National President, Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), Comrade Ibrahim Khaleel, spoke with SOJI-EZE FAGBEMI, on the ongoing constitution amendment process and local government autonomy.
What is the state of the local government autonomy bill at the ongoing constitution amendment process?
So far so good, out of 36 states’ Houses of Assembly that are expected to legislate on the bill submitted to them by the National Assembly, only 12 actually concluded the legislation of the entire bill. Nine out of the 12 voted in favour of the LG autonomy bill while three rejected it entirely. They rejected without proper public hearing as agreed and adopted by both the forum of the governors in Nigeria and the forum of the speakers of the states houses of assemblies. Maybe it is because of the huge interference of the governors of those states on the process. These states are Rivers, Imo and Edo states. No citizen of the states was consulted by the state assemblies. They just locked themselves up and came up with the submission.
The remaining states are still hanging. Hanging in the sense that most of them passed some aspects of the bill submitted to them by the national assembly, but this particular bill on LG autonomy, most of them came up with a decision that they need to further consult before they take a final decision. We are still engaging with them to see that they toe the line of Nigerians by adopting what the NASS did, based on the aspiration of the people of Nigeria
Are you optimistic that this process will be concluded before the next election?
I want to believe that any responsible state assembly cannot abandon this bill just like that, considering the fact that a lot of Nigerians put in a lot of energy and efforts to get to where it is today. A lot of resources were committed by the national assembly and other stakeholders too. We believe that for Nigeria to work properly, local government must not only to be in place, but must also be practically and visibly functioning to properly fulfill the purpose of its creation. I believe no responsible state assembly will just abandon the project.
Are you sure it will be passed?
We have confidence. If we don’t have confidence we would have backed out long time ago. But we believe that nothing good comes easy. And more importantly, if you look at the attitude of our governors in particular it is not going to be an easy journey to change from the way they used to be to something that will benefit everybody. The current position benefits only the governors. It benefits them because they have access to more free funds from the local government funds. And they use this tier of government as loose as it is today to manipulate Nigerians politically and otherwise. So the benefit is to them and it is not going to be easy; sincerely speaking. That is why we believe with efforts of all and sundry, it is achievable. That is why we are still calling on all Nigerians to continue mounting pressure on state houses of assemblies asking their representatives, members of states assemblies on the situation of this bill. And if it warrants us to match to state assemblies as often as possible, we are ready for that.
How will you feel if this doesn’t scale through this time around?
I think as a labour union we will not be happy if by the end of the day all these efforts become effort in futility. But we believe the success is not in our hands. The only thing we can do is to offer ourselves, to contribute our quota and we have a very strong passion in what we are doing. We believe what we are doing is targeted towards human development. Because by strengthening local government, you are strengthening Nigeria. NULGE under our leadership is not selfish. We didn’t put much energy in what concerns us alone as workers. This is a problem of Nigerians generally. And by the grace of God, we are here today as Nigerians and Nigeria is not moving well. Our people are dying every day of hunger, criminal attacks and so on. And we believe that by the time we fix local government a lot of things will disappear. Because local government is critical in stabilising any nation, it connects people from the grassroots with other levels of government.
Unfortunately, like we keep on saying, the governors prove to be unpatriotic, they only see their interests as most important. And that is what is dragging us into what we are seeing today. Just recently, the rural-urban migration has gone as high as seven per cent because the rural areas are no longer carried along. They are no longer developing. The institutions of the local government are dilapidated. So the people are rushing out to the cities in search of greener pastures. And unfortunately for them they don’t know that the cities are so saturated that even when you are in any city it will be difficult to have something doing. Meanwhile, there are a lot of opportunities in our rural areas which are left untapped, and this is just because of the interest of a few governors that refuse to allow this tier of governor to function.
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