Abraham Lincoln described democracy as government of the people, by the people and for the people. The most fundamental of these three descriptions is that democracy is government for the people. Democracy is relevant in so far as it is for the people. For Lincoln, democracy is solely for the wellbeing of the populace. Democracy is rooted in justice, and justice is the raison d’être of all public institutions. Justice can be understood both as John Rawls’ fairness or, following Thomas Aquinas, as justum cuique tribuendi (giving everybody his due).
To ensure justice, both as fairness and as due, all democracies establish different levels of governance. The Nigerian Constitution stipulates three tiers of governance. This implies devolution of power and function to all the levels in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity.
Subsidiarity is anchored in the social teachings of the Catholic Church, starting from the Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Quadragessimo Anno (1931). Subsidiarity insists that each level of existence should be responsible for what is within its powers. It means that higher authority should allow the lower ones to fulfill the responsibilities that they are empowered by law to fulfill. Pius XI views as injustice, grave evil, and unjust usurpation to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organisations can and are empowered by law to do. In Nigeria, subsidiarity means that the Federal Government does not emasculate the state governments, and that the state governments allow local government councils to exist and be responsible.
The Nigerian experience is a far cry from the papal principle of subsidiarity. But from 1999 till date, in general, different Federal Governments have largely left the state governments to take charge of their climes with resources at their disposal. However, state governments have all but destroyed local governments. The Nigerian Constitution stipulates, for example, that governments of the three levels are to emerge through adult suffrage. Since 1999, except when few states were under emergency, all our state governments have emerged through elections. On the contrary, many state governments have deliberately stifled local government elections in their domain.
As of June 2019, only in 19 states are local government councils run by elected chairmen. Governors in the other states invent all forms of shenanigans to avoid elected local government administrations. In some states, transitional committees run the councils. In others, caretaker committees do the job. In Bauchi, Ogun, Ondo and Kwara, directors of local government administration are at the helm. Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti placed coordinating directors in charge; Governor Inuwa Yahaya of Gombe directed council secretaries to take over. In Imo, Governor Hope Uzodimma appointed interim local government chairmen. What is common to all these is that these officers are not elected, are imposed by the governors and are at their beck and call. Hence, governors assume absolute control of local government affairs in their states.
Of course, the most important affair of the councils is their finances. In addition to state internally generated funds, the Federal Account Allocation Committee monthly allocates money accruing to the federation account to all levels of government. The Federal Government receives 52.68 per cent. State governments share 26.72 per cent and the local governments 20.60 per cent However, since 2002, state governors, through the state Joint Account Allocation Committees (JAAC), perfected the art of virtually siphoning all allocations from local government councils, rendering them penniless and, hence, incapacitated.
President Muhammadu Buhari’s government wants to put an end to this robbery and give a new lease of life to the local councils. That was why, effective from June 2019, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) issued guidelines that barred governors from poaching the statutory allocations to local government councils. But, typically, these guidelines are observed more in the breach. Most state governments invented what Sunday Magazine called “sharp practices” aimed at rendering useless the directives of the NFIU.
The situation of local governments in Anambra State perfectly mirrors what is found in other states. But Anambra West local government is very easily the best example of the negative effect of the plunder of local government funds by successive governments of Anambra State. Since 2002, when the states began to determine the tenure of local governments and organize their elections, Anambra State has held only one local government election. That was in January 2014, two months before the end of Mr. Peter Obi’s tenure. In its failure to hold local government elections, Anambra State now finds itself in an ignoble league of anti-democratic states. These states and the dates of their last local government elections are: Katsina (August 2014); Adamawa (November 2012) and Kogi (May 2013).
The failure to hold local government elections is a deliberate ploy to emasculate local governments so that the state government can more easily syphon their allocations. After the NFIU guidelines, Governor Willie Obiano’s government succeeded in manipulating council officials by carrot and by stick, co-opting some traditional rulers to virtually brow-beat them to bend to state government machinations. Local government accounts were opened by the state government without the knowledge of heads of council administration and directors of finance. They are ignorant of the accounts and even of the banks in which the accounts are held. The signatories to the accounts are completely unaware of what they sign when signing off the monthly allocations of their local governments to the state government. Far from following the guidelines of the NFIU, the situation of local governments in Anambra has worsened. This is compounded by the state government’s usurpation of all windows of revenue formerly available to local governments. As one official stated, “the government of Willie Obiano has completely crippled local governments in Anambra State.”
