Akwa Ibom stakeholders jeered at Uwemedimo Nwoko, the state Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Monday when he submitted that Nigeria is operating a two-tier government: federal-state system with no provision for local government as independent body in the 1999 Constitution.
Yet, the 1999 Constitution in Chapter 1, section 7 (1) states “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.”
Nwoko who spoke during a one-day Stakeholders’ meeting on Alteration of the 1999 Constitution held at Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly complex, Uyo, stated “There are two tiers of government in Nigeria-Federal and state governments. In fact, local government councils are subservient to the states.”
He spoke against Bill No. 5 that seeks to alter the provision of the constitution of Nigeria, 1999, to abrogate the State-Local Government Joint Account and empower each local government council to maintain each own special account to be called “Local Government Allocation Account” into which all allocations due to the local government councils shall be directly paid from the Federation Acccount and from government of a state.
To him, “The State-Local Government Joint Account is necessary. The law should not be abrogated. Nigeria has many laws. I think the problem is not with the law, but with implementation of the law. We should not amend the constitutional provision when the operators are not ready for the amendment. Part of the constitution should be strengthened.”
But in a swift reaction to Nwoko’s submission, Barr. Usenobong Akpabio, one of the lead discussants, at the occasion dismissed as untrue the view that there are two tiers of governments in the country, pointing out that local government system is the third tier of government.
Akpabio admitted that the 1999 constitution in Section 7 (1) provides for a three-tier government and called for amendment of that section of the constitution to make for good governance at the grassroots level.
“If we amend the section, we will take the governance to the people at the grassroots and hold them accountable to the people. If N30 million is given to a local government chairman in my area, I have to ask him to account for the money. There is need to amend the constitution to enable money to move down the ladder,” he argued.
Similarly, Barr. Enobong Akpan, the Chairman of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Uyo chapter said she has consented to the idea of constitutional amendment.
Also, Barr. Samuel Ikpo, another lead discussant, argued that Chapter 1, section 7 (1) of the constitution enshrines that the local government council is guaranteed meaning that the council is independent.
He recalled that when ex-governor Godswill Akpabio dissolved and put a caretaker committee in Ini local government council, the matter was taken to the state High Court which upheld the dissolution, but when it was taken to Appeal Court, it was declared that the governor had no power to dissolve the council as an independent body.
Earlier, the chairman of the occasion and moderator, Uko Udom, SAN had called on all to be unbiased in their arguments and submissions to enable to arrive at concrete decisions that would be beneficial to the public.