By: Israel Umoh
It was a renewal of covenant for the third tier of government in Akwa Ibom State. Nature abhors vacuum. The old administration had expired and the new one beams with hopes. The ceremony signaled an end of journey for the out-gone that began on December 7, 2017 and the inauguration of another for 31 Chairmen and 31 vice chairmen for the 31 local government areas of the state.
Monday, December 7, 2020 was the D-day. If the event was held before COVID-19, Banquet Hall, Government House, Uyo would have turned to a carnival of sort. Traditional troupes with songs in different dialects would have danced themselves out. Wellington Bassey Way End, Uyo leading to the venue would have become impassable due to human and vehicular traffic. Canopies and tents planted outside the venue would not have been enough to accommodate the invited and the uninvited trooping to catch a glimpse of the event. Array of band sets would have turned the venue to another cacophonous disco hall to the detriment of sensitive eardrums. Body shuffles and rowdiness would have drowned the serene atmosphere of the area. Security operatives would have had a hectic time controlling the huge crowd. But, COVID-19 protocols gave all the technical knock-out.
Despite the restrictions, the local government chairmen and vice chairmen had arrived at the venue before 11 a.m. Some of the chairmen and vice chairmen had sleepless nights in making adequate preparations for the day. Others could not believe that the celebration day was around the corner. Those who borrowed or rented one thing or the other heaved a sigh of relief that the waiting game has come to an end. The huge traffic that the venue missed was then shifted to different venues the ‘newly wedded’ held their reception parties.
It was a colourful ceremony. Most long faces looked more radiant and honeyed. Parched skins turned to scrubbed ones. Rickety cars were parked but new ones or something close to that cargoed or escorted the new helmsmen to the swearing-in venue. They wore new attires and new hairdos. New aides and emergency ones emerged. As they were ushered into the venue, they inhaled refreshed air of office (is it power).
Later, Governor Udom Emmanuel walked into the hall and they all stood. National anthem was played. Introductions made. When they stood for the oath-taking, they clutched Holy Bible in their hands and oath of office in another, repeating words from the typed section of the Nigerian Constitution. “As a leader you will be misquoted, you’ll be misconstrued and misunderstood but you must stay focused and know where you are going to. Once you ensure that, you will achieve results,” he counselled.
After the swearing-in, they strolled out of the hall and crawled into their vehicles. A new marriage has begun. The baton of office has been passed to them. The outgoing were waiting to surrender handing-over notes to the new. Like wedding, the best man (the Governor) has completed his duty. He had to step aside for the ‘bride’ and the ‘bridegroom’ to step into bedroom of power to birth new projects and programmes for the grassroots.
Whatever happens in their domains, they will be answerable not their campaigners-in-chief or the Governor; after all election was over. He is the Chief security officer. He is the man to sign confirmation of cheques. The buck stops on his table. The vice chairman is an assistant. The vice is seen as a spare tyre of the administration. Like a cat waits to catch a rat in a room, he watches over the activities of the vice to avoid usurpation of functions. Yes, serious functions or duties are not allotted to the Vice owing to fear of hijacking or sweeping power off the feet of the incumbent. This is a bane of the tier of government. The state Deputy Governors are also the foot mats. Suspicion is the guardian angel. And blame game, the devil’s alternative.
Section 7 sub-section (1) of the 2010 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) 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.
(2)The person authorised by law to prescribe the area over which a local government council may exercise authority shall (a) define such area as clearly as practicable; and (b) ensure to the extent to which it may be reasonably justifiable that in defining such area regard is paid to -(i) the common interest of the community in the area; (ii) traditional association of the community; and (iii) administrative convenience.
(3) It shall be the duty of a local government council within the State to participate in economic planning and development of the area referred to in subsection (2) of this section and to this end an economic planning board shall be established by a Law enacted by the House of Assembly of the State.
