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Democratizing local government administration

By Ayodele Fagbohun

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Local government administration which is the natural nursery and training ground for democracy at the grassroots; now at the lowest ebb and on its way to unalterable permanent darkness.

No thanks to the onerous and overbearing task of some state governors to render local government redundant in the affairs of the countryside and to consign it to the heap of forgotten history.

Thanks to the populist administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for opening the great vista for revival and resuscitation of local government to accede to the demands, yearnings and aspiration of the people at the grassroots.

Besides, local government is the foundation on which the massive and magnificent superstructure of regional/state or federal or central government is erected. It is the training ground in political awareness and civil responsibility for a much larger number of public spirited citizens than can ever have room to operate on the regional or national levels.

“Indeed, local government is the most effective agency by which the regional or state government minister to the basic needs, welfare and general well-being of the citizens.”

Chief Obafemi Awolowo, leader of government business in Western Region, excerpt from his speech on the epoch-making local government bill in 1952.

Under the new law which came into force in 1953, the Native Authority System was restructured into three tiers comprising divisional, district and local councils.

Prior to the unfortunate, barbaric and rude military incursion into politics, local government administration was a fundamental and integral part of Western Regional government playing significant, complementary mutual role in fostering grassroots’ development and good governance in its totality.

It stands to reason therefore that under the ongoing dispensation, it is incumbent upon the state government to ensure that people which clamour for local government areas should have the real thing, not a pretence or a sham for it.

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So necessary machinery should be set in motion to facilitate early take off of LCDAs to actually meet the genuine yearnings and aspirations of the groups agitating to come together under a single administration.

Such LCDAs and the existing local government areas must of necessity be urgently strengthened and completely overhauled, streamlined as centre of development and business activities in transforming and opening up the neglected and miserable countryside for exponential revolution mainly in agro-allied industries.

This will tremendously assist the organs of government to generate adequate funds to meet their obligation irrespective of statutory allocation from state government.

The local government areas in the state as presently constituted should be x-rayed with a view to ascertaining the genuine wishes of the people in a bid to arrive at more desirable and viable local government structure to promote public weal.

Local government should as a matter of utmost urgency prioritise agriculture, be actively revived as the mainstay of the economy, to ensure sustainable massive food production and storage.

Hence, the urgent need to re-introduce integrated rural development scheme vigorously pursued by Michael Adekunle Ajasin led Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) administration in the second republic in spite of the meager resources accrued to Ondo State government.

Towards this end, a department of labour should be created in the state ministry of local government affairs. This department will work in synergy with various local government council areas and the development council areas statewide to boost mass food production, storage, importation in view of excess or surplus in production interlaced with employment opportunities for the army of jobless youths wandering about all over the place.

Ondo State, arguably ever remains the largest producer of cocoa in Nigeria. For instance, the Investment Corporation building in Akure, now wearing a new look having overgrown with weeds and in ruins recently.

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It used to plant a total of 52.4 hectares of cocoa seedlings annually. The oil-palm small holders’ management unit located at Okitipupa had established 500 hectares of oil-palm seedlings annually.

Aiyesan N2.5 million oil-palm was constructed with the disbursement of N277,455. What about the rubber factory at Araromi Rubber Estate in the old Ifesowapo now in Odigbo Local Government area?

Virtually, most of the giant investment institutions that provoked the envy of our neighbor are now in sorry, pitiable condition of grim neglect and utter disrepair.

If there is a political will, these agro-based industries can still be re-activated anew in the various local governments to boost titanic efforts in salvaging the moribund economy of the state.

According to the former Ondo State Commissioner of Information and former member of House of Assembly, Chief Femi Aluko insisted that Nigerians have no business to live perpetually on imported food items.

“There are lots of vegetation in the SouthWest. What are our state governors doing by not going corporate in agriculture especially farming?

“We should be able to feed ourselves and at the same time exporting surplus food items like rice,” Aluko asserted.

Ondo State government must promptly accede to the strident clamour and request of the people at the grassroots to change the existing narrations and modus operandi on electing or appointing leaders, as the case may be, to manage the affairs in the local government council areas.

This is to galvanise the momentum in achieving more effective, diligent, pragmatic and service delivery than hitherto.

According to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the late sage, erstwhile leader of government business and expert on local government affairs in the defunct Western Region under the British colonial tutelage, had this to say: “Local Governments serve the dual purpose of being the foundation on which the state and federal governments rest and the agencies through which the state governments and occasionally, the federal government as well touch the lives of the people intimately.

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“The local government ward is in most place small enough for its entire membership to meet and confer regularly and for a conscientious councilor to have personal contact with every man, woman, boy or girl.

“Furthermore, local governments provide so many areas for training in public management and afford opportunities for participation in public life to many more public spirited citizens that would ever have the chance at or even reach the state or federal level.

“In short, the importance of local government in fostering a democratic way of life, in promoting good government and in sustaining the state and federal government cannot be over-emphasised.

“It is imperative, therefore that it should be strengthened and democratized wherever it is known to be weak and undemocratic.”

Membership of the council may either be partially elected or nominated for appointment, according to the wishes of the people in a particular jurisdiction, duly to be ascertained in a referendum or plebiscite.

Government and stakeholders are urged to scout about for requisite manpower needs imbued with public spiritedness, effective mastery or the peculiar circumstances which obtain or prevail in the respective local government areas.

Toward this end, the Amotekun and other security networks like the local vigilante groups should also be galvanized as full complement of much desired community policing.

As eternal vigilance is the prize of liberty, our security architecture must be up and doing to effectively and proactively checkmate the undesirable intruders and marauders trying to test our inalienable fundamental rights to peaceful co-existence and self determination. 

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