The Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE), has succinctly said they will monitor and ensure that any State House of Assembly members who vote against the autonomy of local government during the forthcoming legislative voting to make LG totally autonomous from State government, will also be voted out in the 2023 general elections. NULGE National President, Comrade Olatunji Ambali, in this interview, revealed to CHRISTIAN APPOLOS, the union’s strategic moves and plans. Excerpts.
The quest for local government autonomy lead by NULGE and by extension NLC, has passed the first hurdle. What were the underground wars you fought to get the bill passed by the National Assembly?
Well, let me thank God Almighty and Nigerians, especially the National Assembly members for their resilience. Despite the discouragements by past State House of Assembly members who failed to to do the needful by give the concurrence as expected of them, the National Assembly remained constant. The truth is, if the bill had not sailed through at the National Assembly this last time, it would have been the end of the struggle for local government autonomy.
To make the matter worst, what the State governor’s did was to plan a retrogressive action. That action could have destroyed not just the struggle for LG autonomy but even the nation at large. They kickstarted the action by sponsoring one House of Reps member, Bob Solomon to move a killer bill that sought o delist local government from the constitution. That was what they did. But NULGE quickly rise up to the occasion.
I want to give kudos to Governor Wike of Rivers State who condemn the anti-people bill move by that honorable Solomon. We thank God that that bill was killed at the National Assembly, House of Reps specifically.
Actually, the LG bill didn’t failed at the last attempt, it was rather abandoned. At that last attempt at the State Houses of Assembly, only nine states voted in support while two voted against it. Others suspended action on it. That was what happened.
When the 9th Assembly constitutional amendment commences again, we commenced lobbying, advocacy and sanitization. We started galvanizing Nigerian peoples’ opinion. The National Assembly did the referendum. Public debate were held in all the zones. NULGE did its presentation, the Governors Forum made their presentation too and many Nigerian did theirs as well. At last, it was only the Governors who are against the existence of Local Government autonomy.
But immediately it was determined that the popular vote is for the local government autonomy, the National Assembly adopted the bill and its was passed.
The bill has been transmitted to the State Houses of Assembly. What steps you are taking right now to ensure a repeat of what happened during the 8 Assembly will not happen?
Well, after series of background checks on what really hindered the from scaling through in the 8 Assembly, we realize that some of the State governors coerced and intimidated the former honorable members of their various House of Assembly. This can also be linked to the fact that even the autonomy bill of the State House of Assembly then was voted against openly by State Assembly members because they were influenced negatively to do that.
So having realized that, we then decided after a wide consultation to change the rule of engagement. We commence with advocacy to some strategic stakeholders in Nigeria. We started with Chief Olusengu Obasanjo, a former president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The man we can call father of the modern day local government system because he was one that reformed the local government. He told us that those who benefit from a corrupt LG system will not change. He encouraged us to prepare and that is going to be serious battle.
We move to former President Goodluck Jonathan who was once chairman of a local government, deputy Governor of Bayelsa State, Vice President of Nigeria. We met the Emir of Kano. Who told us that local government is not functional because some people are cornering funds made for LG for their personal gains. We met Chief Aminu Dantata, who has been supporting local government because of the inadequacy of the tier to meet the expectation of the people.
We were in Enugu. We met the Obi of Onitsha. He even promised to follow us during the campaign. He is going to come out and campaign for the actualization of local government autonomy.
We came to Southwest and met the Ooni of Ife. He lamented that Local government has been destroyed. He noted that LG is the most strategic tier of government to drive infrastructure and development. He charged that local government must be revived.
After that, we commenced zonal campaign for the actualization of local government autonomy. We were in the six geopolitical zones. We were in Bauchi State for North-East, Kano, Ibadan, Nasarawa, Portharcour and Enugu for our campaign. And the high point of what did in these States was to deliver our chapter of demand to the Houses of Assembly through the honorable Speakers. We also ensured we get their commitments to supporting the passage of local government autonomy bill.
