Whether for public or private advantage, ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar recently successfully joggled the Nigerian memory by provoking a seemingly ageless debate of restructuring of the Nigerian unitarist federal structure. Ever since the dawn coup of the Five Majors of 1966, Maj. Gen. Johnson T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi’s queer unitarisation of a hitherto federal Nigeria by, among others, centralisation of the civil service and the counter-coup of Gen. Yakubu Gowon in July of the same 1966, Nigeria has quaked under the powdery flakes of lopsided structures. And, like the progressive decay and sure destruction that necessarily follow a gangrenous wound, the disastrous effects of a lopsided Nigeria have since been manifesting in diverse ways: ethnic triumphalism, rentier rather than productive government, apprehension and distrusts, separatist and fissiparous advocacies like Biafra and Niger Delta Avengers, financial imbalance, systemic sustenance of a feudal echelon of loot-sharers, a la Odia Ofeimun and the gradual transformation of the 1914 Lord Lugard mistake into a tragic national immobilism.
Except for those who profit from the spoils of this painfully skewed pseudo-federal structure, many Nigerians are agreed that the benefits of restructuring Nigeria far outweigh the liabilities of her current pretentious federalism. Some of the benefits include getting the diverse and plural peoples of Nigeria restructured under governmental architectures that are conducive to their historical, spiritual and geographical pedigrees. While tones of literature have been written on the urgent need for a restructuring of the current iniquitous structures of Nigeria, many Nigerians living who bear nostalgic testimonies to the benefits of the practice of true federalism, as well as fascinating mementoes of its practice in the First Republic, regale us with stories of how the system was a sure antidote to the current immobile and unworkable quasi-federalism. All the narratives point to the fact that no restructuring of the Nigerian nation can be maximally beneficial to the people unless it targets a redefining of the current locality administration that has unjustly and inhumanly disempowered and dispirited the people at the grass roots, fattening ill-gotten bellies of second-tier government overlords.
Rather than discuss the very wide and expansive terrain of federalism, this piece will restrain itself to the lost pearls of locality administration, otherwise known as local government administration, among the multitude of gains that will accrue in a true practice of federalism. If Nigerians realise that an optimal performance of their local administrations will jump-start development and reverse the skyrocketing effects of urban poverty and squalour that dependence on states and federal administrations bring, it will occur to us that our governmental Eldorado is just by the helm of our garments. In other words, do Nigerians know that in local governments reside the possibility of a chunk of their problems of existence being solved and a reduction in their lamentations of government/governed apathy?
Apart from the lofty practice of locality administration of the First Republic and its fascinating benefits, local government administration received its greatest constitutional support in the 1976 military-induced reform which specifically identified it as the third tier of government. Ever since, local governance has derailed from the oeuvre of its framers, becoming today a major conduit for sleazebag administrators of the second tier of government who unabashedly advertise their fiefhold over its affairs. This has ensured a traffic of dregs of society to local governments’ pilot seats as chairmen and administrators. Through all manner of shenanigans, second-tier government lords allegedly funnel huge resources meant for development of grass roots, hiding under the Joint Allocation Account Committee through which they butcher the resources and allocate chunks therefrom to cater to their insatiable palates. The result is that there is irrefutable squalour at the grass roots, borne by regimes of bad imitation of locality administration. Consequently, governance in councils is at a standstill, uneventful and is today a converse of the brimming interface between the people and local administrators that it was conceived to be.
In a speech he delivered at the International Conference on Urban Governance and Urban Poverty on May 16, 1994, Alhaji Lateef Jakande, then Minister of Works and Housing, located the restlessness at the grass roots in poverty and poor governance.
The next wave of bastardisation of locality administration is that state governments, having hijacked local government autonomy, its resource and essence, now flaunt projects traditionally and constitutionally under the purview of local governments as theirs, forcefully demanding kudos from the people for this illicit feat. Market and stall construction, debris collection, sanitation and primary health care, which are enshrined as the essence of local government administration, are flaunted with Jihadist relish by these second-tier conquerors. Coupled with its being staffed by cronies, hirelings, grovellers, ex-bus conductors and touts, locality administration is today far from the people and men of good conscience give it a wide gap. A former Secretary General of the Centre for African Settlement Studies and Development, Onibokun A. G., put the tragedy in perspective: “Stories of woe are documented about virtually all our cities. Environmental degradation and decay, poor infrastructure, unreliable community/social services, inadequate housing, increasing wave of crime and juvenile delinquency, inefficient administration and general apathy… plague our municipalities.”
Council administrations barely pay salaries and the rogue administrators flee with remnants, persuaded that the “louts at the top” had earlier inflicted greater harm on the funds through rapacious bleeding of JAAC accounts.
Twenty two years after an earlier examination of locality administration, Mabogunje again looked at it in his welcome address to visiting Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha, who had come to Ibadan on June 11, 2016 as guest at an interaction whose thrust was to debate a reinvention of local governance and traditional community-based institutions as a catalyst for socio-economic development. The professor emeritus submitted that “it is indubitable that (one) is pained and frustrated by the current crises of governance and development at all levels of government… and nowhere is the frustration and anguish likely to be felt most acutely than at the local level (with its) dysfunctional system”. The highly revered Igbo monarch had visited the Ibadan School of Government and Public Policy where the professor of geography is chairman. The military reform of 1976, Mabogunje said, was the precursor of the rot, resulting today in “citizens, especially at the local level, (ceasing) to be able to determine their priorities… the daily reminders on the television of local roads which have not been maintained or repaired over a decade, solid wastes which have not been collected or properly disposed off, storm water drainage which is not available, potable water which is no longer municipality supplied and (absence of) other services that make life livable in dignity anywhere.”
With the fad now for Nigeria to gravitate towards restructuring as panacea to its horde of existential crises, there is the need to focus on the parameters of bringing sanity to locality administration which at the moment is in a terrible mess in virtually all states. Local governments are unable to perform the simplest of their constitutional roles, not because there is recession in the economy but due to their excessive burdening by the iniquitous pillage of JAAC and have thus become recreation centres for the worst of society foisted on us all by second-tier lords of the manors.
Restructuring our skewed or pseudo-federalism which necessarily makes governors generalissimos of local councils, who in turn inflict anguish and stasis on local governance, is an urgent national assignment. This is due basically to the fact that currently, the system at the grass roots is anti the tenets of democracy where responsibilities and responsiveness between the governed and their government is a symbiosis.
- Dr. Adedayo is of the Faculty of Law, University of Ibadan