Na­tional Con­fer­ence: Early warn­ing signs

Daily Trust - - VIEWS - By Mon­ima Dam­inabo

It is eas­ily re­called that even be­fore its ad­vent, there were mixed feel­ings about the on­go­ing Na­tional Con­fer­ence, over the prospects of a new deal emerg­ing from it to move the na­tion for­ward. Con­cerns had been over sev­eral as­pects of its con­duct, in­clud­ing its agenda, com­po­si­tion, op­er­a­tional modal­i­ties and even the util­ity of its out­come. But thanks to the ap­peal of di­a­logue which of­fers the frame­work for rec­on­cil­ing di­ver­gent po­si­tions in any so­cial set­ting, the con­fer­ence is un­der­way, and prov­ing a roar­ing suc­cess.

How­ever that is not to say that Nige­ri­ans should not be on alert to iden­tify any early sign of un­to­ward de­vel­op­ment, in or­der to keep the Con­fer­ence on course. Af­ter all the fo­rum is in­tended to har­ness as much as pos­si­ble the main stream of di­ver­gent views, that de­fine the ma­trix of our in­ter­ac­tions as a na­tion with many tongues but one des­tiny.

That is why one of the re­ported rec­om­men­da­tions by the Com­mit­tee on De­vo­lu­tion of Power and Struc­ture of Govern­ment in the Con­fer­ence, with re­spect to the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal fu­ture qual­i­fies for a re­think. Among its rec­om­men­da­tions is that the lo­cal govern­ment sys­tem be ex­punged from the Con­sti­tu­tion as a sep­a­rate tier of gov­er­nance, and be for­mally as­signed to con­trol by re­spec­tive state gov­ern­ments. This must be based on the as­sump­tion that state gov­ern­ments as we have in Nigeria to­day can be trusted to per­form the role which lo­cal gov­ern­ments are ex­pected to han­dle.

But for the fear of sound­ing pe­jo­ra­tive to the re­spected mem­bers of the Com­mit­tee, it would have been more ap­pro­pri­ate to call that rec­om­men­da­tion a throw­back from a bet­ter for­got­ten era in the na­tion’s his­tory. Put graph­i­cally, the Com­mit­tee’s po­si­tion con­sti­tutes a re­ver­sal with re­spect to ef­forts at im­prov­ing the for­tunes of the na­tion’s lo­cal govern­ment sys­tem. It is not for noth­ing that the Con­sti­tu­tion framers saw the need to pro­tect the lo­cal govern­ment sys­tem hence it was en­shrined in the in­stru­ment. So why the new de­vel­op­ment?

In fair­ness to the Com­mit­tee how­ever, its po­si­tion may have been premised on a tra­di­tional frus­tra­tion with the pal­lid state of lo­cal govern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion in the coun­try, which it shares with many ob­servers. Like many con­cerned Nige­ri­ans, mem­bers of the Com­mit­tee must have been trou­bled at what is gen­er­ally seen as the in­tractabil­ity of the present con­di­tion of the sys­tem, es­pe­cially with re­spect to iso­lat­ing it from the in­cubus of dom­i­na­tion and in­ter­fer­ence by state gov­ern­ments. Due to sev­eral fac­tors in­clud­ing the suf­fo­cat­ing con­trol by state gov­ern­ments, the sys­tem in the coun­try re­mains a car­i­ca­ture of its in­tended sta­tus. Its most dis­tinct fea­tures are op­er­a­tional in­ef­fi­ciency, in­sen­si­tiv­ity of its of­fi­cials, wide spread greed and avarice with at­ten­dant mas­sive loot­ing of pub­lic funds, to name a few.

How­ever, or­ga­nized op­po­si­tion to that rec­om­men­da­tion has been build­ing up, with the Na­tional Union of Lo­cal Govern­ment Em­ploy­ees (NULGE) tak­ing the lead. The union’s po­si­tion is based on what it iden­ti­fied as ar­bi­trari­ness in the Com­mit­tee’s stand. Ac­cord­ing to the NULGE Chair­man Com­rade Ibrahim Khaleel, “calls that lo­cal govern­ment coun­cils should be ex­punged from the con­sti­tu­tion” are “ar­bi­trary and do not take into con­sid­er­a­tion the feel­ings of Nige­ri­ans and rec­om­men­da­tions of pre­vi­ous pan­els, com­mit­tees and the Na­tional As­sem­bly”. He then ad­vised that it would be “wise and log­i­cal” for the Con­fer­ence to base its po­si­tion on the sev­eral re­ports done af­ter col­lat­ing and analysing mem­o­randa from the pub­lic on the is­sue.

To but­tress Khaleel’s po­si­tion, the Na­tional Con­fer­ence in ple­nary only agreed to in­vite mem­o­randa (lo­cal govern­ment mat­ters in­clu­sive), from the pub­lic on Wed­nes­day March 26th 2014, af­ter a heated de­bate on the is­sue. It is hardly ten­able that be­tween then and the time of the Com­mit­tee’s rec­om­men­da­tion, it had re­ceived in­puts that span the wide spec­trum of views on the mat­ter, to jus­tify a wide­spread rep­re­sen­ta­tive­ness of its po­si­tion on lo­cal govern­ment sys­tem in Nigeria. If that be the case, would it not have been wiser for the Com­mit­tee to wait, re­ceive and an­a­lyse in­puts in­de­pen­dently from the pub­lic, be­fore mak­ing its rec­om­men­da­tions?

For not toe­ing that path and rather adopt­ing an in­dis­putably hasty ap­proach to the is­sue, the Com­mit­tee has at­tracted to it­self (even if un­jus­ti­fi­ably) the avoid­able in­sin­u­a­tion of act­ing as a the en­e­mies of au­ton­omy for the lo­cal govern­ment sys­tem, with the Nige­rian Gov­er­nors’ Fo­rum (NGF), be­ing in the fore­front, given the his­tor­i­cal cam­paign it has been wag­ing against the third tier of govern­ment. In fact there is a grow­ing sus­pi­cion in the pub­lic do­main that due to the sit­u­a­tion whereby a sub­stan­tial por­tion of the del­e­gates were spon­sored by state gov­er­nors, they may be play­ing the script of their spon­sors at the Con­fer­ence. Can that be true?

It is in the con­text of the fore go­ing that many ob­servers are un­easy with ex­pung­ing the lo­cal govern­ment sys­tem from the Con­sti­tu­tion and hand­ing same to the states to man­age; see­ing the move as a booby trap that will do the coun­try no good. As is com­mon knowl­edge, even with the statu­tory pro­vi­sions of the Con­sti­tu­tion in re­spect of lo­cal gov­ern­ments they can be so hand­i­capped, what hap­pens when they are stripped of for­mal Con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tion?

The jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, role and chal­lenges of the lo­cal govern­ment sys­tem in Nigeria are is­sues that en­joy co­pi­ous doc­u­men­ta­tion and elab­o­rate elu­ci­da­tion. From the count­less stud­ies of the sys­tem it has been es­tab­lished that lo­cal govern­ment ad­min­is­tra­tion in Nigeria has been largely dys­func­tional due to sys­temic fac­tors that bor­der on the re­luc­tance of the prin­ci­pal ac­tors to make it work. Its in­con­ti­nences have been due less to is­sues as­so­ci­ated with ir­rel­e­vance, than the con­tra­dic­tions in its op­er­a­tions. Lit­tle won­der that de­fend­ing the sys­tem is not al­ways a pop­u­lar en­ter­prise.


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