The case for local government autonomyby Oluwatoba Olaitan

GRANTING the local government autonomy has been an agitation received with mixed feelings in the polity. Many are wondering why the 774 local government councils in the country should be managed by the state governments. Indeed, the Benue State governor, Samuel Ortom, recently claimed that the existence of local governments is a fraud. He might be right to a large extent, but should we throw away the baby with the bath water? We should ask ourselves who are those responsible for the ineffectiveness of the local government councils. We should ask why many governors refuse to conduct election to usher in local government chairmen. It could be hard to believe the amount of allocation which is supposedly allocated to the local government areas but which usually enters the governors’ bottomless pit, without accountability.

However, if, all other things being equal, the nation had a patriotic, decent, mindful and sensitive leadership at the various tiers of government, local government establishments would not have been ‘a fraud.’ As the saying goes: “If you can not change the direction of the wind, you should adjust the sail.” Since the management of the local government accounts by the state governments has not brought about any development, some would ask: why can’t we try direct allocation to them from the federal level?
No one would be encouraged to go back home to do farming when the environment is not conducive and when the rural areas are far behind the civilised world. Rural areas need to be made attractive; the facilities you can enjoy in the urban areas must be present in the rural areas. The world is a small community today where the happenings, business links, advertisement, display of your products, etc, could be done in minutes. But it is lamentable that the state governments focus more on the state capitals, whereas the future lies in the rural areas. The rural areas are the places where we get our foodstuffs, timber, livestock, e.t.c. The rural areas are the fibre of the society, hence connections between the urban/rural areas must be made without flaws. They should be fast and efficient. Rural areas should be given the autonomy to develop.
Before I pinpoint the various benefits of local government autonomy, I must quickly mention some of the damage that has been done to the rural areas. Using Kwara State, my state of origin, as a case study, the level in which we find the various local government areas is not inspiring. For example, the Ekiti local government area, as well as Kaiama, Moro, Afon, Offa, Ifeolodun, Asa, Barutin, Edu, need to be much more developed. Omu-Aran has witnessed a slight development with the establishment of LandMark University. The establishment of the university has helped in job creation for the indigenes and people of the area. If not for that, except for Oro which has a College of Education and Offa which has a polytechnic, these areas would have been in total shambles. This is because there is no real project of the government you can point to in these areas. For many years, areas like Iloffa, Aiyedun, Odo-Owa, Osi, Aro-rin, Idofin, Ekan and many others have not witnessed tangible development. The last time I visited the areas, they looked bad. I began to wonder if there were no council chairmen or councilors in the areas. In Iloffa and Odo-Owa area, the boreholes that you can find around are those commissioned by Alhaji Shaba Lafiagi in the early 90s. Indeed, we can conclude that we have a fraud at the local councils because the state governments have suffocated them.
It is a welcome development that the Federal Government is making efforts towards making agriculture our major source of revenue, hoping that it would create jobs for many youths. The question is, what are the existing structures to build this project on? It cannot work without granting the local government autonomy. This is because local government autonomy would go a long way to checkmate that surge of rural/urban drift. Many people are leaving the rural areas for urban areas in search of greener pastures. Cash needs to flow in directly into the local government accounts without any obstruction. The rural area areas need to be equipped with the necessary amenities in order to catch up with the outside world. Standard health care needs to be established. Security in the rural areas needs to be of the highest standard. There is so much concentration of people in the urban areas that even the jobless prefer to stay there idle, rather than living in the rural areas.
The high tension at the federal and the state levels would be defused with local government autonomy. Why should I expect much from a state governor who last set his foot on the soil of my town during his election campaign? And why can’t I hold the local government chairman and the councilors at the local government level accountable? Autonomy might facilitate standard education, standard health care, modern/fast means of transportation like magnetic levitation and fast trains which would drastically reduced the high cost/ scarcity of accommodation.

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