Former President Olusegun Obasanjo says any state government working against the Local Government Autonomy Bill is an enemy of the people.
Mr Obasanjo said this on Monday when he hosted a group, “Friends of Democracy”, at his private residence in the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), Abeokuta, Ogun State.
The former president lamented that only nine out of the 36 states have so far supported the bill passed by the National Assembly, “despite its importance to grassroots development.”
He said the reforms proposed in the bill are aimed at making local councils autonomous “like the state government.”
Mr Obasanjo recalled that his military administration introduced local government reforms in 1976 but lamented the objectives have been scuttled.
“When in 1976 we brought in local government reforms, it was meant to be third tier of the government and not meant to be subjected to whims and caprices of any other government, just the same way that the state governments are autonomous from the federal government,” he said.
Mr Obasanjo said he was unhappy that 42 years after, the aim of the reforms was yet to be achieved. “Rather, most of the state governments are virtually stealing local governments funds that the federal government appropriates to them monthly.
“Local government is meant to be autonomous from the state government. But from what we know, by design, most states have incapacitated the local governments. They have virtually stolen the local governments’ money in what they called Joint Account. They are to contribute 10 percent but they never contribute anything.
“So, what we have across the country are local government areas that have functions but cannot perform the functions. They have staff but most of them cannot pay the staff and we keep getting excuses upon excuses.
“The Bill passed by the National Assembly which requires 24 State Houses of Assembly and like I am told, only nine states have signed it. I am proud of those states because they are what you will call progressive states that really believe in democracy.
“My own state (Ogun) is one of them. I will say kudos to Ogun State Government. In the South-South, only Bayelsa and Cross River states have signed it. Kudos to those two states. In the North-East, it’s only Bauchi. In the North-West, it’s only Sokoto. In the North-Central, we have four states, Kwara, Niger, Plateau and Benue. I will say kudos to the executives and the legislature of those states.
“But we must say those state executives and the legislatures that have prevented the bill from being passed, they must be taken as the enemies of the people and they should be treated as such. Because if you enjoy autonomy from the federal government, why don’t you want local governments to enjoy autonomy?
“Again, I will say leadership of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) who have always fought for the interest of the people should know that the interest of the people at the local government will be best served if the LG has autonomy which is meant that they should have.”
The leader of the visiting team, Jerry Ugokwe, said the struggle to ensure local government autonomy in the country began two years ago, vowing they would not rest until they achieve the aim.
Mr Ugokwe said the visit was to call on Mr Obasanjo, who he described as father of modern Nigeria, to appeal to him to add his voice to theirs.