Should Our Hometowns have Governments as a Last Tier?
Will Community Based Governments (CBG) as a last tier Bring Government Closer to the local People and Communities of Nigeria?
One of the evils of the present skewed, flawed, corrupt, military ‘feeding bottle’ unitary system that we currently practice in Nigeria is that it has completely destroyed community-locality governance in the local areas of Nigeria, thereby depriving the local people and their communities their right to self-development and self-governance. People in the localities of Nigeria have no government, have no constitutional right to organize themselves, generate revenue and manage the most basic things of life as it affects their communities. They do not even have the right to fire an irresponsible teacher working in any of their community but state government funded schools. We believe this is the major cause of widespread poverty and lack of basic organisation in the local places of Nigeria. In essence, there is no government in the areas where the real people live in. There is no government in my village, city and town as there is none in yours!
This is exactly what we seek to address in this lecture.
Federalism as a system of government is designed to guarantee a high level of autonomy for the federating units while they share few other relationships with the central authority. The importance of this autonomy is that it allows a certain people take control of their development or underdevelopment (as they please) without accusing another tier for their predicament. In essence, under federalism, the people of a particular federating unit are completely in charge of their own development. That is what federalism is supposed to mean. Unfortunately, in Nigeria, our federalism is an aberration, a calculated fraud designed to underdevelop the local communities, deny them access to their resources and deprive them of government presence; all in the bid of favoring the Abuja and state governments house politicians and giving them a god-like status. What we seek now is to correct this anomaly and design a new system that would entrench productivity, competition and economic sustainability across the country and in the remotest places of Nigeria.
Another evil of the present system of government that we practice is that it alienates the local people and their communities from actively participating in the affairs of governance in Nigeria. The local people and communities have no input in their state government budgets and yet they would not be allowed to raise and fund their own local budgets. People would say ‘but we have the LGA to attend to these issues’. The present LGA system is not designed to meet the needs of the communities or the local people, it is a mini version of the federal government in a local area! It is designed to empower the local political elites and not the local people and their communities. The Local Government Chairmen and the local governments do not technically need the local people and communities to survive. Their survival depends on Abuja allocation; free oil money. Not from within their local economies. This is why we at the local level cannot hold them accountable. The money they (local political leaders) steal technically belongs to nobody! How can we hold a government we do not fund to be accountable to us?
What then is community governance and why is it important that we have it in Nigeria?
Community governance as an aspect of true fiscal federalism is a system which guarantees the autonomy of communities (villages, towns and cities) in the generation of revenue, guarantee of fiscal responsibilities, and upward contribution to the central government in taxes, royalties and otherwise. It is a system that allows every single community (villages, towns and cities) in Nigeria to operate as an independent government taking charge of the most basic things that affects the community and it’s local people. Issues like basic education, primary health care, security (community police), water, local taxes and other basic issues are solely under the control of the Democratic community based government. Under this system, communities will be allowed to design their annual budgets, embark on taxation, explore and directly benefit from resources in their domain, manage basic social amenities and pay royalties/tax to the state and federal governments (where applicable). Communities will have the right to hire and fire teachers in its public schools, it will have the power to determine what school fees in public schools should be and of it can afford to provide free education to its people. It will have full control of its own security, primary health centers, water, etc. It will have constitutional powers to tax local businesses and use such revenues to run the public services of the community. Communities that have the resources should be allowed to generate and distribute electricity within the community and also generate revenue through the process. The CBG will be a government owned by a community, funded by a community and managed by the community. This is the first catalyst of local development that is missing in our Nigeria of today. There are several government institutions and projects everywhere, but yet, there is no local governance structure to sustain and drive locally driven development projects. The idea of having each community have its own government and take charge of its own basic development will bring in local competition amongst communities which will in turn lead to local development.
Under the present style of governance in Nigeria, communities do not see the public schools in their communities as their property that should be protected, promoted and developed. Likewise security, environmental sanitation, taxation, maintenance and construction of public utilities and general public services. This is why some communities go as far as ‘allowing’ their indigenes steal and vandalize newly built and renovated schools and water systems in their communities. To them, it is government property and government property belongs to nobody! This is as a result of the level of alienation the present system has conditioned them to become.
The idea of a community based government (CBG) is to ensure that communities are empowered by the constitution to have certain fiscal responsibilities to do certain things for their communities without state and federal government intervention. By entrenching such a system, there will be grassroot development and participation in the business of governance at all local levels. There become a sense of communal ownership and responsibility towards government efforts and towards that he development of the community.
The CBG can be funded through a proper taxation system. Property tax, petroleum tax, education tax, diaspora contributions, state and federal governments grants, motor park tax, shop tax, and many more taxes should be exclusively left for the CBG to utilize since the CBG will be taking over some of the state government responsibilities. With these funds going directly into the CBG account, the CBG should be able to have adequate revenues to meet up with its local responsibilities. As long as the CBGs survival is tied to the revenue sources within the community, the leaders of the CBG will be accountable to the local people and corruption will be less. We all will agree that it is easier to steal a state government fund and get away than to steal a community owned fund and still live in the community. The CBG system therefore has its internal mechanism to fight corruption and make it more transparent to the local people.
If local governments (LGAs) must continue to exist alongside CBGs, then their funding should be from the local communities (CBGs) that constitute the local government and not from free federal allocations from Abuja. This is the only way to introduce accountability, commitment and sincerity in the management of local public fund.
Unfortunately, the concept of CBG cannot happen under the present skewed, flawed, corrupt, unitary ‘feeding bottle’ system that we practice in Nigeria. For this (CBG) to happen, we must first restructure Nigeria to reflect True Fiscal Federalism so as to allow communities have an active role in governance at the local levels. Communities must be allowed to have fiscal responsibilities such as generating revenues and having annual budgets and meeting the basic local needs of their people. Communities must be allowed to own and control a reasonable share of the natural resources in their domain and pay taxes to the central government. Under a restructured Nigeria, every community must learn to generate and spend its cash based on its internal capacity, and equally even pay tax to the state governments. The state and federal governments will continue to provide its own regulatory responsibilities as may be defined in the new arrangement and constitution. This is the basic foundation upon which true fiscal federalism is built around the world; bottom-up approach to governance. Governance begins from the local level and moves upward to the state and then federal levels. Unfortunately, in our system of today, we are doing the reverse.
There becomes an urgent need to replace allocations with IGRs and stop the monthly ritual of sharing money at Abuja. Abuja should be funded from contributions of all the federating units and not it funding the federating units as it presently is. It is time to discard this ‘feeding bottle’ unitary system and replace it with an efficient, productive, competitive and locally driven system.
We believe the concept of CBG will not only help to decentralize economic and political powers to communities but will also help to drag development to the local areas of Nigeria.
People would become more interested in who becomes the Mayor or Chairman of the government of Ojota town than they would be interested in who becomes the governor of Lagos state, knowing fully well that the Mayor and his government will be handling the most basic things that affects Ojota town. This is the beauty of the CBG.
The concept of CBG is still open to reviews, amendments and inputs.
Should we completely replace the LGA system with CBGS or add the CBGs as a last tier to the existing LGA?
We should also note that CBG must be a creation of the state constitutions and not the federal constitution as federal government has no right creating a tier of government for the state as is the present practice.
What is our general opinion about the concept and how best can we achieve this in Nigeria? Should we have federal, state and CBG as the three tiers of government in Nigeria?
Let the contributions begin.
Tony Osborg writes for the Restructure Nigeria Community