• Constitutional amendment crisis looms
By SUNDAY ODIBASHI
THE National Assembly may be preparing the ground for political grandstanding with State legislatures in the amendment of the constitution over seeming autonomy of local governments.
The Senate had last week recommended the abolition of State/Local Government Joint Account from the constitution as well as adjustment and non-interference of tenures of elected officials by governors. However, the bill is awaiting the concurrence of the House of Representatives before further actions.
The federal lawmakers may be performing a rationale duty on the local government reform but paradoxically, could be a little off track. The federal legislators are not meant to overwhelmingly subduing the state governments in the process of establishing local government autonomy.
Historically, local governments were never mentioned in the constitution in Nigeria since 1960 until the 1976 reforms when General Olusegun Obasanjo was Head of State. Perhaps, the reason may be obvious. Scientifically, local government are not tiers of government in a federal system but administrative units of the states. In federalism, the states and the federal governments are the federating units. In such circumstance, local governments are reserved legislation of state governments which preside over the residual list in the constitution.
However, former head of State, General Ibrahim Babangida, in the 1988 reforms, introduced the presidential system of government into the local government system. He introduced both the legislative and executive arms into the local government system, officials who should be elected for fixed term. The Babangida local government model is what is being practiced in the country today.
Meanwhile, Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, Chairman, Senate Committee Constitution, presenting the committee’s report on local government administration, acknowledged that Section 7 of the Constitution was amended, essentially, to strengthen local government administration in Nigeria by elaborately providing a uniform three-year tenure for elected local government council officials; adding that local governments without a democratically elected council shall not be entitled to any revenue from the Federation Account.
He maintained that members of the committee were of the belief that the amendments will ensure effective service delivery and insulate local governments from undue and counter-productive interferences from state governments.
Ekweremadu observed that the committee inaugurated on January13, 2016, had a clear mandate to reprocess the aspects of the Fourth Alteration Bill.
The amendment prescribes that local council allocations from the Federation Account will, henceforth, be paid directly into the respective accounts of local governments.
The amended section, the Deputy Senate President had said, also defined the fund of the State Government; “that is, internally generated revenue, from which a portion shall be paid into the Local Government Allocation Account.”
Ekweremadu was said to have acknowledged that the Senate committee had concluded its duty and now waiting for the House of Representatives on Constitution review to conclude their own assignment to enable the two committees to harmonize their reports before presenting the final report to the two chambers.
Perhaps, the National Assembly may have usurped the powers of the state legislatures in deciding the tenure of local governments but the federal lawmakers are right on the sanction imposed on state governors who prematurely terminate the councils tenures or refuse to conduct council elections and, then appoint caretaker committees. Withholding the councils allocations to those states is sufficient sanction. Abrogating joint account of States and Local Governments will weaken states control over local governments. Protecting the election of council officials provides strong autonomy for local governments.
Amendment of the constitution, however requires the endorsement of majority state legislatures. This might be the point of political battle between the federal lawmakers and state legislators.