By Saadu Umar
“In politics, nothing moves unless it’s pushed,” Morton C Blackwell said.
On March 1, 2022, the National Assembly (NASS) was widely reported to have passed a Constitution Amendment Bill granting financial and administrative autonomy (autonomy) to the 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Nigeria.
The NASS has since transmitted the Bills to the 36 State Houses of Assembly pursuant to the Constitutional requirements that prescribe the concurrence of at least 24 State Houses of Assembly in the federation.
The clamour for LGA autonomy enjoys the support of every single citizen except the governors who steal the monies meant for the LGAs and convert the funds into Dollars, EURO and Pound Sterling in Bureaux de Change, that’s according to the NFIU as reported by the Nation newspapers on May 21, 2019.
The governors oppose what everyone else supports because of selfishness and corrupt purpose. After all, “State governors are known as a mainstay of Nigerian corruption, operating what are essentially fiefdoms under their spheres of influence”. (ARD Inc)
Ordinarily, one needs no worries as members of State Houses of Assembly ought to, in the words of Edmund Burke, “follow the public inclination” as that is “the true end of the legislature”. But, sadly, our assemblymen and women may not swim with the public because, as we all know, our honourable (horrible) members are no more than puppets of the governors.
“Houses of Assembly are an extension of the executive arm of the [state] government” and almost always, state legislators are “at the beck and call of the governors”, according to The Guardian editorial of 23 November 2018.
In fact, “The state assemblies are all largely beholden to the governors” according to a publication of ARD, Inc, reviewed by USAID.
Further, “The governors hold enormous sway overall activities in their states. Already, rather ominously, Kayode Fayemi, the governor of Ekiti State and the chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum (NGF), has voiced his opposition to this amendment: contemptuously condemning calls for Local Government Autonomy and arrogantly asserting that “the NGF had agreed that issues about local government should be left for the states to decide”. (The Nation)
Therefore, unless President Buhari stands up and fights for autonomy it will fail. If it fails, it’ll dent and define Buhari’s legacy. The failure will define Buhari as ineffective, and incapable of achieving one of his key legislative agendas and campaign promise.
More importantly, there’s an urgency to act here. Buhari needs to move in quickly. Because soon, very soon Buhari will become a lame-duck president, so to speak. And, the fast gathering clouds of 2023 will shortly open the heavens – heavy rain will wash away and drown every other issue on its way.
No doubt, the president can do many things to ensure the concurrence of the Bill by the required number of the states, but here are a few things that I want him to do:
Firstly, as the overall leader of the APC, the president is better placed to rally the machinery of the APC behind the amendment. He should use his standing and influence to galvanize and mobilize the leadership and the followership of the APC to ensure that all the 25 State Houses of Assembly under the control of the APC pass the Bill. Bauchi, Edo and Sokoto Houses of Assembly are majority APC with PDP governors.
It’s noteworthy to remind us that devolution of power to the LGAs is part of the APC Constitution, therefore the president and the leadership of the APC should make sure all houses of assembly under the control of APC must tear down the party line, follow the APC Constitution or else face firm and severe sanctions.
Secondly, the president should appoint liaison officers for State Houses of Assembly, at least one for each state, who can do the job. Their mandate is to ensure the concurrence of the assemblies come rain or shine.
Thirdly, the president should invite the Speakers and their members to the Aso Rock and persuade, charm, cajole, beg, intimidate, threaten – whatever will work – to make them defy the governors and pass the amendment. Buhari must make members know that they represent us not the governors; they are elected by us not the governors.
Fourthly, the president should use his powerful presidential pulpit to bully, lobby, persuade and/or threaten the governors with the withdrawal of privileges. He should sack appointees (ministers, ambassadors and other CEOs of MDAs) nominated or connected with uncooperative governors.
Fifthly, where necessary, the president should bribe his way to pass the amendment. Oh yes, bribery is a right guaranteed by the Constitution and affirmed by plenty of pronouncements of the courts including the Apex Court. So, if bribes will work, why not bribe them?
Sixthly, the president should borrow a leaf from America’s Presidents and adopt campaign-style rallies, taking his case for the amendment directly to the people in the states. This will be very effective and will put the right pressure on assembly members. And, an average member, “If the right pressure could be applied to them they would be cheerfully in favour of chiropractic, astrology or cannibalism” let alone LGA Autonomy. Apologies to HL Mencken.
Lastly, the president should threaten to and indeed veto the entire amendment if it fails to pass the LGA autonomy. He should make it crystal clear that it’s either his way or the highway.
Undoubtedly, Nigeria and Nigerians will be better off with the passage of this LGA autonomy bill. The current dysfunctional Local Government governance got to end with this amendment. It’s long overdue. Thus, we urge the state legislators to respect the voters and pass the bill. That’s their solemn job. And it’s the duty of the president and all of us to help them do their job. So help us, God.
Umar is a lawyer and Secretary of APC Media and Publicity Committee Bauchi and former Director-General, BASEPA