Group Advocates For Local Government Autonomy, Emphasizing Enhanced Service Delivery

Social Action, a non-governmental organization dedicated to social development, has urged President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the 36 state governors, and the House of Assemblies to swiftly pass the local government autonomy bill into law.

During a one-day citizen and government consultative dialogue on inclusive budgetary practices for effective service delivery held in Enugu, Dr. Prince Ekpere Edegbuo, Senior Programs Officer and Project Manager of Social Action, emphasized the critical importance of local government autonomy for grassroots development.

Representing Dr. Edegbuo, Kingsley Ozor stated that Social Action, in collaboration with the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF), has consistently advocated for local government autonomy in Nigeria, recognizing it as the cornerstone of accountability and grassroots development. They highlighted that the joint account committee has hindered local governments, preventing them from fulfilling their statutory functions.

“This gathering serves as a call to action for President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Governors of the 36 States, and the Houses of Assemblies to urgently retransmit and pass the Local Government Autonomy Bill into law.

“With a sense of urgency and unwavering commitment, we continue this crucial campaign, which has garnered support from some states in Nigeria, while others unfortunately remain resistant to this progressive concept.

“In our pursuit to restore the capacity of local governments to effectively serve their communities, we emphasize the urgent need for an amendment to the Nigerian constitution. The current joint account committee has severely hindered the ability of local governments to fulfill their statutory obligations.

“Today, we gather to implore the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the Governors of the 36 States, and the Houses of Assemblies to swiftly retransmit and pass the Local Government Autonomy Bill into law. This call is driven by a sense of urgency and an unwavering commitment to our cause.

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“It is both encouraging and disheartening to witness the varying responses from different states in Nigeria. While some have rallied behind this progressive concept, others have unfortunately remained resistant. Nevertheless, we persist in this crucial campaign, recognizing the importance of granting local governments the autonomy they deserve.”

He said that during the 9th Assembly’s efforts to secure the necessary consent from the National and State Houses of Assembly to amend the constitution, several states demonstrated their support by voting in favor of legislation that would grant administrative and fiscal autonomy to local governments.

“However, this noble endeavor was regrettably met with untimely expiration, deliberately delayed until the end of the Assembly’s tenure by state governors who prioritize their personal interests over the welfare of the third tier of government.

“It is deeply concerning that Nigeria, operating under a three-tier governmental system, currently functions with only two operational tiers. The local government, despite its immense potential to drive development, remains incapacitated. This situation calls for immediate action to rectify the imbalance and empower local governments to fulfill their vital role in advancing our nation.

“We urge all stakeholders to recognize the significance of this issue and work together to ensure the passage of the Local Government Autonomy Bill. By doing so, we can pave the way for a more equitable and prosperous Nigeria, where local governments can effectively serve their communities and contribute to the overall development of our great nation

“Meeting and Strategies Undeterred by setbacks, we press onward. On September 5, 2023, we convened a virtual town hall meeting themed “Demanding Local Government Autonomy: Legal Requirements & Advocacy Strategies,” as well as Citizens and Government Consultative Dialogue On “ Inclusive Budgeting for Effective Service Delivery”

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“These gatherings brought together stakeholders, Scholars, activists, and citizens to explore strategies to achieve local government autonomy, particularly in light of a new government in power.

“Compelling revelations were made at the town hall which had in attendance speakers, including Ken Henshaw, the ED of We the People, Akim Ambali the National President National Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE and Comrade John E. Mutu the National Leader PERL-ECL. Others were Barrister Okoritie Yobo, and Comrade Bonny Akaeze, Dr. Prince Ekpere Edegbuo the Project Coordinator.

“The town hall described the local government as a vital hub for service delivery, yet the 1999 constitution has left local governments at the mercy of state governments through the Joint Account Committee, where all funds are consolidated into the state account and often diverted away from local projects.

“The local government is constitutionally responsible for basic health, sanitation, and water provision, but these essential services have suffered due to the mishandling of funds by state governors.

“Constitutional roles and allocation disbursement mechanisms should be encouraged. Whereas the constitution mandates state governments to share 10 percent of their internally generated funds with local governments, in addition to federal allocations, nothing in terms of observable development can attest to, even, a fraction of the allocations. Shockingly, between 2008 and 2018, N14.7 trillion was disbursed to the 774 local governments in Nigeria, but much of these funds were mismanaged by state governments.

“The state governors’ stranglehold on local governments is driven by greed and a disregard for democratic laws. The citizens, who sho~uld lead the grassroots development campaign, have been passive, enabling this anomaly to persist. It is time for the people to mobilize, demanding not only autonomy but also transparent monthly allocation reports for local governments.

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“The Way to Go We emphasize that the fight for local government autonomy is not the sole responsibility of labour unions or NULGE; it is a collective obligation. Achieving this autonomy will benefit all citizens.

“We, therefore, call on civil society to adopt innovative strategies and persevere until we receive a positive response. We must recognize the current political and constitutional realities and ask critical questions about the intentions of state governors who oppose local government autonomy.

“Civil society, community groups, the press, pressure groups, stakeholders and well-meaning Nigerians should remain steadfast in their support for local government autonomy.

“We Call on the 774 Local Government Chairmen to run an open, inclusive and participatory regime, as well as mainstreaming gender and social inclusion into its operations, develop functional websites for communications and proactive disclosures between the people, communities and the council leadership, finally projects should be designed using the NEEDS Assessment development tool,” he said.

Uzor declared that they will continue to support and evolve result-oriented strategies to gain the buy-in and response of the 10th Assembly and indeed the other state assemblies to actualise the autonomy before the expiration of the tenure of the current Assembly.

“Together, let us forge a path to local government autonomy, empowering our communities for sustainable development and delivering essential services to our citizens at the grassroots level. This campaign is more important now than ever,’ he said.

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