The local government remains the easiest arm of government to influence and change, but we collectively ignore it; preferring to focus on the less difficult and more glamorous top-down change.
The journey from Lagos to Ikogosi Ekiti, the site of the famous Warm Springs, should not take more than four hours. If the Federal Government upgrades the national trunk to Ife, the journey might even take less than three hours. The importance of a virile road network to the development agenda of the South-West, but all the talk of a growing economy will remain a fairy tale as long as the local governments don’t come to the party.
A few weeks ago, on a journey to Ekiti, we met a group of men carrying sticks and nails somewhere in Osun State, at an exit off the highway leading to Akure. They were there for one reason; to extort travellers passing through the newly constructed road that leads to Efon-Alaye in Ekiti State. Within minutes of being stopped, our car was blocked with stones and planks, and we were asked to lower our windows. We requested for identification cards, but the leader of the team could only show me a cheque purportedly issued in his name. After thirty minutes of stalled negotiations, an occupant called someone within the Osun State Government to intervene. Luckily, the leader of the team, accepted to speak with our messiah, and whatever he was told worked like a treat. The countenance of the men changed, and they told us their ‘mission’ on the road. They were engaged as ‘consultants’ by Oriade Local Government to raise N4 million per annum from road taxes and levies. They were allowed to keep anything above this amount, an incentive for them to go on overdrive to ensure the LG coffers never dried up. The supervisor, who was curiously named Oxygen, gave us a sheet containing all the permits and licenses vehicles need to drive through the LGA. The list included Driver & Conductor Badges, TV & Radio License, Waste Disposal Permits and Hackney License. It did not matter that the car we drove was not a waste disposal truck, hired car or a taxi. The team had been given a list of documents to use as an extortion lever without being educated on the type of vehicles that needed these permits. The result of this marriage between ignorance and greed is predictable; reason is replaced by brute force.
Oriade Local Government gets the 4th highest allocation of all local governments in Osun State. The LGA received N155.5 million in August 2012, which comes to about N1.8 billion, when annualized. Yet, the LGA creates a nightmare on our roads to add 2% to its monthly revenues. This is why we must pay more attention to what happens at the closest point of governance to us. We have LGAs that are run via state governments because they are incapable of administering their funds effectively, where developmental projects are coordinated at the state level, with minimal involvement from the chairmen and councilors. The hoodlums in Osun did not realize how their idiocy threatened the developmental agenda of Western Nigeria. We could have been potential investors in a tourist park, and that experience would have given us an insight to the challenges potential clients might face. Of course, this means nothing to a secretary looking for money to “Do Friday.” The story in Lagos is not much better. Apart from complaints on multiple taxation, most residents/business owners do not feel the presence of the closest arm of government. The chairman of Shomolu Local Government, Gbolahan Bago-Stowe was called “Bag of Stone” by residents of the LGA, in response to the trick of lining stones beside bad roads to create an impression that repair work is about to start. After several complaints and increased citizen engagement, roads are being repaired and canals are flowing are flowing freer.
The Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) will bore us with the need to give LGAs autonomy, so they can stop going to the state governments with their caps in hand for money. We must attend community meetings and organize pressure groups that make these officials accountable, before listening to calls for autonomy. The local government remains the easiest arm of government to influence and change, but we collectively ignore it; preferring to focus on the less difficult and more glamorous top-down change. If we are unable to influence and change governance at the level closest to us, then our desire for greater change in the governance of Nigeria will end up being what it is at the moment; a dream.
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