The federal government yesterday hinted that President Goodluck Jonathan would be sending a fresh local government autonomy bill to the National Assembly, which will add to the lists of high-profile issues to be considered in the ongoing review of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The bill is another conscious effort by the presidency to break the chord between the state and local government that has variously drawn public criticisms because of the alleged mismanagement of local government funds by state governors.
Dropping the hint in Abuja, minister of tourism, culture and national orientation Chief Edem Duke said the bill will be in response to clarion calls for local government autonomy and aimed at abolishing the joint state/local government account.
Duke said, while delivering an address at the opening ceremony of a two-day national workshop on "Culture and the Socio-economic Transformation of Local Governments in Nigeria: Setting Agenda for Development", that the local council autonomy bill would grant the 774 local government councils in the country the financial autonomy which will foster transparency, accountability and good governance.
The federal government, he said, was not unmindful of the challenges confronting the local administration, which had prevented it from effectively discharging its statutory functions.
Duke lamented that the attachment of local government to the dictates of the state governors has created an unpalatable situation where the people looked up more to the federal and state governments to tackle issues of development that should have been handled by the local government. The vexed issue of local government autonomy, particularly the quest to return it to the pre-1999 system of direct financial allocation from the federation account, has been an issue of acrimony between the federal government and the state governors on one hand and between the Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) and state governments.
The issue was killed in the last constitutional review effort because states governments mounted spirited efforts against the autonomy bill. They used the state houses of assembly to send the issue to the dustbin.
Current realities and public agitations may have informed the current thinking of government.
However, efforts to get the response of the chairman of the Governors' Forum and governor of Rivers State, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, proved abortive. But the director-general of the Forum, Ashishana Okaru, said the governors or the Forum can only make comments based on documents. "We have to relate with a document (bill) before any comment, but I can assure you that such development would be of interest to the state governors," he said.
Meanwhile, former governor of Yobe State Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, who was the chairman of the occasion, observed that Nigeria had rich cultural heritage which if properly harnessed could help to fast-track the nation's development in all spheres.
Earlier in his welcome address, the executive secretary of the National Institute for Cultural Orientation (NICO), Dr Barclays F. Ayakoroma, said the workshop was aimed at ensuring that the local government system functioned more efficiently within the confines of an enabling framework guiding its operation.
Dr Ayakoroma added that the local government system should be strengthened in order to achieve the desired results in terms of good governance in line with the transformation agenda of the administration of President Goodluck Jonathan, adding that he was confident that the workshop would provide the participants with the skills and knowledge required to drive the transformation agenda of the present administration.