interviewBy Abiodun Oluwarotimi
Honourable Chimbiko Akarolo is the Mayor, otherwise known as the Chairman of Port Harcourt Local Government. Recently, he was in the United States where he speaks with Leadership's ABIODUN OLUWAROTIMI on the urgent need for local government autonomy, the challenges he faces, achievements, security challenges among other issues.
There have been a lot of outcries in the nation over the operation of local councils by the state governments. Some complain over illegal deductions of their allocation. We want to know if you also have this same experience in your area?
Rivers State as I speak is a model to the country. We have 99.9 percent control of the local government and the other zero percent comes from the Law which has been passed by the State House of Assembly as stipulated in the constitution, Section 7 and all that. And this Section of the constitution gives them power to supervise the local government, and certain laws were passed by the House of Assembly and this affected some local governments in terms of revenue, in terms of allocations coming to the council but, we have a free hand compared to some states. In some states, the governments deeps hands in the allocation coming to some local governments and ask the Chairmen to just pay salaries and they decide what to do. At that point, a lot of these things we witness in Rivers State is not there. So i can tell you categorically that in Rivers State, local government chairmen enjoy 99.9 percent autonomy.
Apart from the challenges you face, are there areas you feel that legislation should be made to enhance the operations of local governments in Nigeria?
I want to state that we need a full financial autonomy which I believe will enhance our operations when put in place. I am saying this because, out of thirty-six states in the country, it is just one state that has that full autonomy and it is not going to help. You see, the third tier of government is the grassroot. It is the closest government to the people. They have to identify the fact that we need financial autonomy. You see what we have in the constitution and I can give an example. When I was a caretaker chairman, I could not award contracts. There were limits to what I could do. I did not have a Tenders Board and specific instructions were given from the state government on what to do. The Ministry of Local Government made sure that I did not go beyond my limit. But in an elected body, I have the power to make sure that I get everything possible, do everything possible for my people and I can tell you that if we witness financial autonomy, you will see the difference between being a caretaker chairman and an elected person.
When you are elected, the people decide what they want you to do with their money but in the case of caretaker, the state government decides what you do. So, we need financial autonomy that will enhance our operations in the country. We need our own Accountant-General. They should also give electoral respect to legislators in the local councils who pass by-laws and bills. In some states, they are not even recognized.
We need full autonomy and we do not want interference and we also want to be recognized. We want to be there at the federal level to talk for ourselves. Nobody represents or talks for us at the federal level. Local government is an appendage of the state government and it is not well represented at the federal level. We are not just looking for that autonomy but we need financial autonomy as well.
Local government Chairmen are always complaining that their allocation are meagre. Can we know the changes you have been able to effect with this little allocation as the Council boss?
The changes are on-going. Basically, people are beginning to accept the fact that the third Tier of government has come to stay. What I will say is that before now welther there was a third tier of government or not, even in Nigeria, people were not feeling their impacts. But with these set of elected Chairmen in Rivers State, there has been a lot of changes. In my own part, I have been able to put a lot of things together. When I came in, the first priority area i focused on was sports. We were able to channel the energy of the young men that we have in the local government. We engaged them seriously. We built a Basketball and Lawn tennis courts for the youths to engage themselves. We have been able to also sponsor some Football competitions in the local government council. The other area is the sustainability of our own structures. We are working on this area because we believe that it will ordinarily increase the IGR of our people. As I speak, the IGR received this year has increased by at least 10 percent as a result of our focus on our own structures. This is laudable and we want to better it. Having identified those structures that have been left which would have naturally increased the IGR, I put in place a proper system to keep it running. We were able to identify what and what should generate income for us. After this, we went into the rehabilitation of some of those structures. Our markets were not fenced before so we had to fence them to make them more attractive and secure. We also upgraded our markets. The parks were not fenced so that the buses could go in there to park after paying at the gate. We were able to fence our parks and this has been generating income into the purse of the local government.
Is your administration making Skills Acquisition a priority?
Yes. We are making skills acquisition a top agenda of the local government administration. As I speak with you now, we have about 100 people undergoing different trainings in computer studies. We finished the first batch of these trainings about a year ago and some of them were given computers to start their own businesses as a way of empowering them. Out of these 100 people undergoing trainings presently, we will have to look for a way to empower them as well.
Insecurity has caused a lot of setback for the country today in the area of foreign investments. What do you think the government should do as regards this?
You and I know that where there is political instability, security threats and all that, there is hardly any development. What we are witnessing today in Nigeria is far different from that and I want to say that the insecurity they are talking about is not in everywhere in the country. For instance, if there is insecurity in the state of California today, it does not mean that it is the whole United States that is insecure. If some parts of Nigeria is having security challenges, it does not mean that the other parts are not good for foreign investors to stay and do their businesses. It is just a section in Nigeria that is insecure so nobody should be afraid to invest. We have the Chinese and Indians doing their businesses in some parts of Nigeria and they are not scared of anything. Nobody can even say that they do not have security issues in the developed countries.