Governors who refuse to conduct council elections should be removed from office for gross violation of the Constitution, House Speaker Yakubu Dogara has said.
He accused governors of violating the 1999 Constitution by undermining local councils’ independence.
The Speaker accused governors of using local government funds instead of making the money available to the councils.
He described the state/local government joint accounts as “evil”, adding that governors have emasculated councils and turned them into cash cows.
According to him, it is unfortunate that most governors have “pocketed” Houses of Assembly, making them toothless, hence their inability to impeach governors who violate the constitution.
To Dogara, failure to conduct council elections amounts to “serious violation of the provisions of the constitution”, which he said was “one of the biggest grounds for impeachment”.
He said: “As a matter of fact, joint account is one of the biggest evils because it gives the authority to local government ministries in the state.
“In most states, especially in the north where we don’t have oil and co, the ministry of local government in the state is regarded as the ministry of petroleum resources.
“So we all know when funds are allocated to the councils. Instead of getting to the councils, they are hijacked at that (state) level and appropriated according to the whims of the powers that be.
On what is to be done, Dogara said: “We will have to make this local government system a bit independent.
“I am not saying absolute independence because we may not achieve that since ours is a strong federation. It is not a weak federation like what you have in the United States where councils and states join their own money and then appropriate it and pay royalties in taxes to the federal government.
“So, what we can therefore do is make sure that in the spirit of the constitution, the local government administration is democratically-elected to ensure that by provision of the constitution, that any local government that is not democratically constituted will not have access to any funding from the federation.
“That was the problem we had, there was this issue of Lagos creating more councils and then President Olusegun Obasanjo decided to deny them allocation from the federation account before the courts said you are just a trustee, you can’t do that. As a matter of fact, the money does not belong to the Federal Republic of Nigeria. So, we must cure that
“We talked about financial autonomy, which is the biggest. We want to guarantee that by ensuring that councils submit their respective account numbers to the federal government where money meant for them are paid directly without any intervening authority or third party on the chain so that council authorities and citizens that live in those local governments will know that this is what is coming.
“The money is published every month so they know. And to be able to achieve this, I did talk about the state legislators needing some form of autonomy and we want to give them that. That will definitely be in the proposal that will be going out to them to vote on. We talked about ensuring democracy, credible elections at the third tier of government and we agreed, it was your suggestion actually, and I concurred that state independent electoral commissions have never worked and will never work. So our best bet is to make sure that they are eliminated.”
As a way out of the problem, the Speaker said any state whose councils are run by caretaker committees should not get federal allocations.
“What we are trying to say is, okay, if your local government administration is caretaker, you cannot draw funds from the federation account. That should be a provision of the constitution itself,” he said.
Dogara wants State Independent Electoral Commissions (SIECs) abolished. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) should conduct council elections, he said.
In an interview, Dogara said the constitution provides that the local government officials must be democratically-elected, but very few of them have elected executives running their affairs.
“It is a system that is in crisis. Since 1999 when we had this latest advent of politics, I don’t want to go back to the days of military regime, you will attest to the fact that there is hardly any local government that has lived up to its constitutional mandate and the reasons are quite obvious,” he said.
According to him, in other democracies such as Brazil, India and the United States, there are democratically elected leaders for the councils’ executive, legislature, courts and police.
“But in Nigeria, the governor will sit in the state executive meeting and they will come up with a resolution that they have sacked an elected council executive and then they appoint council caretaker committees. And to be candid, that is a gross violation of the constitution.
“I don’t know if the framers were able to anticipate that that may likely be the situation that most of the governors will violate the powers that were assigned to the states with respect to local governments under the constitution.
“That has become the norm rather than the exception, where majority of the councils in Nigeria, even as we speak in this era of change and the promise All Progressives Congress (APC) made, you will be surprised that majority of the area councils are run by caretaker councils and there is no where in the constitution where caretaker is mentioned,” Dogara said.
The speaker said the joint account is “one of the biggest evils” bedeviling local government areas.
His words: “In most states, especially in the North where we don’t have oil and co, the ministry of local government is regarded as the ministry of petroleum resources.
“So, we all know when funds are allocated to the councils, instead of getting to the councils, they are hijacked at that level and appropriated according to the whims of the powers that be.”
The solution, Dogara said, is a Constitution amendment to make councils less subject to laws passed by the state assemblies.
“For us to tackle this problem, since they are constitutional, it means that the only avenue we have is to embark on constitution amendment. If we don’t get it on that level, I don’t think it is going to work,” he said.
According to the Speaker, for councils to have financial autonomy, they must maintain an account with the Accountant-General of the Federation where monies due them will be paid directly, thereby eliminating joint accounts.
He said the constitution has to be very clear on how council executives are composed to avoid situations where states unilaterally suspend a council chairman or councilors.
Dogara said if councils become efficient, the best hands would want to contest elections as chairmen and councilors.
He said when financial autonomy and independence is achieved, councils would still, to some extent, be under states’ jurisdiction regarding healthcare, basic education, policing, among others.
On the House’s role, he said: “The aspect we will be looking at is to ensure that all local government councils in Nigeria are democratically run, not run by caretaker councils appointed by the state executive. That is one big area that we are looking at.
“The second area is democratically elected council legislators, not caretaker committees, so that they will be saddled with the responsibility of passing laws that will give the council the powers to effect all latitudes given to them under the 4th schedule of the 1999 constitution. We talked about financial autonomy, which is the biggest.
”We want to guarantee that by ensuring that councils submit their respective account numbers to the federal government where money meant for them are paid directly without any intervening authority or third party all the chain so that council authorities and citizens that live in those local governments will know that this is what is coming. The money is published every month so they know.
”State legislators need some form of autonomy and we want to give them that. That will definitely be in the proposal that will be going out to them to vote on.”
On why SIECs should be abolished, he said: “State independent electoral commissions have never worked and will never work. So our best bet is to make sure that they are eliminated.
“From the proposal that will come out from us, you will discover that the state independent electoral commission will be removed from the provisions of the constitution but it is left for the state assemblies, two thirds of them, to agree with us.
“Once we do that, we will transfer the powers of organising elections in the third tier of government to INEC which appears to be doing a better job than the state electoral commission, and that is by popular consensus anyway.
“So, that is what we want to do in regards to the councils and the motivation is to ensure that we have a sustained basis at the local level where developmental activities can take place to stem the tide of rural-urban migration which has become a big problem in this country.
“When we do that, we will improve on the quality of the pool of professionals that will serve at the local level. That therefore means that it will escalate developmental activities across the nation. That is what we are doing.”
Dogara recalled that in the seventh assembly, effort was made during the constitution amendment to vest council with financial autonomy. He said 20 state assemblies endorsed it, but because two-thirds of the states was needed, the amendment could not scale through as it fell short by four states. (The Nation)