Last week, the House of Representatives Committee on Electoral and Political Party Matters along with the UKaid Nigeria and the Policy and Legal Advocacy Center organized a hearing.
The hearing, which was to take contributions on aspects of the new Constitution expected to be in use in 2018, considered two areas deemed critical to the smooth working of democracy at the three tiers of government in the country.
These are financial autonomy for Local Governments, the third tier of government and state Houses of Assembly and independent candidacy in future elections.
The House Special Ad Hoc Committee on the Review of the 1999 Constitution, headed y the Deputy Speaker, Yussuff Ladun made the recommendations.
Discerning Nigerians can attest that with administrative autonomy only, LGs have been unable to solve the huge social and economic needs of the majority of the people in the third tier of government.
Instead, state governors under the guise of managing the joint financial accounts has stifled the LGs of meaningful allocations and in addition encroached on their Constitutional rights under the concurrent list.
Clear Constitutional rights of LGs in the areas of revenue generation such as advertising, radio licensing, business registration, markets maintenance, for examples, have either been completely taken over by many states in addition to their own areas or frustrated in the attempt to subject independent LG officials to the whims of the governors.
In some other cases where the state governors pretend to let the LGs be, they have imposed their fines and levies on the same items, leading to multiple taxation that not only frustrate the people but also cripple any attempts at creativity.
For the same egoistic reasons, governors choose to impose candidates during elections into LGs, delay the conduct of elections into them and pull the entire stop to ensure their parties win all the contested seats. Tied to the governor’s apron strings, most LG Chairmen have no option than to become stooges or ape their godfathers in their enclave.
The economic and political implication posed by these drawbacks for the development and growth of the system and the people is all too obvious.
What is true for the LGs is to some extent true for the state Houses of Assembly, whose members are at the beck and call of their governors. The governors paid hirelings amongst the members often meet any attempt at independence of action with impeachment of the Speaker.
Democracy is a representational form of government, far removed from the autocratic and monarchist tendencies of our governors and leaders. Their attitude is the main reasons why elections are often massively rigged at every level of the voting process and the people’s interests do not matter in their official conduct and policies afterwards.
In this way, due process, openness, respect for human rights and accountability, which are all hallmarks of a democratic government are trampled on.
Of course, we can all see the results with the increasing rate of poverty among the people and its related suicidal tendencies, growing incidence of violence, rape, kidnapping, cry of marginalization and protests tugging at the seams of the country.
We think that independent candidacy and financial autonomy may be one of the double-barreled attempts to begin to make advance on these civil follies and systemic oddities.
Apart from giving some breathing space for intelligent and creative LG Chairpersons to work around bossy governors in furtherance of campaign promises, it would also bring down, if not eliminate, the burden of multi-taxation faced by people at that tier of governance once the financial tie to the states are broken.
With resources at their disposal, LGs can become focus of more creative and enterprising youths who are always quick to migrate to the cities once avenues to test their skills and creativity are created for them
Moreover, the move would also breed healthy inter- LG rivalry within and without the six geo-political zones of the country.
Should a governor feel challenged by the rising profile of an LG and seek, in the usual manner, to deny him the party ticket in future elections, any LG Chairperson who has performed to the people’s expectation can explore the avenue promised by independent candidacy and rerun.
Nigerians have always known whom they vote for even if the results later turn out to favor the candidates of the powers that be.
But coupled with the new electronic voting to be used in future elections, an independent candidate with a good record of performance may have little to fear; the average Nigerian voter is so street wise they would defend their votes, when and if it comes to that.
Currently, our political parties are neither here nor there. In the absence of political parties as vehicles to rally, collect and achieve the views of the people, independent candidacy is a sure-fire way out of this mess.
What is true for the LGs is true for all candidates as far as independent candidacy is concerned. So call godfathers, power brokers and electoral entrepreneurs have been influencing the electoral outcomes for ages to their devilish benefits. It is time to begin to put the people on the drivers seat and check the excesses of their oppressors.
There are many reported cases of daring LG Chairman and Houses of Assembly Speakers who have scrapped with overbearing governors or godfathers to recommend this new legislation for approval and as way forward for the health of the polity.
We commend the Ladun led Ad Hoc House Committee for making the recommendations on independent candidacy and call on the House and the Senate to give accelerated hearing and passage to them.