Localization of Nigerian Democracy

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Localization of Nigerian Democracy

Ė An Imperative to Move the Nation Forward -

 

By

 

Oluwagbemi Michael II

busangax@yahoo.com

 

Much has been said in recent time about dialogue within our polity including the future of democracy in our beloved nation- Nigeria. The spirit behind these desires has ranged from reducing corruption, to increasing efficiency as well as bringing government closer to the people. Much as these subject have been discussed, little have been said about an important issue: the devolution of powers from the center to the local levels.

State Rights vs. Local Rights

The most vocal critics of the present arrangement have suggested the return of powers from the center to the constituent parts of the federation i.e. the state. It is these individuals that have been the proponents of the sovereign national conference or the conference of ethnic nationalities. They have carried on however, without a good sense of Nigerian history. Are the states a creation of the center? Or are they the creation of the people as obtained in advanced federalist states like the United States? The obvious answer is that the states as presently constituted are creation of the center and as such cannot ascribe to themselves the moral authority to administer for their people the powers that have been heavily invested in the federal government to the detriment of the people in the grassroots.

However, a more realistic approach to restructuring in our polity should be the devolution of powers to our localities that would be backed up by fundamental reforms in local government administration, especially as codified in federal and state laws.

Devolution of Power and Localization of Democracy

Behind the ups and down in our polity is the disenchantment the Nigerian people have experienced due to the over concentration of power at the center. Nigerians donít feel a stake in their government and as such donít behave as such. We have no respect for public property, we donít pay taxes, and we dishonor public service and are essentially highly corrupt. All these maladies are a consequence of forty years of military styled unitary government that emphasizes command and control from the center to power at the grassroots levels.

The solution to this problem is to localize Nigerian democracy. In order to do this, government has to be leaner and not meaner, governors have to be servants not masters, and the governed has to be tax payers not free loaders! Power has to be returned to our local government, local government administration has to be cheap and efficient, and the independence of local government administration needs to be restored. More so, most of the functions that are presently being arrogated at the center need to be returned to the local government Ė meaning we donít need state police, what we need is local police. We donít need national election commission what we need is local election boards and we donít need federal internal revenue service what we need are local tax collectors that will knock down our doors and collect our hard earned money for a government that we see and confront if our money is badly spent!

Local Government Reform

Implicit in the return of powers to the local government is a reform of our local government system. The first area of reform has to be definition of powers, administration, funding and enumeration. Beginning with the last, the number of local government in our nation should not exceed 500- These should be divided among states on the basis of equality and population. With all states getting a minimum of 10 local governments (additional states may be created Ė probably four, to bring the number of states within the nation to forty Ė new states like Oke-Ogun and Southern Kaduna should get rather strong consideration) and the rest shared on the basis of population .

A state conference held simultaneously in all states of the federation should decide what her local governments should be, their boundary definition, as well as their headquarters. Each state should be allowed to come up with her local government based on need, population, history and homogeneity. Whereas a state like Lagos would end up with up to 30 local government states like Jigawa would have up to 15 and states like Ekiti and Zamfara would be too happy to have 12 or thirteen local government areas. Thus the guess would be completely taken out of the game as presently exists in the method of local government creation that has made our Supreme Court less than clear on the powers of the states vis a vis the federal allocation required by them.

Separation of Powers at the Local Level

Before the powers of the local government is discussed, it is important to discuss the separation of powers in the local level. Sovereignty at the local level should be vested in an elected local council of council men elected for the ultimate purpose of serving their people from wards across the geographical boundaries of the local government. The local council should possess all legislative powers to design a program of action for the legislative year, make laws, manage the purse and appoint executive members. This includes the local government manager and heads of various departments (provided they are not meant to be elected).

In addition to the legislative and executive arm of the local government, there shall be a judicial division in the local government. Members of the judicial division shall sit on the local municipal courts. The judges on the courts shall be elected on a zero party basis and shall be either pre-trial judges, citation judges, family judges or trial judges. Individual local government councils shall decide on the basis of funds available to them the number of judges required to ensure the administration of justice speedily. The municipal courts shall try cases that are both criminal or civil ranging from traffic tickets, to parking fines, to assault to divorce and/or child custody cases. Incidences of civil disturbance, disobedience or anti-social behavior shall also be within the jurisdiction of the court. Trial by jury shall be an option on this level and appeals from the court shall go to the state high court. It is important to note that the pre-trial stage judgments cannot be appealed, thus cutting the possibility of unnecessary delays. Trial duration should be set by the pre-trial judges and assigned to specific judges that would require each party to wrap up testimony within specified intervals after which conviction is handed down by the jury (if the defendant or respondent chooses to) and the judgment is delivered by the judge. The court should also be a small claims court for small disputes involving business transactions or contracts. Powers to grant restraining order shall also be of the court.

Powers of the Local Government

The many powers arrogated at the center need to be devolved to the local level and given to the local government. Among the most important of these powers are the powers to police, collect taxes as well as organize elections.

There should be a local police that would be funded simultaneously by all levels of government. However the command and control of the local government police should be invested in the local government. The head of the local police should be an elected Sheriff that can be impeached by the local council. The sheriff should be elected to terms decided by the state constitution and should be the chief security officer of the local police. The sheriff should head the Public Safety Department that should include the police, fire and medical examiners offices. He/she shall have the powers to enforce all laws- local, state or federal within his/her area of jurisdiction. Sheriffs should be people qualified in the areas of law enforcement or law.  There should be a telecom tax levied on all telecommunication activities including television rights that would be used to fund the local police. The salaries of local police should be set by their individual local governments by collective bargaining, and should be shouldered jointly by all levels of government by a previously agreed proportion.  The power to remove the sheriff due to one of many reasons including inefficiency and corruption should be vested in the local council.