Since the advent of democracy in 1999, local government system has remained under the firm grip and spell of the state Governors. Some have performed, but others have not fared well. From 2015 till date, the performance of the most council chairmen in the state has left much to be desired. As Akwa Ibom proverb goes that giving a physically challenged enough food is not the problem, but seeing the person who will bell him during defecation is the headache. The swearing –in ceremony was a fanfare, but the performance in office is the major task facing them now. New speech has been made. The new operators have their dreams, visions and programmes. But the problem hangs on having the wherewithal to execute the laudable projects and visions?
Unfortunately, dearth of funds is a migraine facing the system as governors are their main custodians and distributor of monthly allocations. Migraine can severely affect your quality of life and stop you carrying out your normal daily activities. A migraine can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head. It is often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound. Its attacks can last for hours to days, and the pain can be so severe that it interferes with daily activities of the sufferer. Like migraine, lack of funds can affect and create other debilitating problems in the wheel of governance and smooth running of the administration.
In fact, most state Governors unholy exploit the obnoxious but poisonous provision of Section 162 sub-section (5) of the constitution that says The amount standing to the credit of Local Government Councils in the Federation Account shall also be allocated to the State for the benefit of their Local Government Councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
(6) Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.
For example, Franklyn Isong, a public commentator observes “I want the citizens to hold them accountable for their failures and applaud them for their successes. We should rise to the occasion and start asking how our local government funds were spent in the past 3 years by the outgoing council chairmen. If we expect good governance from the incoming/returning council chairmen, it is high time we started a probe into how our council funds were utilized in the past 3 years.
“Setting the stage for this, on Friday, 4th December, 2020, as a usual guest analyst on the Planet 101.1 FM – People’s Parliament, I assessed the performance of the 31 outgoing council chairmen and scored them 15% over 100%. I insist, this remains a very fair assessment of the aggregate score of the 31 of them.
“It is a truism that except the masses begin to question the spending of council funds by our council chairmen, the 31 local government areas in the State will continue to remain the 31 centres of poverty in Nigeria.
“I urge the public to wake up and scrutinize the outgoing council chairmen, let’s start the process of a probe into the handling of our collective patrimony under their 3 years administration. #EndBadGovernance ,” he admonished.
Some out-gone council chairmen should be applauded for their achievements. The chairmen of Obot Akara and Mkpat Enin, among others whose space does not allow me to mention all, deserve kudos for leaving office as high flyers. The rest were mere security collectors and imprest retirees. As it is, the chairmen may have laudable projects, but may not have sufficient funds to execute as they are under the financial cage of the state governor and his cohorts.
Ukanafun Local Government Area was created in 1976 and the then local government chairmen, the late Chief Asuquo Akpan with a paltry allocation stone based and asphalted internal roads in Ikot Akpa Nkuk, the local government headquarters. He constructed markets and executed other projects. Since then, how many chairmen have done meaningful projects in the area? At the headquarters, there is neither electricity supply nor potable water. Most roads in the headquarters are in a deplorable state.
From 1999 till date, how many councils have built roads in their local government headquarters? Apart from grading roads which are seasonal and easily wear off, have they provided electricity poles or transformers to the rural communities?
In the past five years, how many councils’ chairmen have provided bursary awards and scholarships to their indigenes? How many have built new primary schools or renovated any, apart from the hasty ones done under the pretext of the state government inter-ministerial jobs, which has left many primary schools in a sorry state?
How many councils have provided durable potable water for the rural folks? How many have touched the helm of poverty of some less privileged in their areas of jurisdiction? How many have established skills acquisition centres for their citizens? How many have handled increasing security challenge in their areas?
Frankly, the inauguration of the councils looks like another charade given the precarious financial situation that faced their predecessors, in which they are about to face too. There is need for the state governors to cooperate with the National Assembly for the amendment or abrogation of the section on the joint state/local government Account.
Let the councils’ bosses explore more revenue sources as well as invest on estate business, digital economy, treasury bills and other viable sources. They should refrain from obtaining loans. May God endow the incoming with the sagacity and strength to squeeze water from the rock for use in executing their projects and actualizing their programmes. Without this, their tenure could be another fantasy.