In what appears as a crack within the powerful Nigeria Governors' Forum (NGF), over its stance on the status of local governments, Bayelsa State Governor Henry Dickson has expressed support for autonomy of the third tier of government. The power to create local government councils, he said, should be taken away from the constitution and given to the states.
Speaking to journalists in Abuja yesterday, the governor said, while responding to questions on constitution amendment by the National Assembly, that the issue of local government councils goes beyond just granting autonomy and should be treated holistically. Claiming that local government councils are autonomous in Bayelsa State, he pointed out that more states need to be created to cater for the large communities but because it takes constitution amendment to create states, Bayelsa has been struggling with the few at its disposal.
Speaking on why he is backing the local government autonomy, Dickson said: "In Bayelsa, local government councils are autonomous. Since I came on board, I stopped the habit. The only deductions we make, which is backed by the constitution, is, for example, payment of teachers' salary which the state and local governments contribute to. Any person who does otherwise is on his own.
"We have nothing against the autonomy of local government councils but they should be accountable to their legislative councils and spend according to their budget."
Explaining further, the governor said, "Quite frankly, naming local governments should be taken out of the constitution and creating local governments left to the state. Local government council issues are broad; we need a holistic review and not just that of autonomy."
NLC, TUC insist on LGs autonomy
Meanwhile, the organised labour in the country under the aegis of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) has called on the National Assembly (NASS) to ensure the inclusion of autonomy of local government in the nation's constitution, urging it not to yield to pressure.
The NLC's president, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, disclosed this in Lagos yesterday. He said: "While we hope that the National Assembly is not yielding to pressure from some quarters, particularly the Governors' Forum that has been against some popular proposals on critical sections of the constitution most Nigerians advocated should be included in the new constitution, we reiterate our position that the new constitution provides for full local government autonomy as expected in a federation.
"We are in support of local government autonomy because, as the third tier of government, it is closer to the mass of our people and it's only when they are fully independent that the Nigerian people can enjoy the benefits of democracy.
"Our position is that, rather than continue to tie the local governments to the whims and caprices of state governments, the constitution should ensure funds meant for local governments go directly to them and all funds and other resources generated by the local governments should be managed by the local governments and not the state governments."
According to NLC's president, the action of NASS on the review of the constitution is quite disturbing if "we recall that a public session was to hold last Thursday, January 31, 2013, which was abruptly postponed by the honourable speaker of the House after members of the public had waited for about two hours for the session to commence".
"We warn that the National Assembly should not allow itself to be used to impose tenure elongation for any political office, including the office of the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria or office of governor, as Nigerians have consistently opposed this since it was fraudulently introduced to public discourse and legislative attention during the Obasanjo administration," he added.
In a related development, the TUC's president-general, Comrade Peter Esele, while interacting with journalists in Lagos on the position of the Congress on the autonomy of local government in the constitution, said: "We remain opposed to the position of the governors, and will resist any attempt to smuggle it into the ongoing report because Nigerians have consistently been opposed to it."
Esele, who emphasised that the autonomy of local government in the constitution is the only way Nigeria can deepen democracy and ensure a working federal system that will benefit the Nigerian people, however, said: "The leadership of the House should be firm in its determination to promote democratic ideals and good governance, which the 7th House of Representatives has been able to demonstrate so far."
He however added: "The National Assembly should know that their commitment is to the Nigerian people as a whole and not the self-interests of a few people or groups. This is because we are against this attitude of subjugating our collective interests that have not been helpful in the delivery of good governance and anyone advocating the sustenance of retrogressive and anti-people provisions in the constitution must be regarded and treated as an enemy of the Nigerian people."