As Nigerians continue to debate the need for devolution of powers and restructuring the nation’s governance structures and resource sharing modalities, the role and autonomy of the local government has again come to the fore.
In that context, Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze, a good governance advocate and a frontline contender in the 18 November Anambra State governorship poll, has said Nigerians will fare better if there are functional governments at the grassroots.
Obaze, who is also the immediate-past Secretary to Anambra State Government, made these remarks during an interactive programme held over the weekend in Onitsha. The public policy expert said decentralization and autonomy brings about a sound, efficient and effective public administration.
According to him, governance is needed mainly at the grassroots. Local Government is a body meant to manage local affairs by the locals in a designated locality; but he is worried about the increasing encroachment of the federal and state executives in local administrations, an action he said has made government presence to be scarcely felt at the grassroots.
“There is supposed to be decentralization and devolution of powers between the three tiers of government. However, systemic ambiguity exists in the 1999 Constitution (as amended), and this has made it difficult for local governments to function independent of overbearing influence of state governments.”
Obaze frowned at what obtains in several parts of the nation where state governments have taken over the funds, internally generated revenue sources and functions of local governments.
“Those at the grassroots must run local governments. What does the man in Abuja understand about Anyamelu or Awba-Ofemmili, and whether they need roads or water? They don’t understand. But the elected Local Government Chairperson from these vicinities, will know they need water, healthcare or roads or other unmet needs.
“The constitution devolves certain functions pertaining to local governments to the national assembly and some to state assemblies. So there’s no clear ownership as it relates to funding, making laws, including setting up joint local government account. What happens is that instead of allocations flowing directly to the local governments, it is passed on through the state as a conduit.”
While calling on the people to stand up and demand for conduct of local government elections, Obaze recalled the role he played to bring about democratically elected local government chairmen and councilors in Anambra State.
“Well before I became the SSG, I met Gov. Peter Obi in Atlanta and said to him, if he left office without conducting Local Government elections, that’s the legacy people will remember him for. He disclosed there were subsisting court judgements that he would not go against, being himself a beneficiary of court rulings.
“When I became the SSG, that was two years before the end of Governor Peter Obi’s administration, I worked with him and the then Attorney General of the State, Mr Peter Afuba and others, to resolve some of the pending court cases. We are eternally grateful that we were able to get past the numerous impediments and conducted those elections.
“That situation is very different when you don’t have litigations, no force majeure, no crisis, why wouldn’t you conduct local government elections? But it does not happen in Anambra State alone. It happens in many of the nation’s thirty-six states and that has led a lot of people to believe that state governors are manipulating the local government system purely for financial reasons.
“Moreover, it boggles the mind how a president or a governor who derives legitimacy from a democratic election turns back to deny the officials at Local Governments level the opportunity to derive such legitimacy from elections.
“If you adapt to global best practices, it is only proper that you hold Local Government Elections. It creates functionality, integration and development.”
Mr. Obaze is the former Secretary to the State Government of Anambra State, Nigeria from 2012 to 2015 - MD & CEO, Oseloka H. Obaze. Mr. Obaze also served as a former United Nations official, from 1991-2012, and as a former member of the Nigerian Diplomatic Service, from 1982-1991.
Selonnes Consult Ltd. is a Strategic Policy, Good Governance and Management Consulting Firm, founded by Mr. Oseloka H. Obaze who served as Secretary to Anambra State Government from 2012-2015; a United Nations official from 1991-2012 and a Nigerian Foreign Service Officer from 1982-1991.