Nine states have already voted for the full autonomy of local government in the on-going constitutional review process, while two states have also voted against the freedom of the third tier of government.
The President of Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Comrade Ibraheem Khaleel, who made this known on Wednesday in a press conference in Abuja, however, lambasted the Edo State Governor Godwin Obaseki and its Imo State counterpart, Rochas Okorocha for influencing and cajoling their states assemblies to vote against the wish of majority of Nigerians.
The states that have finally endorsed the local government autonomy include Kwara, Benue, Niger, Plateau, Bauchi, Cross River, Bayelsa, Ogun and Ondo states; while Edo and Imo outrightly rejected the bill.
Lamenting on the two states that outrightly rejected it, Khaleel canvassed the abolition of State Independent Electoral Commission, saying that the existence of the commission at the state level to conduct elections to local councils, has made democracy at the grassroots level a mockery.
He accused the governors of the two states and their party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) of influencing the State Houses of Assemblies to reject the proposal in the bill, while as a result of their governors’ influence, the houses of assemblies in the northwestern states are stepping down on the bill.
Unexpectedly and against all democratic norms, the NULGE president stated that the Edo State House of Assembly voted against their own freedom, as they voted against the autonomy of state house of assembly and the judiciary.
He queried the level of intelligence and quality of many members of the state assembly, who would want to remain perpetually under the control of the state governors rather than seek to be independent to be able to perform their role effectively.
Against this background, Khalleel said the governors have cajoled the members of their state assemblies to reject local government autonomy, the autonomy of the state house of assembly and that of the judiciary.
He, however, stated in the interest of democracy, the governors should respect the wishes of the Nigerian people by allowing the state Assemblies endorse the bill; adding that if the state assemblies are confused, they should go back to the people who have willingly declared that they want autonomy for local government rather than few people who are just governor today.
He explained further that the union was not asking the legislators to automatically endorse the bill, but to conduct a public hearing as agreed by the Speakers Forum and the Governors Forum that in view of the sensitivity of the issue of local government, more consultations need to be carried out and more Nigerians engaged.
According to Khaleel: “I want to call on our governors to, as a matter of respect for Nigerian citizens who have spoken and aspiring to have a local government system they can call their own, that will be free for them to participate democratically by electing their Chairmen and Councillors as and when due without undue influence from the government of the state.
“The governors should begin to have some level of decorum in their approach to governance. Look at the shame brought to bear on our democracy by the election in Kano where underaged were the ones that mostly voted.
“These are some of the issues that we have been trying to make Nigerians understand. That is not only in the area of democracy. The idea behind establishing local government is by way of bringing governance closer to the people and providing a platform for everybody to participate at his own community level.
“But the governors have hijacked this tier of government for their own advantage. This is why we are doggedly following this issue and we are not happy with most of the governors that are foot-dragging this issue. If you look at the governors from the northwestern states, they are foot-dragging.
“The state assemblies showed some patriotic disposition to embrace local government autonomy and ensuring that local government becomes more functional. But when the governors tried to influence the decision of the Assembly, they started stepping it down and this is worrisome.
“We are calling on all governors, as a matter of urgency, to have respect for our democracy and our people to allow the legislature from their states to do their jobs as legislators to conduct public hearing as agreed by the Speakers Forum and even the governors forum that because of the sensitivity of the issue of local government, wider consultations need to be done.
“We are not saying that the legislators should just endorse local government autonomy bill, but we are saying that we should engage more people to participate so that at the end of the day, Nigerians will own the process and whatever result that came from that.
“But for anybody to use his influence like it has been displayed by the governors of Imo and Edo states sh hold be resisted because it is undemocratic. Those governors should also look back and reverse the decision they influence their state assemblies to take on the bill for local government autonomy.
“The greatest shame is that of Edo state where the legislators were cajoled by the governor and the party in the state to reject their own autonomy at this age of our political struggle.
“The leadership of NULGE met the governor of Imo state over five times and on each occasion, he gave us the assurances that he will allow the state Assembly to do their own work, but unfortunately, the reverse was the case. The governor hijacked the process and cajole the legislators to do what they did.
“Our political elites should understand that democracy is about people and the people need to strengthen and the best way to do that is by having this their of government functioning very well. We need to revisit the issue and sensitized Nigerians particular emphasis on the people of Imo and Edo.
“We are calling on stakeholders in these two states to come together and see how to renegade the state assemblies as well as the governors for them to see reason on why this issue should be given the attention it deserves.
“Let me inform you that Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, as President of the NLC was the initiator of this project. He kick-start the process of making local government autonomous. Unfortunately, when he was a governor, and there was an attempt to abolish the clause establishing state Independent Electoral Commission, he rejected it.
“We are calling on him as one of the fathers of the Labour movement in Nigeria to put his political interest aside and talk to his governor to fall in line with people and respect the position of the people of the state.”
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