Femi Ogbonnikan in Abeokuta
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday came hard on state governors who were opposed to local government autonomy, accusing them of stealing the councils’ funds.
The former president stated this while playing host to members of a Non-Governmental Organisation, Friends of Democracy, at his residence inside Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta.
He added that many councils could not perform their statutory functions because they have been “incapacitated financially” by the state governments.
Obasanjo who went down the memory lane, noted that the Local Government Reforms carried out in 1976 was meant to strengthen local government as the third tier of government and not an appendage.
The former president asked the leadership of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC) and the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) to demand for the autonomy in the interest of the people at the grassroots.
He said, “When in 1976, we brought in Local Government Reforms, it was meant to be third tier of the government and not meant to be subjected to whims and caprices of any other government – just the same way that the state government is autonomous from the federal government.
“Local government is meant to be autonomous from the state government. “But from what we know, by design, most states have incapacitated the local government. They have virtually stolen the local governments’ money in what they called Joint Account. They were to contribute 10 per cent but they never contributed anything.
“So, what we have across the country are local government areas that have functions, but cannot perform the functions. They have staff but most of them cannot pay the staff, and we keep getting excuses upon excuses.
“And I see no reason if the federal government allows the states to enjoy their autonomy except in the case of state of emergency.
“The bill passed by the National Assembly which requires 24 state Houses of Assembly and like I am told only nine states have signed it.
“I am proud of those states because they are what you will call progressive states that really believe in democracy.
“My own state (Ogun) is one of them. I will say kudos to Ogun State. In the South-South, only Bayelsa and Cross River States have signed it – kudos to those two states. In the North-east, it’s only Bauchi. In the North-west, it’s only Sokoto. In the North-central, we have four states, Kwara, Niger, Plateau and Benue. I will say kudos to the executives and the legislature of those states.
“But we must say those state executives and the legislatures that have prevented the bill from being passed, they must be taken as the enemy of the people and they should be treated as such. Because if you enjoy autonomy from the federal government why don’t you want local government to enjoy autonomy?
“Again, I will say leadership of NLC and NULGE who have always fought for the interest of the people should know that the interest of the people at the local government will be best served if the local government has autonomy which is meant that they should have.”