federal system of government.

According to him, local governments in many instances have continued to suffer fiscal emasculation in the hands of state governments.

He said, “In all these unwholesome abuses, Sections 7 and 162 of the 1999 Constitution, among others, have been an escape route for many state governments to manipulate the local government and reduce same to a mere department in the governors’ office.

“State Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA) has been the anti-development instrument used to frustrate every progressive and patriotic action to make the local government work since the return of the country to democracy in 1999.

“The ability of LGAs to perform developmental functions, particularly in a federal system like Nigeria, revolves around the nature of the relationship between the federal, state and local government.

Fagbemi said the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria did not provide adequately for the political autonomy of the local governments.

He said this had given the state governments the discretion to determine the nature, content and direction of local government elections and political activities.

“The failure of the constitution to articulate a clear line of authorities to both the state and local authorities and the continuing debate over the involvement of state governments in distributing local government allocation from the Federation Account has affected the capacity of LGAs to provide essential services at the grassroots,” he said.

According to him, rather than function as a tier of government, local governments operate as an appendage of the state governments.

The AGF said: “The constitutional provisions on State Joint Local Government Account (section 162 (5-8)) have placed the local government councils in a political bondage”.

He said the most prominent abuse of local government was the use of state electoral commissions to impose leaders at the local government level through sham elections; while most state governors only appoint caretaker leadership for local governments.

“Politically, due to the flaws in the electoral process in the country, what is obtained is a virtual selection and not election of local government functionaries. local government chairmen are always imposed on the people by the state governors.

“In consequence of these weak constitutional provisions, the lifespan of the local government councils is at the mercy of the state governments. There is no consistent pattern of local government elections. Some state governors dissolve their councils and appoint caretaker committees.

“This erodes the three elements of good governance at the local government level which are citizens’ participation, transparency and accountability.

“The imposed chairman will be accountable only to the governor rather than the people. This results in lack of transparency and non-involvement of the citizens.

“This and other abuses have seriously affected the level of performance of local government and a significant factor leading to the general failure of local government as well as an excuse for suspending representative institution,” Fagbemi said.

Empowering LGs key to national security


Speaking at the event, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, represented by the Minister of Defence, Mohammed Badaru Abubakar, noted that addressing security challenges at the local government level is critical to achieving overall national security.

“The worst hit by these security skirmishes is the rural areas as our local populace and the economy continued to be unsettled by enemies of the state.

“We’ve made significant strides in achieving security but so much need to be done especially at the local government level where those attacks are prominent.”

Speaker Abbas asks govs to back Tinubu on LG autonomy

The speaker of the House of Representatives, Abbas Tajudeen, asked state governors to “put Nigeria first and collectively support the president in the quest to grant full autonomy to local governments.”

He said the National Assembly was committed to ensuring local governments are empowered to perform their constitutional roles.

He listed the challenges of local governments as including “covert usurpation” of their functions by state governments and lack of financial autonomy.

He said more than half of the local governments in the country currently operate under caretaker committees, noting that this had weakened local governance and allowed insecurity to thrive.

“Addressing these challenges is crucial for fostering good governance and strengthening national security.

“The issues of national security and good governance at this level therefore, deserve very serious attention. We cannot be talking about national security and development if our local governments remain insecure, mismanaged and underdeveloped,” Abbas said.

Why govs are against LG autonomy–State assemblies’ speakers

Chairman, Conference of State House of Assemblies Speakers, Adebo Ogundoyin, said were against local government autonomy because they believed that the federal government could use the local councils as an instrument against them.

Ogundoyi, who is also the speaker of the Oyo State House of Assembly, said if local governments were granted autonomy, they would be faced with “inadequate resources, especially in urbanized local governments.”

“This is going to be closely followed by mismanagement or misappropriation of funds or put simply as corruption. The LGA will be answerable to the federal government and other federal agencies.

“Going by what we see during oversights, these problems already persist in an incapacitated local government system. One can only imagine the extent of these problems once there are more resources given to them directly.

“Let us also not forget the possibility of the federal government usurping the roles of the state governments as the popular saying goes: he who pays the piper dictates the tune. It is, therefore, the general belief of the states that the centre can use the local governments as an instrument against them.”





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