The Senate on Tuesday voted to guarantee democratically constituted local government councils through elections to be conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, a proposal targeted at stripping state governments of power to control polls at the grassroots.
Currently, the Nigerian 1999 Constitution empowers the states to constitute “state independent electoral commissions, SIEC” for the conduct of local government elections, though most of the states have, at the mercy of the governors, caretaker committees in charge of local councils.
Even when local elections hold, the process is usually trailed by complaints from the opposition over alleged compromise of SIEC. In virtually all cases, the party of the sitting governor sweeps the local elections irrespective of the strength of the opposition party in the state.
But the Senate now sought to alter the Constitution to abrogate SIECs, thereby giving INEC further powers to conduct local council polls.
This was the 33rd item on the Fourth Constitution Alteration Bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday.
In the original report on the alteration bill presented by the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, there were 32 items, but Dino Melaye, APC-Kogi, moved for the addition of the 33rd item, that is the proposal to abrogate SIECS, when the report was under consideration on Tuesday.
Mr. Melaye said nothing could be said of local government autonomy if states are not stripped of powers to constitute SIECs for local polls, citing alleged partiality of the SIECs.
However, Kehinde Ayoola, a former Speaker of Oyo State House of Assembly and national financial secretary of the Social Democratic Party, described the proposal as “a setback” and “antithesis of true federalism”.
Although Mr. Ayoola said he was aware of the “partiality of state independent electoral commissions”, he said “that could be checked” without making federal government intervene in local elections at a time “we are clamouring for devolution of more powers to the state.”
“All political parties should be equally represented in the SIEC and its headship be appointed from faith-based organizations or NGOs,” said Mr. Ayoola. “The head should not be any political entity.
FINANCIAL AUTONOMY FOR LGAS
In further steps to ensure autonomy for the local government in Nigeria, the Senate sought to alter section 162 of the 1999 Constitution to abrogate State-LG joint accounts and empower each LGA to maintain its own “special account into which all allocations due to the council shall be directly paid from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.
Further, the Senate voted to review the constitution to make democratic composition of local councils statutory. This would mean any local government without elected officials would not get federal funding. This is expected to help improve efficiency and delivery capacity of the local councils, the lawmakers believe.
Similarly, the Senate also approved the proposal for financial autonomy for state legislatures by seeking alteration of the Constitution “to provide funding of the Houses of Assembly of states directly from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the State.”
Nigeria’s federal constitution follows rigorous amendment process, which includes approval of two/thirds of the state legislatures, even after an amendment is passed by both chambers of the National Assembly.
Therefore, these proposed reforms will be sent to all the 36 State Houses of Assembly for consideration, before transmission to the president for assent.
But the chance of scaling the hurdle at state level remains slim. In the Seventh Assembly, similar proposals, already approved by the National Assembly, failed when referred to the state legislatures.