SENATE President, Bukola Saraki, has attributed the slow pace of work being accorded the bill on local government autonomy to states, saying they were not giving adequate attention towards its quick passage by the National Assembly and possible assent by the president.
He regretted that despite the transmission of the bill to the state legislatures several months ago,not much had been achieved for the National Assembly to conclude its work on it.
Saraki, who spoke, Monday, in Abuja, at the occasion of celebration of National Union of Local Government Employees, NULGE,at 40, insisted that the action of the legislatures at the state level was disappointing considering the efforts of the National Assembly to see the passage of the bill which advocates financial autonomy for local governments.
Represented by the Chairman,Senate Committee on States and Local Governments, Senator Abdullahi Gumel, the Senate President however expressed hope that the remaining 26 states which were yet to treat the bill, will do so,as according to him, “delay does not constitute denial.”
He said:”You will be aware of the efforts of the National Assembly towards actualising financial autonomy for local institutions by way of the Local Government Autonomy Bill under the 1999 Constitution (as amended). ” It is a matter of some disappointment that only nine (9) states have so far passed this Autonomy Bill. “While it may be true that the Bill is still under consideration in the remaining 26 states, we must remain hopeful that in this instance, delay does not constitute denial.”
Speaking further,he said” the struggle towards freedom of the third-tier of government is not one which NULGE or indeed the local governments themselves should see as theirs alone.” ” If we are to curb insecurity, provide jobs for our teeming youth and boost economic activity through diversification, we must enable local governments operate independent of the state, and with their own budget and levels of accountability,”he added.
Going further, he said:” As I have stated on several occasions, it is our joint responsibility to ensure that there is a symbiotic relationship between the states and local governments, if we are to prevent unwarranted disadvantage to third-tier government in Nigeria. “In addition, a cordial and symbiotic relationship between second and third-tier government will make possible the necessary checks and balances that should further serve to deepen the fabric of our democracy. ” “What this means in essence is that there is still a lot more work to be done if we are to bring this espoused vision to reality.
The constitutional amendment process is one which adopts a transformational approach to change; that is to say, a gradual process. We should not be discouraged by what may seem a slow pace of change. “Through continued dialogue, collaboration and partnership with relevant stakeholders including government, I am confident that local government autonomy will be actualised. “The question is not if, but when. I enjoin you all to remain steadfast in your quest to attain financial autonomy for local governments in Nigeria. Meanwhile, let me assure you of the continued commitment of the 8’“ National Assembly to strengthening our local government institutions,”he further stated.
He added that:”We in the National Assembly fully appreciate the importance of governance at local government level. Yes, it strengthens local government administration; but more importantly, it provides for accountable governance, which is a prerequisite for sustainable development. One therefore reasons with the idea of local councils having better proximity to the people; as their autonomy will in turn better serve the grassroots and avail Nigerians of the much-desired dividends of democracy.
Earlier, in his welcome remark, National President of NULGE, Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, expressed delight that four decades after the formation of NULGE to protect the working and living conditions as well as defend other interests of the workers at the local government level,it has assumed national significance.
According to him,”the 40th anniversary celebration came at a time some powerful vested forces within our polity have campaigned vigorously against the very existence of the local government tier of government.” He said the theme of anniversary, tagged:”Local Government Yesterday,Today and Tomorrow:Our Struggle Towards Actualisation of Local Government Autonomy in Nigeria”, was based on the need to reflect deeply on the conditions of the local government workers today across the federation, against the backdrop of what obtained in the past and the workers’ hope for the future.