Ojukwu was right on confederacy in 1966 – Prof Oluyemi Fagbohun
BY CLIFFORD NDUJIHE
…As Aregbesola, Sagay, others proffer solution on how to make LGs functional LAGOS—ONE thought dominated the comments of discussants on how to make local councils in Nigeria effective at a forum in Lagos Tuesday: There is so much rot in the councils and decisive actions are needed to make them deliver democracy dividends.
However, the discussants were divided on how to ensure effective governance at the grassroots. While some asked the National Assembly to remove the Local Councils as a tier of government and tie them to the states in line with the dictates of classical federalism, others said the councils should be allowed to operate as currently enshrined in the 1999 constitution.
Among those who proffered solutions to the decay in the councils were Osun State Governor, Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola; legal icon, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN; Professor Francis Oluyemi Fagbohun; and Mr. Onyekachi Ubani (Chairman, Nigeria Bar Association, Ikeja branch).
This came as Prof Fagbohun, who chaired the event, said that late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu was right when he called and fought for confederacy in 1966 but people misunderstood him and branded him a rebel.
According to him, events in the country indicate that “we are returning to confederation. Nigeria has concepts which you can’t find anywhere in the world. Our federalism is homegrown. What we have is not a federal system. We started on a wrong note. The federating units did not come together and agreed to unite. That is the basis of our problems.
“Nigeria is an artificial creation. Before independence, we had true federalism. The East was even operating three tiers of government and it worked. After the 1976 local government reforms, the councils have never remained the same. Even the establishment of the Joint Account Committee has become a problem in most states.”
Aregbesola on his part, attributed his inability to conduct council polls in Osun State to pending litigations, assuring that once the legal fisticuffs were resolved he would hold the polls.
They spoke at the second edition of the National Public Discourse organised by CMC Connect in association with O’Ken Ventures, at MUSON Centre, Lagos. It was themed: “Local Government Authority: How Autonomous?”
The governor attributed the rot in the councils to military introduction of unitary system of government, designation of councils as a tier of government, over-concentration of power at the centre to the detriment of the federating units, creation of federation account and allocation of funds to other tiers of government.
Citing the examples of United States of America, India, Brazil, Switzerland and Australia among others, he said countries operating a federal system of government have two tiers of government – the centre and the federating units (states) arguing that it is an aberration to make councils a tier of government.
He picked holes in the allocation of 51 per cent of revenue to the Federal Government with the 36 states getting 26 per cent. “The Federal Government is too distant from the people. What is the Federal Government doing with its 51 per cent allocation? It is impossible for the government at the centre to present itself to the people in the grassroots.
“The introduction of garrison federalism made it a rule that everything (revenue) must come to the Federal Government and ensured straight jacket garrison command of allocation of funds to the local governments. Which other federation outside Nigeria allocates revenue from the Federal Government to other tiers? Government exists to generate income. Any government that cannot generate income is not worthy of its existence.”
To make councils functional, he said the states should be allowed to create and fund councils as they deem fit without input from the National Assembly as currently obtains; the country should be restructured with power devolved to the federating units because defective federalism is responsible for the widespread poverty in the country and without allocation only a few states and local councils would survive.
Speaking in like manner, Sagay said the question of autonomy for councils in a federal setting was an aberration. His words: “What we have in Nigeria is an aberration. It is unheard of for local government to be listed in the constitution. The local government is totally and completely an agent of the state government for development. What should happen is that every state should decide how many local governments it wants and fund them by itself.
“The Federal Government should not fund local governments. Why should we have a federation account? Why do we all share from one account and say we are a federation? Why must we have the same system of government in all the councils? States should be able to decide the form of local government system they want whether parliamentary or presidential…
“Late Chief Obafemi Awolowo recognized in 1947 that the only way we (Nigeria) can be together is through federalism. We should be thinking of how to reduce the stifling control of the centre. Nigeria has to practice a federal system of government. What we have now is a semi-unitary system. The Federal Government should be thinking of how to convert the zones into powerful regions and leaving the centre with a few responsibilities because the Federal Government is the weakest government in the country.
“If we follow the correct principles of federalism and allow power to devolve to the federating units we will get it right. The regions funded the Federal Government in the past and kept 50 per cent of their revenue. Today the Federal Government strips states of their resources. The Federal Government has no resources. All they have is Abuja and Abuja has nothing. If it is not Niger Delta oil or Lagos VAT, it is Customs duties. Not up to five per cent of Federal Government resources come from the Federal Government.”