The placement of public good above partisan interest is a rare attribute of governance in Nigeria. But a few public office holders occasionally demonstrate this virtue. The Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, radiated it when he disengaged redundant workers in the state’s local government system last month, despite the vigorous opposition from organised labour. His Bayelsa State counterpart, Seriake Dickson, had earlier evinced it when he directed that the October salary of 4,204 workers, among them 1,329 council staff with questionable service records, be withheld.
The Kaduna State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Jaafaru Sani, said that 4,042 workers were affected in the sanitisation process that covered 23 local councils. He further explained that 3,195 out of the number were retired and that all their benefits would be paid in line with civil service regulations. This was preceded by el-Rufai’s sacking of about 22,000 primary school teachers, who failed a test meant for class four pupils in a competency screening.
The sack of redundant personnel was an attempt to correct mistakes of the past administrations that allowed political expediency to define recruitment. The late governor, Patrick Yakowa, had lamented how misfits were imposed on him as teachers. Those flushed out from the councils may have been remnants of this warped indulgence that compromised the entire civil service.
Sani, therefore, was spot on when he said that six of the councils were on life support. He said, “The capacity of local councils to render effective service to the community was hampered. Most local councils, after receiving allocations to pay their members of staff, the state government will still have to augment the shortfall.”
Bayelsa’s case is a web involving workers with forged certificates; recruitment without approval from relevant authorities; “ghost” workers on the payroll; workers receiving salary from multiple agencies and the brazen promotion of some workers from salary Grade Level 04 in 2011 to Grade Level 14 in 2012, using forged credentials. This racket transcends the LG system. The state’s newly-established special court to deal with such malfeasance should use these cases to prove that it is indeed a cleansing agent.
There are 774 Local Government Areas in Nigeria. As the third tier of government, they are meant to bring governance closer to the grass roots as clearly expressed in the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution. Their functions are, but not limited to, the following: establishment and maintenance of markets, motor parks, public convenience, registration of births and deaths; construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lighting, drains, sewage and public highways and refuse disposal; provision of primary and vocational education and primary health care services.
To discharge these functions, financial allocations are made to them. At the September Federal Accounts Allocation Committee sharing of funds to all tiers of government, the councils, for instance, received N101.9 billion. Besides, the constitution empowers them to generate revenue through sundry levies and registration of small business premises. For emphasis, the September allocation was just less than half of their monthly receipts when crude oil was sold for more than $100 per barrel. Unfortunately, the billions of naira are used mainly to pay the salaries of their bloated workforce – workers who render no service.
The sharing of financial allocations by councils’ chairmen and councillors as soon as they are received has rendered the system prostrate. Teachers’ salaries could not be paid as a result, during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration, in spite of the direct allocation of their statutory funds to them. To save primary education from collapse in the country then, the Federal Government had to take over that responsibility. The councils have also failed woefully in primary health care delivery, compelling the central government to undertake the job of revitalising 10,000 primary health care centres across the country.
Rural roads are impassable, especially during the rainy season. Councils in municipal areas stand idly by as uncouth residents turn gutters into refuse dumps. In Lagos State, for instance, mechanic workshops and vehicles in disuse have seized virtually every street; motor parks and markets are not maintained, just as cleaning blocked drainage and other duties, primarily theirs, have been taken over by the state government. In the United Kingdom, councils perform the majority of public services such as the provision of education, passenger transport, libraries, waste disposal, social care, highway maintenance and transport planning.
How ineffective or untrustworthy our councils have become was evident in the street protest by primary school teachers in Kwara State last month, against the possible return of payment of their salaries to them, should autonomy return to the LGs as being widely canvassed. Their counterparts in Plateau, Katsina and Taraba states have also voiced a similar concern.
Attempts to re-engineer LGs have been on since 1976. However, corruption has undermined them, thus denying a majority of citizens the benefits of governance. As a result, governors should reverse this order by not accepting workers without any duties to perform, or even office spaces to occupy, so that funds could be saved and used to deliver services. This extant order explains why most states have wage bills that are far in excess of their monthly revenue.
The Kaduna and Bayelsa examples should be the beginning of a much deeper reorganisation of the councils for effectiveness and justification of their existence. So far, they have failed woefully. Therefore, the el-Rufai and Dickson moves against redundant council workers and payroll racketeering, recommend itself to the other 34 governors. They have to be done in order to rediscover why local councils exist – to discharge basic services to the people.