NASS Alone Can’t Scrap Local Govts – SANs, Others

April 2, 2021
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By our Correspondents  |

Fears and threats from some quarters over the House of Representatives’ moves to scrap the local government system in Nigeria have been described as by some Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs), political scientists and civil society organisations (CSOs).

Although, the senior lawyers called on the lawmakers to shelve the idea and instead make laws that will free the third tier of government from the grip of state governors, they asserted that as a creation of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the councils can alone be scrapped through the alteration of the constitution.

In separate interviews with LEADERSHIP Friday, they said that the amendment of the constitution was not the sole affairs of the National Assembly (NASS) as two-thirds majority of the 36 state Houses of Assembly must also vote in favour of the move before it can come into force.

The National Union of Local Government Employee (NULGE) had threatened to embark on a nationwide strike over NASS move to scrap LGs in the country.

Addressing journalists in Abuja recently, NULGE president, Ambali Olatunji, said: “We know this is a serious challenge to the local governments, and we’re saying this, very soon, if we engage them (NASS) and the leadership is not doing what is needful, we might direct our members to shut down the country in all the 774 LGAs, but we hope they’ll not allow it to degenerate to that level.”

A bill for the removal of local councils as a constitutionally-recognised and funded tier of government in Nigeria, sponsored by Solomon Bob (PDP, Rivers), has passed through the first reading in the House of Representatives.

Local government administration in Nigeria dates back pre-colonial era. It had been part of system of government among ethnic groups in Nigeria particularly the Yoruba in the West, Hausa/Fulani in the North and the Igbo in the East.

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Under the 1999 Constitution, it became a recognised third-tier with a legislative council to champion grassroots democratic development, groom future leaders and ensure equitable distribution of resources.

But most of the 36 state governors have hijacked the allocations of the councils, sack their heads at will and refuse to conduct credible elections. In the states where elections are held, it is the ruling party that wins all the offices. It is against this backdrop that some Nigerians are calling for the scrapping of the councils, which may have informed the House of Representatives’ action.

Some governors are allegedly pushing for the scrapping of the LGAs.

In his comment, Kehinde Eleja (SAN) listed the conditions to be met by the National Assembly (NASS) before it can scrap the councils in the country.

Eleja told LEADERSHIP Friday in Ilorin, Kwara State that local governments were a creation of the Nigerian Constitution and not a baby of the National Assembly.

He said unless the constitution is amended the National Assembly lacks the power to scrap the local government areas.

The legal icon said, “The 774 local government areas in Nigeria today are a creation of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), by virtue of the provision of Section 3 (6) of the said constitution. Part one of the first schedule to the same constitution sets out the local government areas recognised by the constitution in each of the states of the federation, while part two of the same first schedule sets out the names of the area councils in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja with their headquarters.

“Based on the foregoing provisions, the local government areas are not a creation of the National Assembly, but that of the constitution. A necessary corollary to this is that an alteration of the provisions of Section 7 of the constitution to abolish the local government areas in the federation will entail an alteration of the constitution.

“By Section 9(2) of the constitution, the constitution can only be amended with the support of votes of not less than two-thirds (2/3) majority of all the members of the two chambers of the National Assembly which must be approved by a resolution of the Houses of Assembly of not less than two-thirds (2/3) of all the states of the federation.

“The implication of this is that in addition to votes by two third (2/3) of members of the two chambers of the National Assembly, there must be resolution of at least 24 of the 36 states’ Houses of Assembly before the constitution can be amended to bring the existence of the LGAs to an end,” he said.

On the options opened to Nigerians who might be against the NASS’ move, Eleja urged them to seek appropriate legal guidance with a view to obtaining redress within the laws of the land.

He advised President Muhammadu Buhari not to sign any bill aimed at scrapping the local government areas in the country.

“My advice to the President will be to refrain from signing any bill (if ever passed) aimed at scrapping the existence of the local government system, because as the third-tier of the government it is the closest to the grassroots.

“Before the unconstitutional usurpation of the functions of the councils which became more pronounced with the advent of the Fourth Republic, the local government areas were able to credibly discharge their statutory functions which in turn positively impacted on the wellbeing of the people at the grassroots. It equally engendered the sense of political participation and inclusiveness, especially on the part of rural dwellers. It is therefore not advisable for this tier of government to be abrogated,” Eleja submitted.

In his view, Dr Alex Izinyon (SAN) called on NASS to ensure the local governments are allowed to function unhindered. He said NASS has powers to make laws and if the LGAs would be scrapped, Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution will be amended.

He said, ”The National Assembly has power to make laws but don’t forget Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution recognises local government administration in Nigeria. When you talk about scrapping it, NASS has to amend that provision. But to scrap it entirely because of the control by the state governors who are not allowing them to live up to expectations, is a fire brigade approach. I think the first step should be to identify why local governments are not functioning optimally.

“There should also be checks and balances just like the governors. When you have that, all the problems will be solved. If you have to scrap the local government, there is going to be problem because to reach all the local areas you need people on ground,” Izinyon said.

Another senior advocate, Mr Alex Ejesieme, agreed with Izinyon that local government system is provided for in the 1999 Constitution. He condemned some state governors operating joint accounts with their local government areas.

According to him, states and local government areas are not supposed to be operating a joint account.

He said the governors should allow local government areas use their funds for the good of the people of the area.

Also, Mallam Abdul Balogun (SAN) said the way out of is not to scrap the local government areas.

According to him, the governors are the problems of their states because if they allow local government chairmen to function, there would be rapid development in the states and the impact of governance will be felt by the people.

He said, ”As it is, because the local government chairmen are not allowed to function fully, the impact of governance is not being felt by those in the grassroots.”

In his own reaction, a former teacher of political science at the National Open University of Nigeria (NOUN), Comrade Abdul-Rahoof Bello, said NASS lacks legislative authority to scrap the LGAs because they were established as the third-tier of government by the 1999 Constitution.

He said the other tiers are federal and states with each levels given legislative powers under exclusive list for federal government; concurrent list for both the federal government and states; while the residual powers are reserved for the local governments.

Bello said “NASS is handicapped to abolish the LGAs by the virtue of the constitutional provisions that confer ‘recognition, authority and placenta of life’ on local councils.

“For instance, Section 3(6) under General Provisions of the Constitution mentioned the number of LGAs in the country, it went ahead to list them in the 2nd Column of Part 1 of 1st Schedule. Under Section 7(1), the Constitution makes it lucid that the ‘system of local government by democratically elected local government council is guaranteed’.

“The constitution under Section 162(3)(5)(6)(7)(8) establishes the relationship between states and local councils over allocation of funds from the federation accounts. Most importantly, the main functions of the local governments are set out in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution.

“Against this backdrop, NASS cannot scrap the LGAs unless a major amendment (not alteration) is carried out by the National Assembly with the concurrence of 2/3 “yes votes” by 2/3 majority of the 36 states in the federation. The procedure for this major amendment is very cumbersome. Therefore, it is better to treat this issue as an item under general power devolution from the central authority to the component states. This is otherwise known as “restructuring”.

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