So having done that around the country. We realize that we have to go to the to the roots, the local government, where the honorable members of State assembly come from because the bill has been transmitted to the state assembly. So we were there with Operation meet your honorable members with our PVC to tell them we are voters. We most importantly told the, they need to vote in support of local government autonomy because a vote against a local government autonomy is vote against your continuity in office.
We didn’t stop at that. We were at the national convention of APC. We did a giant poster. We distributed flyers. We also made media publications, calling on APC leaders and President Muhammadu Buhari to adopt local government autonomy as a policy. We stated that the President should not only say he supports LG autonomy, but he must match it with action. He desire local government autonomy but he must do more as a leader of the party.
APC said it is to a Progressive Party but if truly it is a Progressive Party, it should be so easy for them to adopt that populist approach (local government autonomy) to resolve Nigeria problems, because we know that all the problems bedeviling Nigeria are traceable to the dislocation of local government system.
When government at that level becomes dysfunctional, the relevance of governance among Nigerian people become irrelevant. That is why people are now asking if this is democracy. Some are even suggesting that military government is better than this. Because they don’t see or feel the impact of local government.
Once local government is functional, entitled to its location, able to carry out some development programs and policies. People will be happy and will know that government is at work.
We know that if local government is allowed to directly receive their allocation monthly, they will meet their day to day challenges. They will develop infrastructure. They will stem tide of insecurity. They will provide gainful employment, empowerment and even bursary to students.
From the filers you are getting, do you think the State Houses of Assembly will pass the bill?
I’m optimistic? Because every God fearing Nigeria must support local government autonomy unless they want Nigeria to collapse? God forbid.
NLC recently announced that their members will vote only those who supports the Congress’ charter of demand in the 2023 general elections. Will NULGE explore the same option ?
Certainly. A vote for local government autonomy is a vote for continuity in office. A vote against local government autonomy is a vote to destroy your political career, period! This is operation name and shame! That is the position of NULGE. We are rural and community people. So it is operation occupied your House of Assembly. We will be there live with our lantern and mattress, if they want to do it in the night because we want to see those who voted against LG autonomy.
Corruption in the local government, what is your take?
As at now, there is no corruption. How how can you see corruption when there is no money? Out of the prosecution and investigation going on, how many local government chairman are in detention. How many of them are being investigated?
So for us, we believe that if Nigerians want to better our lives, there must be a paradigm shift from the past. Local government must be allowed to earn their location directly. And local government must have a budgetary system that will track how funds meant for local government are being applied.
That is why we also clamour that there must be anti corruption agency in all the local government, because we know that no man is immune in Nigeria to corruption. Even in the church and mosque you see corruption. So for us, we believe that to keep local government technocrats and politicians on their toes, there must be anti corruption agencies. So that they will know, if you mess up you go to jail. We are not in support of corrupt officers.
The era we are now, is that state government go to market to collect revenue. They collect revenue from every area and chairmen dare not talk. Because when you talk, you will be sacked immediately. Because of insecurity of tenure of office, local government chairmen dare not talk.
In the past, local government build roads, sink boreholes, build schools and hospitals, provide electricity. When did you see a local government did that last. You can only see that in Rivers State. Because Governor Wike don’t touch local government money. And Jigawa Governor also. They don’t a penny of local government money. I was in these two States physically and I saw it. The only thing Governor Wike is doing we are not happy about is that workers are promoted as at when due. But again, Wike is paying minimum wage, and is funding primary education completely. That is the only Governor in Nigeria that does that.
What is NULGE’s core message to all the LG stakeholders especially the honorable members of State Houses of Assembly?
Nigerians generally must wake up. It is either local government autonomy or more backwardness. You cannot continue doing the same thing the same way and expect a better results. If we want government in pact power to be felt by Nigeria masses, local government autonomy is the way to go.
It is not that money are not appropriated to the local government, it is not that money are not allocated to local government. But somebody somewhere corners the money . The sovereign wealth of the nation, ended up in the pocket of few people while majority of Nigerians are suffering. You can see poverty in the land. You can see deprivation. You can see hopelessness, you can see restiveness, you can see banditry, you can see terrorism. You can see clamor to break down Nigeria and you still want to continue.