The effect of such crippling can be seen in the dismal developmental condition of Anambra West LGA. Anambra West is one of the four councils that emerged from the defunct Anambra Local Government Council. Anambra West is home to Anam and Igala people. Crossing the bridge over Anambra at Umueze Anam and taking right, after about 10 kilometres, leads first to Umuoba Abaegbu and further to Mmiata. Taking left leads to Ezi Anam: Oroma and Umuenwelum. Through Oroma, one comes to Umudora and Umuikwu, then further to Onono. Again, from Umuenwelum, after Oroma, about 20 kilometeres, takes one to Nzam, the headquarters of Anambra West. From Nzam, one meets the Igala-speaking people of Anambra State, Olumbanasa, including towns such as Owelle Ukwala, Inoma and, crossing the river again, Ode, Odekpe, Igbedor, Igbokenyi and Ala-na-Onugwa.
Anambra West must be one of the most neglected local governments in Nigeria. The only serious government project since the creation of the local government is the road that Mr. Peter Obi constructed as governor from Umueze Anam to Mmiata. The road was planned to reach Nzam but, post-Obi government, for more than six years, government left the project in utter neglect. The Federal Government started to construct another road to go from Umuzeam to Oroma to Nzam to Abaji in Kogi State. That project was abandoned after about a kilometre of asphalted road. The local government headquarters at Nzam also remains uncompleted, abandoned and overgrown by grass. The 207 local government workers never come near the headquarters. They meet at the dilapidated structure of a health centre at Umuzeam, if need be. And so local government salaries go to so many people who do nothing!
There is hardly any resident doctor in the whole of Anambra West. Governor Peter Obi donated a hospital at Mmiata to Immaculate Heart Sisters. But their work hardly speaks of government presence. There are health centres in some of the towns: but they are all very rudimentary, poorly equipped and poorly staffed, if not abandoned, and were mostly built well before the current government. There is no standard public school in Anambra West. Most of the elementary schools have no more than five teachers for all the levels. The few public secondary schools (at Oroma, Umueze Anam, Igbedor) are in a sorry state and almost completely dependent on National Youth Service Corps teachers for the little teaching that goes on in them. There is no reliable electricity in any town in Anambra West. The ramshackle power connection in a few communities is due wholly to community efforts. In fact, there is hardly any single significant government project anywhere in the local government area.
The contradiction of this abject abandonment is more glaring if we consider the amount of money that has accrued to Anambra West from the Federation Account in the past six years alone. The figures from the National Bureau of Statistics are as follows:
1. January 2014 to Dec. 2014: N1,315,096,987.00
2. January 2015 to Dec. 2015: N1,667,456,218.90
3. January 2016 to Dec. 2016: N1,510,567,986.78
4. January 2017 to Dec. 2017: N1,781,457,287.23
5. January 2018 to Dec. 2018: N1,823,896,444.88
6. January 2019 to Dec. 2019: N1,814,678,623.79
So, within six years of the current state government, Anambra West got almost N10 billion from the Federal Account Allocation Committee. Forgetting state internally generated revenue, we must ask, what are the investments of the state government in Anambra West in the past six years that speak of N10 billion? What has become of this huge federal allocation to Anambra West? How can the people suffer so much despite huge possibilities of improvement? There is no doubt that, from local government account, the 207 workers of the local government council, the few elementary school teachers, a handful of health officers and traditional rulers receive their emolument. But their combined salary pales before the huge federal allocation that the local government has received in the past six years of Obiano’s administration.
Words have their semantic range. To rape is not only forceful and predatory sexual molestation. It also means outrageous violation, seizure, abuse, plunder, robbery or despoliation of helpless people, and subjecting them to untold hardship. If democracy is aimed primarily at the welfare of the populace, the condition of Anambra West constitutes the raping of democracy in so far as it showcases how successive Anambra State governments deliberately kept the people in the darkness of underdevelopment.
The ultimate responsibility for this heinous negligence goes to different facets of Anambra society. It goes to the traditional rulers for neglecting to stand for their people; to the political class for failure to serve as gadflies to government; to the party in power in Anambra, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), for its selfish blindness to this rapacity; to other political parties for their ineffective opposition; to religious leaders for their silence and failure to be the conscience of the people.
Above all and, unfortunately, the responsibility today belongs to the government of Obiano for failing to work, and allowing such decay to fester in a local government that is mere 10 minutes’ drive from the palatial country home of the governor; even as his party wastes precious time on the mindless issue of how to zone governorship.
Rev. Fr. J. Obi Oguejiofor
THE EASTERN UPDATES