Twice this past week, the Federal Government came hard on state governors, blaming them for the rising poverty in the country. First was the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Prince Clem Agba, who said the state governments would rather build airports and flyovers that were not really needed than build rural roads that would stop post-harvest losses and improve the lives of rural dwellers.
The minister, who spoke after the Federal Executive Council meeting on Wednesday, added that “At the federal level, the government is putting out so much money but not seeing so much reflection in terms of money that has been put into alleviating poverty, which is one of the reasons the government also put in place the national poverty reduction with growth strategy. But if the federal government puts the entire income that it earns into all of this without some form of complementarities from the state governments in playing their part, it will seem as if we are throwing money in the pond.”
Then President Muhammadu Buhari followed up on Thursday when he accused governors of pocketing funds meant for local governments in their states.
The President, during a parley with members of the Senior Executive Course No. 44 (2022) of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru at the State House Banquet Hall in Abuja, said “If the money from the Federation Account to the state is about N100m, N50m will be sent to the chairman, but he will sign that he received N100m. The governor will pocket the balance and share it with whoever he wants to share it with. And then the chairman of the local government must see how much he must pay in salaries and to hell with development. When he pays the salaries of the big man, the balance he will put in his pocket.”
The President then went ahead to appeal to the conscience of governors to do what is right so that the country can shed the toga of underdevelopment.
But appealing to people’s consciences neither changes the situation of men nor births development. The obvious solution to the situation in which we have found ourselves as a people is not for the president to throw up his arms in surrender. Leaders don’t surrender to adverse situations; rather they devise means of turning the tide in their favour. That is why Hannibal, the Commander-In-Chief of the Carthaginian Army, who commanded the forces of Carthage in their battle against the Roman Republic during the Second Punic War, said that he would either find a way or make one when his lieutenants told him that he could not go through two seemingly impassable mountain ranges.
President Buhari understands that the current situation of fund diversion by state chief executive officers as well as local government chairmen cannot engender development of the country. But after furnishing the nation with the information, what is next? He should not just resign to fate as it were, the president should make a mark by coming up with a solution to the identified problem.
What the president ought to do is to peruse the country’s constitutional framework and see if there is any provision for tackling the problem. If there exists such provision, all the president needs to do is activate that provision and wrest the people from the claws of their fiendish leaders. But if there is no provision in the current constitution to deal with the situation, the president should set the machinery in motion to get a legislation that will make it absolutely impossible for governors to fiddle with local government resources or for local council chairmen to fritter the same.
While local government autonomy may not completely solve the problem, it will go a long way in ameliorating it because it would provide an opportunity for the people to hold those who run local governments accountable. So, I think that is the starting point.
Therefore, I think the President should push for the restructuring of the whole system. Let the President push for proper federalism because that system makes the leaders accountable to the people. The local government is the closest to the people, but it is the least effective of the tiers of government. This is because local councils are at the mercy of state governments. In many states, caretaker committees man the affairs of local governments. These are people who occupy such offices by the grace and mercy of the state governors. So, there is no way they will go against the will of the governor. The caretaker committee members will even thank the governors for deducting their allocations. The first step to empowering the councils with a view to helping the people is to ensure that only elected people run the local governments.
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Then, local government authorities do little or nothing to generate their own revenue; they rely on federal and state governments for handouts. This needs to change. The local government, being the closest to the people, should be able to positively impact the lives of the people. There was a time in this country when local governments had caterpillars that they used to grade roads. At a point in our history, local government authorities were very supportive to the farming population in their domain. A time was in this country when local governments were running effective primary health centres. But all of these are gone now. Now, local governments have become centres of idleness and an avenue to financially enervate the people. That must change; the local governments must serve the people. If the LGs support farmers, financial poverty will decline in the rural areas. If LGs run effective primary health centres, health poverty will reduce. If LGs grade the roads, life will be better in the rural areas. So, the President should not stop at merely identifying the problem, he should move forward and initiate the process of solving it.
Mr President, people are neither remembered nor rewarded for the problems they identify but for the ones they solve. Leave a legacy; solve this problem of governors and local government chairmen who sentence their people to needless poverty and deprivation. It is never too late to do the right thing.