Chairmen supporting govs to destroy LG system – Ondo ex-council chair

A former Chairman of Owo Local Government Area of Ondo State, Mr Adeola Fagbayigbo tells PETER DADA about the challenges of local government administration and how to address them

When did you serve as the chairman of Owo Local Government?

I became the local government chairman in 2010 during the administration of former governor Olusegun Mimiko.

How would you compare LG administration at that time and now?

How it was during my time is quite different from what is being done now. In those days, I was a caretaker chairman and we had the opportunity of doing a lot of projects. I don’t know if you have visited Owo Local Government before, we built the secretariat during my tenure as the chairman in 2010. If you go to the town, the market near the palace of Olowo, I built it during my tenure. I had a lot of projects that were spread across all the wards of the local government. These were achievable because the House of Assembly then would always ask us every three months to come up with projects that we wanted to implement and the funds from the federal level would be released to us. Once the fund was released, we had to make sure that we executed projects that would be beneficial to the masses. So, we were able to achieve a lot. If you look at local governments across Ondo State then, you will find out that each of the local governments had projects. That was the kind of local government we had then. Nobody was interested in any security allowance, but these days, a lot of chairmen don’t have ideas of what they ought to do and they are not even accessible by the people. That’s the problem we are facing. When you talk about then and now, there is a wide difference.  They are no longer answerable to the people as we were to the people then. They no longer talk to the people as we were talking to the people. They no longer hold meetings with the Obas and community leaders as we used to do in those days. Those are the things giving them problems now.

Those times you spoke about, local governments used to have heavy duty equipment and some other equipment which they used to construct roads , bridges and other projects, those equipment seem to have disappeared, what do you think is happening?

Yes, it’s good you mentioned the issue of heavy duty equipment. Truly, we used to have them in those days. We even bought some when we were chairmen but this thing can be contractual. Secondly, it could also be done directly. Before  you hire graders, caterpillars and others , you must first identify what you want, like I have said earlier. If you identify what you want to do, you have your priority, when the dry season sets in, you begin to look at it. We have department of works in various local governments, the workers there will go and do the assessment of what is on the ground. Look at the roads that are bad; if there are five roads that are bad, if it is two that you can do in a year, you do the two and you make sure that you do them thoroughly. If you hire equipment, you take them to the site, monitor the project yourself. This is the responsibility I was talking about. In those days, the people that you are responsible to will come to the local government secretariat to inform you that the roads are bad, but nowadays because they are not available or accessible by the people, they can’t go to the people to ask for funds (tax) because they have not been performing.

Who do we blame for this, now that the system seems to have collapsed?

In terms of collapse, I will blame the governors. But as I’m blaming the governors, I will also blame our local government chairmen because there are some requests they are supposed to make, which they don’t make. There were some conditions that were given to them, but because they were not willing or their political ambitions, they will never look in that direction and because of whatever benefit that comes their way, they will never do what they are supposed to do.  At the end of the day, by the time they want to leave, they will not have anything to show for it. Many of them out of their eagerness to make money refuse to do what is just while in office.

In 2020, former President Muhammadu Buhari signed an executive order stopping governors from tampering with LG funds, while the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit in 2019 issued a guideline stopping states from deducting LG funds, but it seems the LG are still being starved of funds why do you think those initiatives have not been successful?

There was a system called Joint Account Allocation Committee, which was an instrument of the House of Assembly. That is why we are answerable to the House of Assembly. It is not about money deduction, what they do is that the local governments hold their money in the same account. The local governments come together to put their money in the same account. I think the essence of JAAC was the even development that the governors were looking for. What they were trying to do was that if they put the money together, they would be able to share accordingly, so that no local government would be left behind. But the governors no longer do it that way. These days, hardly can you talk to a local government chairman and he will tell you how much they have in the council’s account. It is the governors or the commissioners for local government and chieftaincy affairs that know what a local government has in the account. So, the local governments don’t have projections and they don’t know what to do. They go back behind to ask for N200,000 or N500,000 from the governors. This is the best and closest government to the people, so in a situation where a government that is closer to the masses is not performing well, you know there is a big problem.

Why is it difficult for the local government chairmen to come together and resist it?

They can’t shout because he who pays the piper dictates the tune. Most of the chairmen that you find in the local governments today are stooges of the governors. They are appointed, not even elected. They only call themselves executive chairmen. In how many states do they conduct primaries for local government elections? How many states in this country do we have opposition as chairmen of councils, even when the people do not want that government. What the state government does is that they task the state Independent Electoral Commission to deliver and at the end of the day they put their own people there. So, the person that came on board through the help of the governor will not be able to face the governor to question him. An example is the one that happened in Ogun State recently, where one of the chairmen has been removed just because he spoke out. So, speaking out at times will not even cost the governor 24 hours to remove the chairman. The councillors are equally there as stooges of the governors, so they are just the same thing. It would be difficult for any chairman to cry out.

What is your view about the one in Ogun State?

My view about the whole matter is that those people (councillors) danced to the tune of the governor. They too don’t want to be affected, because they know that as long as that man is suspended or removed from the position, he may not come back and it’s going to be a tug of war; they will continue to fight. The governor will not see him as a loyal person. So, those that are still loyal to the governor want to remain in government and as much as they want to remain in government, they have to be loyal to the government. That is what is happening. Even some of them may not be happy about the issue because they know what the man said was the truth, but they cannot speak out because of what they stand to benefit. Don’t forget that they may be there because the governor put them there. It takes men with great minds to come out like the suspended chairman and tell the whole world what he said the governor had done.

How do you think this problem can be solved to save the local government system from total collapse?

I have a solution, though it might not be a perfect one. The solution is that we should work towards getting the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct local government elections and doing what is best for the country. Primaries for LG elections should be conducted by parties with the supervision of INEC so that unjust people will not be put in just positions.

Many people also feel INEC has its issues, especially looking at the complaints over the conduct of the presidential and governorship elections in the past?

There will still be some changes and we can still have some moderation. We have APC in government, we have PDP in government and some other parties, despite the fact that it is APC that is the party at the centre. Look at Ondo, Edo, Kogi states and even PDP-controlled states, generally, that is what is happening, except there is a change. INEC will not know somebody from Owo Local Government or somebody from Odigbo Local Government but an average governor will know at least 10 to15 politicians in each local government, and there will be biases. There will be people he loves, there are sycophants and those that are very close to the governor; people who are either his friends or associates that would also want to contest. So, these are the people that will determine or will tell him those they want at the helm of affairs. When the election is over, what you expect is that these people will become what they want to be without even considering the people’s opinion.

Few months  from now, the local government elections will be held in Ondo State. Are you saying the same thing will play out?

Yes, it will repeat itself. Some weeks ago, there was this noise from a local government and people were saying they wanted to impose a chairman on them. A woman was being imposed as the chairman of the council and from what they were saying, though I wasn’t there, the woman was not even from their local government. You can imagine that. At the end of the day, what do you expect that woman to do? She will only dance to the tune of those who put her there if she eventually gets there.

But your party, the PDP, has declared intention to participate in the LG poll, with your experience about LG elections, how confident are you that the votes will count?

As an individual, I will say my confidence in the poll is 25 per cent. I cannot speak for my party. I think the publicity secretary of the party will know the position of the party better than I do. I don’t have confidence in the election. As we speak in Ondo State today, the set of chairmen that are leaving, we don’t have just a single councillor. So, why should I expect that something better will happen this time or there is going to be a difference from what they have been doing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button