By James Ibechi
Chief among the things for which some sections of the Benue public have upbraided Governor Samuel Ortom who is nearing 100 days in office is in his policy of local government control, which they say, shows no sign of departure from the way of his predecessor, Gabriel Suswam.
During the ‘prolonged’Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rule, increasing number of people agitated for local government autonomy, whereby the third tier of government could be freed from the stranglehold of state governors. It was either that or other sections of the public wanted LG scrapped.
Yet, LG has been acknowledged to play more important roles than state government in bringing development and governance to the nation’s cell, the grassroots, the communities.
Understandably so, when communities are developed states would be said to be developed and when the states are developed the country is obviously developed.
Despite that fact, during the reign of the PDP in Nigeria, LGs remarkably became incapacitated by governors. This grisly situation seemingly became more glaring in Benue State, where for instance, in 2014, apart from the fact that, what was due to Oju LGA of Benue State from the Federation Account was over N250million for a month allocation.
But in the final analysis, what the council got from that sum was a little above N70million. That is, after the state had done its monthly rituals on the money in the name of the joint account thing. That is a local government whose staff salaries alone stood at between N69 and N70million.
In effect, the LG whose IGR was nothing to write home about, would normally have to gasp for more money to be able to pay complete salaries across board. After that, there would be nothing left for the development of capital projects and others. Too bad. Unfortunately, that is what goes for many other local government councils.
But while those governors feasted on LG finances like no-man-business, the faultline is first what I call contradiction in the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
For, the section of the constitution that built fort for the LGs and serves as their bulwark by virtue of section 7 sub-section1 is still the same section that ironically circumscribes their power by putting them at the mercy of the tyranny of the state governors.
Now, state governors willfully use that portion as an excuse to squander the LGs’ meager finances and crackdown on any chairman who dares raise eyebrows, as was the case of Suswam-Simon Abua face-off. Abua is former chairman of Gboko LG.
For the umpteenth times the state governors were found to put the chairmen under their palms. They make the LGs to be their territories where they perform their politics of self-aggrandizement, firing and bullying as they wish.
This undue control incapacitates the LGs because they don’t have the plan of their own and their estimates more often than not suffers from extra-budgetary expenses which is normally imposed by the governors of the state.
That evil called the joint account which puts LG under the caprices of the state governors has further weakened the capacities of the third tier of government to perform its functions effectively. Nobody cares to talk about it anymore.
While all of that can be said to have happened in the past, the current reality is that, the administration of Samuel Ortom bears similitude with Suswam’s in the approach and manners of their control over LG, which is why many are already wondering when the governor who rode to power on the slogan of “Change” would lay the foundation of that change.
Almost three months on since assuming office there is no pointer as to when the governor will conduct LG election. Instead, it is caretaker committees chairmen who give him unchallenged control on the councils’ finances that he prefers to work with.
Apart from that being the bane of the LG development under his predecessor, a close look at some of the chairmen themselves, their carriage, the manner of the discharge of their assignments that disconnects them from the people and communities that they are to primarily serve, are a distraction and far cry from the change that the people elected on April 11, symbolized by APC enthronement.
It is even doubtful if after appointing and sending the council chairmen to the various LGs as puppets, the governor has put any machinery to work to check or evaluate their performance at all, because it seems all is not well in line with the departure from the past that the voters yearned for when they voted APC into power.
The governor must be told the gospel truth that, already the appointment of the caretaker committees and their subsequent inauguration clearly undermines the rights of millions of electorate in Benue state to determine the choice of their legitimate representatives in governance at the grassroots.
The action of the governor which, by implication, has foisted needless and avoidable interregnum in local government administration in the state also constitutes dangerous repeat of the wrongs of the past as it unduly exposes the system to a continued non-accountability and corruption.
The decision of the governor to have appointed caretaker committees instead of conducting election where the people could elect credible men and women of their choice was in violation of Chapter 1; Section 7 (1) of 1999 Constitution which expressly emphasises that “the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed ……..”.
On this score, I urge true Benue democrats to frown at this, and any other attempt at undermining democracy and governance in the state under whatever guise and excuse.
*James Ibechi is editorial director, jamesibechi.wordpress.com, firstname.lastname@example.org