With the strengthening of our institutions under the Next Level administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, the administration has decided to give financial autonomy to the 774 local government councils in Nigeria. These and so many other reengineering and repositioning of institutions must be applauded by every responsible citizen of Nigeria. The financial strangulations of the local governments by the state governors have been a case of worried since the advent of the present democracy in 1999.
The interest so far by the public in the local government elections, is such that in some cases, more than a dozen aspirants have emerged and are feverishly preparing to contest for the positions of the chairman and councillors in Kontagora Local Government Area and indeed in other areas of Niger State.
What is responsible for this unprecedented interest in the local government elections? One explanation that readily comes to mind is the huge resources that may now be available to the local governments going by the financial autonomy as against the hitherto Joint Account Syndrome, misused by many of the state governors in Nigeria. This is not just about the fat salaries and allowances that the chairmen and councillors received. It is also about access to the huge revenue available at the local government level. For people have seen some chairmen and councillors who had virtually nothing, when they were sworn in, but today they are very rich.
One of the most important issues that has to be addressed during this campaign period (though for now suspended), by the political activists, both the candidates and the electorate is the performance of the past chairmen and councillors, as well as the ‘new entrants’ records of service in the past years. Have those elected previously respected and honored the mandate and the will of the people , who put them to those positions of public trust for those period under ‘Joint Account Syndrome’? Did any of the elected chairmen and councillors shoulder their responsibilities satisfactorily? If they did, what made it possible for them to do so? If they did not, why were they not able to do so? What lessons can we learn from their performance, or lack of it? It is true that they faced some problems and difficulties in the period they held office. But, one can say with a degree of certainty that finance was definitely not one of them. What about the ‘new entrants’? How prepared, determined with ability to serve are they? Their records of previews services anywhere must be looked into.
Therefore, the key questions which should dominate the current local government election campaign , should be about how the past elected politicians, in our attempt to build a decent democracy from the grassroots, shouldered their responsibilities. The postponed election campaign should not be dominated by the slogans of ‘old or new’ , communal, and religious manipulations and by the display of colorful posters of the aspirant’sfaces, gowns and hats, the shouting of empty songs, and emptier slogans; and the staging of noisy meetings, rowdy processions , and rowdier rallies; with nothing concrete about the actual responsibilities of the local government administration addressed anywhere, or at anytime.
Suppressing this core issue of democracy, which is accountability, is neither, sensible, nor even pragmatic politics, as some politicians seem to believe. It is myopic and shortsighted . It amounts to irresponsibly setting the stage for a bad governance at the grassroots. Once democratic accountability has been trashed and thrown out, the other elementary and stabilizing elements of democracy will also get thrown out of the window.