By Sonni Anyang
December 5, 2018
Obong Nsima Ekere, the APC candidate for the office of governor in Akwa Ibom State, has brought within the realm of early realisation, the sorely needed reinvigoration of the local government system in the state. Unveiling his election manifesto recently in Uyo, Obong Ekere announced to the thunderous and sustained applause of the thousands present at the event, that as governor, he will ensure that funds meant for local governments are released *directly and expeditiously* to the operators of that tier of government.
Against the background of 20 years (since 1999) of the illegal seizure of funds meant for local government from the federation account, this bold commitment to a different path; one that few have dared to tread, has innumerable ramifications, implications and yes, benefits.
For one thing, it shows Obong Nsima Ekere to be one man who, as governor, will respect and obey the letters and spirit of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. When they elect him as their governor next year, Akwa Ibom people can heave a long sigh in relief that the days of gubernatorial impunity are gone from their state.
Nowhere in our Constitution does it say that state governments have the right to sequester or usurp funds constitutionally mandated for the use of local governments. Extant case law supports this position. But the sad, illegal reality has been that state governments have preyed on local government funds through the instrumentality of the joint account system. The upshot of this situation has been the unfortunate emasculation of local governments and the attendant redundancy of that tier of government.
There are very good reasons why our Constitution
provides for three tiers of government. When one tier is rendered comatose and ineffective, the entire edifice is hobbled thereby. As the level of government that is closest to the people and therefore the literal and metaphoric base of the entire structure of government, any leader particularly at the gubernatorial level, who truly means well, ought to worry about how to strengthen the local government system. And that is precisely what Obong Nsima Ekere (ONE) expects to achieve with his pledge to give to local governments, what is theirs as of right.
When gubernatorial leaders seize local government allocations and give stipends to local government operators, such operators are given the perfect excuse to do little or nothing. The base of governmental system so badly positioned then tends to attract the wrong sort of personnel for all the wrong reasons. It breeds apathy and distrust of government at the grassroots as the attendant depredations are so glaring to the people at that level. Rather than serve, as it should, as a training ground for people who can then rise up the leadership ladder to positions of higher responsibility in government, a corrupted and ineffective local government system does the very opposite.
Obong Nsima Ekere’s courageous decision to buck the trend in the matter of local government funds also reveals him to be disinterested in the pecuniary aspects of government. This is critical. Regardless of their pretensions to the contrary, the interest of gubetnatorial leaders in the statutory allocations of local govenments is never altruistic. It is an interest driven by and mired in hanky panky, to put it politely.
Ekere has zero tolerance for monkey business over the peoples money. For him, it is always a question of how to make the system work better, how to remove impediments to effective service delivery. And no wonder. This is a man who understands that good, strong institutional arrangements make for effectiveness in governance. Afterall, he is the man who, on arrival at the NDDC as the managing director, instituted what has come to be known as the 4-Rs strategy and cleaned up the overbloated balance sheet of a body that had become a byword for institutional overreach and dangerous overtrading. That strategy had at its core, institutional reform.
As governor of Akwa Ibom State, institutional reforms will also drive Ekere’s approach to governance. Such reforms make up one of the Five Pillars of Change he has outlined in his manifesto document. And allowing local governments direct and easy access to their federal allocations is a key part of those reforms.
The prospect of finally having a governor that is neither of a grasping nature nor interested in self aggrandisement is most welcome indeed. It promises to yield truly new and beneficial dividends for the people of Akwa Ibom.
Predictably, the usual naysayers have been sniping at Obong Ekere for his game changing plans for institutional reform. To achieve their negative purpose, they are now saying that it would not be within his remit to grant autonomy to local governments. This is a straw issue, erected for the sole purpose of being contrary. The APC flagbearer has not told anybody that he plans to grant autonomy to local governments. His is an unambiguous and uncomplicated commitment. Perhaps the naysayers are too addled in the head to understand. But the real masses of Akwa Ibom do understand. They support and applaud it. And they stand ready to vote Obong Nsima Ekere as governor, come March 2, 2019.