Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Intrigues As LG Autonomy Failed In The Senate

By Jonathan Nda-Isaiah
Leadership, Thursday, August 1, 2013
A fortnight ago, the senate voted against direct funding to the local government from the federation account which would have granted them autonomy. In this piece, JONATHAN NDA-ISAIAH x-rays how the voting pattern for Local government Autonomy went and why it is in the interest of the country for the local governments to be autonomous.
The Senate recently passed the Bill for and Act to Further Alter the Provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, and for other Matters Connected Therewith, 2013. The Committee proposed a total of 31 clauses affecting 26 sections and second schedule of the 1999 constitution. According to the chairman of the committee and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu some clauses were passed in their entirety, some clauses were passed in part, while distinguished senators, in their wisdom, did not pass some clauses. This is not an exception because each senator voted according to his/her conscience, and mandate of his or her constituents, and the overall national interest.
Out of the 31 clauses,13 were passed  while 10 did not scale through. After this this stage, the Senate will await the version of the Constitution Amendment Bill that will be passed by the House of Representatives,. As is the tradition, both chambers will meet in a conference to harmonise the two positions. The harmonized Bill will subsequently be transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly for ratification of each clause by a simple majority of two-thirds of the House.
Among the ones not passed is the alteration of section 162 of the constitution to provide for direct payment to the Local Governments from the Consolidated Revenue Funds of the Federation (financial autonomy).Many Nigerians were outraged at the senate and felt the lawmakers voted against the wishes of the people. Based on the backlash and condemnation that the senators got for voting against Autonomy, it’s obvious most Nigerians feel the local governments are overdue for autonomy. Most of the Senators who voted against granting financial autonomy to the local governments were of the view that granting autonomy to the local governments will be in conflict with what we have right now, as it will amount to creating a state within a state and will in time, result to anarchy, saying the best way is to strengthen the  state House of Assembly so that they can do proper oversight of the local governments to ensure that funds allocated to the local governments get to them and are used judiciously
The local governments are regarded as the closest to the people and are seen as more of a grassroots administration and granting them autonomy will make them perform their functions better to develop the local governments which will in turn speed up development and reduce the level of illiteracy and underdevelopment in the country. Its no secret that most state governors have frustrated the plan to grant autonomy to the local governments by starving them of funds. Most of the senators who have plans to contest the governorship positions in their states voted against it for their selfish reasons. Granting autonomy to the local governments, they feel, will weaken the power and influence of state governors.
During the debates, most of the senators spoke in glowing terms of how the local governments were ripe for autonomy and most Nigerians were confident that the Senate will vote in favour of the autonomy proposal but it was not be as 73 senators are required to vote yes for any clause to be passed . 99 senators registered to vote and only, 59 voted in favour of granting autonomy to the local governments while 38 voted for the retention of the extant law. Two senators abstained.
In an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP recently, Senator Sadiq Yar’Adua(Katsina CPC), accused the PDP senators of frustrating the votes and that the PDP senators voted against granting autonomy to the local governments but the opposition senators too didn’t fare any better as they voted overwhelmly against autonomy
The south west senators rejected local government autonomy because out of 18 senators in the region only  Senator Ayo Adeseun (Oyo), Senator Sefiu Kaka (Ogun) and Senator Ganiyu Solomon,  voted in favour of the autonomy. It was later gathered that they were told to vote against the autonomy by top politicians in their party and it was a party directive. The rejection of autonomy by the south west senators has landed them in hot water as the Nigeria Union of Local Government employees has vowed to mobilise against the Action Congress Of Nigeria and to ensure that the party is voted out of power because of its opposition to local government autonomy. This move is by the south west who are predominantly of the opposition and the yet to be registered APC is an own goal by the opposition as this move is counterproductive and the senators who voted against autonomy are seen as anti people. senators from the opposition voted against the autonomy but if they were in favour, twenty-two, it would have scaled through
 The South East senators voted in favour of local government autonomy. Out of 14 senators from the region, nine voted in favour of autonomy. Senators from the South South were divided on the issue as seven voted for autonomy against six/.The north voted overwhelmingly for autonomy as 35 senators voted in favour, while 13 voted against with six abstaining.
Senator Danjuma Goje, former governor of Gombe State, confessed during the debates how he frustrated the plans for the local government autonomy but now he knows better. But former governors in the Senate voted against it, out of 10 former governors in the senate six voted against it with only four approving which are Senators Kabiru Gaya,Danjuma Goje, Ahmed Makarfi and Bukar Abba Ibrahim.
From the voting pattern, it is clear that most of the senators are not disposed to the idea. According to them, granting autonomy to the local governments is like creating a third tier of government. Most state governors are definitely not in support of the idea as it will make them lose relevance in their states. Governance is all about power and exercising power and once the local governments have direct funding from the federation account, they will no longer be answerable to the state governments which will be counterproductive in some states.
The state assemblies are meant, through oversight functions, to supervise the funds to the local governments but in most cases, the state assembly are just rubberstamps just doing the bidding of the governor.
But The House of Representatives took a different stand to the Senate by endorsing autonomy for the councils with 293 lawmakers voting in support, 39 against and seven abstaining. They however, barred unelected local government chairmen from getting funds from the Federal Government allocation. Now, when the Senate and House of Reps meet in the conference committee to harmonise the positions of the two chambers, local government autonomy may scale through but may run into troubled waters at the state Houses of Assembly that kill the idea as most times, they do the bidding of the governors who must have arm twisted the state legislators to vote against the idea. So, Nigerians yearning for autonomy for local governments will have to wait a little longer.
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