If JAAC is to survive, state governments must lose unilateral power over LGs –Osaghae, DG NIIA

The push for local government autonomy by the Federal Government, through the courts, is the crux of the interview WALE AKINSELURE had with the Director General of the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA), Professor Eghosa Osaghae. Fragments:

The federal government recently took legal action against governors of the 36 states for alleged misconduct in local government administration. According to the federal government, this move is intended to guarantee the full autonomy of local governments in the country. What is your opinion on this step by the federal government?

First, it is a constitutional issue that guarantees local governments a substantial level of autonomy. I am sure that everyone in the country is concerned that, despite these constitutional guarantees, local governments have not enjoyed the degree of autonomy for which they were intended. Second, I have always argued that it appears that state governments themselves are not really in favor of autonomy for local governments, for reasons that I am sure the states themselves know best. But I suspect that many of these states feel that if local governments become truly autonomous, they may lose control of some of them, especially if there is partisan politics at that lower level. In other words, it’s possible that if you have free and fair elections, for example in local governments, some of those local governments are actually no longer controlled by the parties in the states. So to that extent you can say that there is a possible asymmetry that could arise from free and fair elections at that level. I myself have long argued that local autonomy will require federal support, because it seems that if state governments themselves are not so inclined to grant the relevant autonomy, then local governments will need some outside force. The courts alone cannot bring such a case, but among the military it was very clear that local autonomy was something the federal government was pushing for, which many students of federalism would see as quite a contradiction. But I think what the federal authorities, state governments under military rule, were trying to accomplish was to weaken the power of the states to some extent. But now that local autonomy has become a guaranteed principle in our Constitution, I believe that whatever can be done should be done to give meaning to local autonomy. So it’s a good thing that the federal government is finally saying to the states: If you don’t want to do this, maybe we can go to court and have the court interpret that provision so that we can fully put local autonomy into practice. movement.

Since it is a constitutional issue, don’t you think the federal government filing a lawsuit in this regard is a serious contradiction? The question would be: why not leave the issue to a constitutional amendment process, instead of bringing in an outside force?

There are many ways to galvanize the forces of change. One of these is through accelerated processing. You might as well say: why not leave the adoption of a new national anthem to a constitutional amendment process? The point is that there are many issues to consider, and I think the issue of local autonomy is already on the table. But it is something that already exists. That is the difference. It’s not like it’s something new that the federal government is pushing for. Look at the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution, it talks about the powers and functions of local governments, and the ordinary interpretation of that schedule results in substantial local autonomy. We also went through amendment processes that addressed the fact that local government funds are not under state control. We are dealing with all of these. So it is not a fundamental constitutional change that the federal government is talking about. It implements what is already stated in the constitution. So that is not a contradiction at all; it is not something that requires a change.

What about the argument that the federal government is just trying to gain more powers than the states by having more control over local government?

If local governments enjoy autonomy, nothing says they are now under the control of the federal government. Local governments exist within states and for all intents and purposes have a physical existence within the state arena. So it is a misinterpretation of the federal government’s intent. When local governments function, it means that the constitutional intent of a three-tier federal system is fully implemented. Imagine what would happen if local governments could actually work effectively; they have funds, they have projects, they have budgets, they have representatives, therefore they are able to do things that the federal government and the state governments may not be able to do. The point of what the federal government is doing is to say: let’s activate local governments as a level of government. Right now, many people say, local governments exist in name only. So I don’t think it is the federal government’s intention that local governments will now be under federal control.

Knowing the powers that state governors amass and exercise, don’t you think we’re in for a long haul? In addition, some states failed to present their defenses to the court during the first hearing of the federal government’s lawsuit.

If there is an accelerated hearing in court, and the court rules, then that is the case. The point really is that we need reforms at the local government level. Consider the point made recently by the Attorney General of the Federation: local government elections have become something of a joke. If Party A controls State A and holds local government elections, they win all the seats, as if those viable and strong opposition parties do not exist. That tells us something about how local governments have been subordinated to the whims and whims of not only state governments, but also state governors. I think they deserve some form of defense. It has been proposed that even local government elections should be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Those types of proposals have emerged from the frustrations we have seen in local government elections organized by state election commissions. So I think we are dealing with the forces of state governments who want to ensure that there is absolute control over their territory, which means that they also have to control local government areas and the fact that local governments themselves deserve autonomy. The strangulation of local governments by control over their finances has been a problem. If local governments, independently of the states, now have access to their own financing from the Federation Account, then everything else must be done to ensure that they can exercise the autonomy guaranteed in the Constitution. It is unfortunate that perhaps not states but most states have subordinated local governments because they are an extension of the state governments, as if they were ministries. You often hear statements from governors who dissolve elected local councils at will. These kinds of things are not good for local governments. So if we agree that local governments should function, we must agree that they deserve some degree of autonomy as the Constitution is guaranteed to be effective and I think this is what the Federal Government is pushing for.

There is the State Joint Local Government Account, which is supervised by the state governments under the auspices of the Joint Accounts Allocation Committee (JAAC). Can JAAC therefore be considered an anomaly?

The constitutional provision for JAAC has been made in the spirit of cooperative governance, cooperative federalism. There are joint states, federal projects, programs and policies, so there are also joint state programs and local programs and policies. These are not jurisdictional definitions drawn up with the intention of creating conflict. The whole point of federalism is cooperative governance. JAAC should therefore be very effective in that sense. But if JAAC is to survive, local governments must be strengthened to have a voice so that bargaining and bargaining can take place. It is not unilateralism on the part of state governments to simply declare: this is what we will do and local governments must comply. JAAC is a holding fund for local governments. We must understand that JAAC came into being because at some point in our own history there were local government officials who filtered funds as if they were not under any kind of control. These are the necessary balances that we try to create everywhere. So I won’t say that JAAC should be thrown out completely, but if local governments become more effectively autonomous, JAAC could become something that needs to be negotiated and negotiated.

How do you encourage the three levels of government: federal, states and local, to behave in this latest push for local government autonomy?

They should see this in the spirit of cooperative governance. Federalism is not about jurisdictional conflicts. Federalism is about ensuring harmony; that there is intergovernmental cooperation and to the extent that the constitution has demarcated the boundaries that these different spheres of government would have. To this extent, the Constitution also expects that they would cooperate with each other for effective governance of our country. Right now we have federal and state governments as the effective governments in the country, but as a third step, local governments, we as a country decided years ago that local government would become autonomous. We were the second federal country to do this, after the old Yugoslavia under Marshal Tito. Marshal Tito was the first federal leader to elevate local government to the third level of a federal system. Nigeria followed suit and the scientific theory of federalist practice has welcomed Nigeria. Since Nigeria did this, many other federal systems, including South Africa, have introduced the principle of autonomy as one of the guiding principles for the activities and functions of local governments. I don’t think we do things that are intended to disrupt our federal system. Effective local government, effective state government, effective federal government, these three will work in harmony in the spirit of cooperative federalism.

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