The power to collect statutory taxes should be invested in the local tax office that shall be headed by an elected tax collector. The local tax collector shall be responsible for compilation of federal tax returns, issuance of tax certificates and collection of statutory taxes including telecom tax to fund local police and gas tax to fund state tertiary institution to property tax to fund secondary education. The local government council shall also have the power to remove the tax collector before the completion of his/her term which should be fixed by the state constitution. Anyone aspiring to this position must be knowledgeable and professionally qualified in matters of accounting or fiscal related and shall be elected on a zero-party basis.

In addition to these powers, there should be a local records office that shall have a record commissioner that shall double as the head of the local election board. Every local records office is responsible for the registration of death and births within the area, granting of driving and marriage licenses, maintain and issue jury and voters roll, collection of crime data and registering the unemployed within the local government. In relation to the local election board, every party that maintains an office in the local government shall have the right to nominate a member to the local election board to implement the electoral law of the nation at the local level Ė this leaves the national electoral body to set standards, dates in consultation with state and local authorities and monitor the local election boards to ensure that those standards are being adhered to. However the multi-partisan management of elections and the localization of its conduct would largely eliminate the incidence of electoral impropriety that has been the order of the day in our nation in recent history.

Other powers of the local government shall be organized along the lines linked to the needs of the locality. The Local Schools Board shall be responsible for managing the primary schools and the local library Ė preferably members should be nominated by vested interests including the federal, state and local governments, teacherís association, journalist union and parent association- a student representative can also sit on the local schools board; the public works department shall be responsible for building and maintaining trunk C township roads, public toilets, markets as well as manage the water and sewage system. The parks and recreations department shall manage public parks and recreational facilities, and the Health department shall manage the primary health care centers of the local government. The management of local commerce like markets, bakeries, shopping centers etc. shall also be vested in the local government.

Local Government Administration

The question of corruption and inefficiency has been leveled against local governments in the present democratic dispensation but it is yet to be proven that the local government are more corrupt than either their state of federal counterparts that have been evidently corrupt and happen to manage a bigger share of the national resources with no consequence on the lives of the people more than five years after the new republic.

In order to improve local administration, it is important to stipulate that locally elected officials should not be remunerated. They should be elected to serve public good with no pay and should be subjected to the most rigorous rules of transparency. It should be required that they be ordinarily domiciled in the local government area, meet some tertiary education requirement and have a visible source of income before being elected to the local government council which shall be the legislative authority within the local government but shall not wield executive powers. Executive powers should be wielded by individuals appointed by the council, employed on passing the interview process before the council and mandated to implement some programs fashioned our by the council or mandated either by state or federal laws- individuals appointed in this manner should be remunerated in line with civil service scale. In the case of special departments that would require that their head be elected on a zero-party basis, those elected should be remunerated also on a civil service scales like their appointed counterparts. In addition to this all local government employees (including primary school teachers) except for the local police should be employees of a federally mandated state ministry of local government. This would require local government to adhere to state quotas on personnel to avoid an over bloated workforce. For the purpose of awarding contract, the method of jury selection should be use to appoint  a secret tenders boards that shall have a six months term to approve all contracts awarded by the local council. The identity of the tender board member shall be available upon the completion of their term for public perusal and scrutiny.

Funding of Local Government

Matters of revenue allocation shall continue to be a topical issue in our third world economy. It has been variously argued in the past that there is need to discuss the allocation to the various level of government in relation to their responsibilities. Within the framework of the reforms argued for in this article it is reasonable to say that that source of local government funding would be quite varied. For the purpose of funding the police, all levels of government should share this responsibility and the local government is entirely freed from the burden of recurrent expenditure since all her staffs are local government employees. This leaves the capital receipts of maintaining and building local infrastructure ranging from primary schools, to health care centers, to public roads, local courts and jailhouse, as well as management of the election process- which should be a first line charge from the national consolidated revenue fund to all 500 local election boards and the national election commission to ensure their independence.

Strictly speaking in terms of allocation however, the federal allocation should be solely concerned with sharing the money at the central pool between the federal and state government as well as first line charges which could be argued should include the national assembly, judiciary, election, ecology, school district funding as well as national health services. State constitutions should clearly spell out how funds in the state revenue purse are shared with her constituent local governments.

Dialogue as an Imperative

Beyond the entire framework laid out in this article is the intricate need to discourse and dialogue on the status of our nation. The crux of such discussion is our viability as an economic union or a federation of nation states, the efficiency of our system of government, the relationship that should realistically exist between the governed and the governors, the system for distribution of national resources as well as the best manner to effect the redistribution of wealth vis a vis taxation and the creation of a truly taxpayer base.

This discussion can never be limited to the national level; there is need for a town hall style meeting to be convened at the local level to discuss the priorities of individual local government with security and local infrastructure as the central focus of such discussions. In addition to this as states, there is need to discuss how to strengthen the artificial fate that have tied plural people together without resulting in conflagrations of unnecessary proportion. There is need to fashion state constitutions and water the seeds of individual state identities in order to obtain a truly federalist paradise of our founders hope. There is serious need on the national level to fashion for us a stable political and electoral system that would truly reflect the wishes of the people.

It is thus disheartening to see the reaction of our leaders to this urgent national need; beginning with whimsical dismissal to half hearted measures that Mr. President have offered us in form of some partisan national dialogue that seeks to further restrict the political discourse all in the name of preserving our territorial integrity while destroying the fabric of our nationhood Ė trust. May God be our light and may the wise never stop asking questions and answering the mysteries of our nati

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