Senior Nigerian lawyer, Sebastine Hon, deplores governors’ opposition to local govt. autonomy

Sebastine Hon

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, Sebastine Hon, has deplored the continued opposition to local government autonomy by state governors across the country.

Mr. Hon, who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on Sunday, blamed the near stagnant state of grassroots development in the country to the hijack of the local government system by state governors.

He, therefore, appealed to the National Assembly to hasten the constitutional amendment process that would guarantee the autonomy of that tier of government.

“The proposed autonomy for local governments in Nigeria by the National Assembly is a very salutary effort, which ought to be supported all the way, given the blighted history of local government administration in Nigeria,” Mr. Hon said.

The legal practitioner noted that Sections 136-145 of the Nigeria’s Republican Constitution, 1963, revenue allocation was done directly from the Federal purse to the regions consistent with the provisions of the law.

Unlike the 1999 Constitution as amended, the 1963 Constitution did not create local governments; hence it did not recognise them.

It was, however, the 1979 Constitution that first recognised the existence of this level of government as contained in Section 3(1) and (2) of that Constitution.

“This meant that in clear and unequivocal terms, the 1979 Constitution for the first time recognised the existence of local or municipal administration in Nigeria,” the legal practitioner said.

“Importantly, too, section 7(1) of that Constitution, again for the first time, provided in very mandatory and affirmative terms inter alia that ‘The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed.’

“For the first time, too, Section 149(2) of that Constitution provided that any amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account was to be distributed among the Federal and state Governments, and the local governments in each state, on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”

According to Mr. Hon, Section 149 (5) of the same law provided for the establishment of the State Joint Local Government Account from where all allocations from the Federal Account are paid into.

Apart from the number of states and local governments which got increased by the time the 1999 Constitution was promulgated, he argued that Section 149 of the 1979 Constitution was lifted directly to form Section 3(1, 2) and read with Part I of the 1st Schedule; and Sections 7(1) and 162(3) and (6), respectively, of the 1999 Constitution.

Mr. Hon said the current move by the National Assembly to abolish the Joint State Local Government Accounts has sparked negative reactions from state governors.

While state governors have argued that there is no Federal Constitution anywhere in the world that has granted financial autonomy to local governments, Mr. Hon said such argument is trite.

“Even though Nigeria has always been a Federation, the provisions of the 1963, 1979 and 1999 Constitutions have shown a crave for dynamism and development, to respond to apparent public outcry or concern on the way this level of government is being run,” Mr. Hon argued.

“This is exactly what the National Assembly has done, by making the current proposals for constitutional amendment. Every country’s constitution is fashioned to take care of the needs of such country.”

He cited Dangana vs. Usman, 2013, 6 NWLR, Pt. 1349, 50 at 93 S.C., where the Supreme Court held that the Constitution of any country is “the embodiment of what the people of that country desire to be their
guiding light in governance.”

Also, in Attorney-General of Kaduna State vs. Hassan, 1985, 2 NWLR, Pt. 8, 483 S.C., the Supreme Court, he also said, held that the Nigerian Constitution is meant to cater for the uniqueness of Nigeria as a nation.

Again in Attorney-General of Abia State vs. Attorney-General of the Federation, 2003, FWLR, Pt. 152, 131 S.C. and Attorney-General of Ondo State, 2002, 9 NWLR, Pt. 772, 222 S.C., some actions of the Federal Government were challenged on the ground that they infringed on the doctrine of federalism.

“The Supreme Court, in dismissing those actions, held that propounded theories of federalism must surely and always give way to express provisions of the Constitution.

“Thus, it is too simplistic and, therefore, unacceptable that a particular provision of the Constitution should be said to be invalid if it infringes on the antiquated doctrine of federalism,” arguing that a provision of the Constitution cannot be unconstitutional.

Mr. Hon further argued that some Federal constitutions like that of the Republic of South Africa grant full autonomy to local or municipal governments.

He cited the provisions of Section 153 of the South African Constitution as amended which he said mandated the local government councils to “structure and manage its administration, and budgeting and planning process to give priority to the basic needs of the community, and to promote the social and economic development of the
community.”

Also, Section 154(1) of the same Constitution compulsorily requires both the national and regional governments “by legislative and other measures” to “support and strengthen the capacity of the municipalities to manage their own affairs, to exercise their powers and to perform their functions.”

More importantly, Section 213 of that Constitution has established the National Revenue Fund, just like the Nigerian Consolidated Revenue Fund; while Section 214(a) and (b) provides that an Act of Parliament must provide for “the equitable division of revenue raised nationally among the national, provincial and local spheres of government” and “any other allocations to provinces, local government or municipalities from the national government’s share of that revenue, and any conditions on which those allocations may be made.”

He argued that the South African law does not have a Joint Provincial Local Government Account, adding that local governments in that country have complete autonomy.

“While I sympathise with the governors that the National Assembly is attempting to temper with the status quo, by proposing to make local governments autonomous in Nigeria, the said Assembly is standing in firma terra, meaning on firm grounds; hence should be supported.

“The governors should remember that after their respective tenures, they will also live with the rest of us as ordinary Nigerians; hence should support this worthy cause now,” Mr. Hon said.


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