Law News
Reps sad over states rejection of LG autonomy
Members during plenary at the floor of the Nigeria House of Representatives

Members of the House of Representatives are disappointed and sad over the refusal of state Houses of Assembly to approve financial autonomy for the local government system in the country, House Deputy Majority Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor, has disclosed.

Ogor, who spoke exclusively with The PUNCH on Sunday, said lawmakers were “unhappy” that their state assembly colleagues allegedly allowed “parochial interests” to override their judgment on the issue of autonomy for the councils.

He argued that the National Assembly expected the state lawmakers to have widened their scope to appreciate the “enormity” of the challenges confronting local government administration instead of falling prey to pressures from forces opposing autonomy for the third tier of government.

Autonomy for local governments was one of the key clauses the National Assembly passed for inclusion in its amendments to the 1999 Constitution in 2014.

But, the clause failed to secure the mandatory two-thirds majority (24 states) approval of the 36 state assemblies.

Under Section 9 of the constitution, a proposed amendment must secure the approval of 24 of the states to qualify for inclusion in the constitution, having been passed by the National Assembly.

Ogor said Senators and House members passed the amendment in a bid to strengthen democratic structures at the third tier of government and that members were disappointed with the turn of events.

The House deputy leader explained, “Members are very sad and disappointed as I speak to you; they are unhappy.

“They feel there is no reason why any lawmaker will deny local governments autonomy. The whole thing was stalled due to parochial interests.

“Experiences from the past showed that the local government system was unnecessarily tied down and underperformed. The solution was to grant them financial autonomy.

“We wanted to correct all the mischief in the system; unfortunately, the state assemblies did not appreciate our efforts.”

He recalled how the state assemblies committed a similar “blunder” in 2010 when they refused to approve financial autonomy for themselves (state assemblies) due to the same parochial considerations.

“It took another effort by the 7th Assembly to give them autonomy, which they now saw reason to approve.Why did they approve autonomy for themselves this time round? They should have rejected it again”, Ogor added.

Asked whether the current National Assembly would revisit autonomy for local governments and forward it to the states again, Ogor replied that such a move might still fail because there was already a mindset not to grant local governments financial autonomy.

“Constitution review is a continuous process, and for us at the National Assembly, revisiting it is not a big problem. However, there is no guarantee that the state assemblies, as presently constituted, will approve it. It is likely to be an effort in futility”, he said.

Meanwhile, a former Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Benin, Prof. Itse Sagay, SAN, has urged the state lawmakers not to support debate on local government autonomy.

Sagay told the News Agency of Nigeria by telephone on Sunday in Lagos that the recognition of local government as the third tier of government in Nigeria was not ideal.

“It is even wrong in the first place that local governments were given powers and functions directly in the 1999 Constitution. Local governments in federal political systems are creations of the state and therefore ought not to enjoy powers in same measures that the constitution grants to the federating units,” he said.

He also noted that Nigeria’s federal political system was contrary to the principle of federalism, which he said recognised only two levels of government –federal and state governments.

He said that autonomy for local governments would cause problems of governance for governors, stressing that in advanced federations such as United States of America, local governments were only mentioned in state constitutions.

“It is ideal that local governments serve the agendas of governors since they are their creations and their agents in a way for overall urbanisation of the state,” he said.

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