Why LG Autonomy May Be A Mirage In Akwa Ibom

Why LG Autonomy May Be A Mirage In Akwa Ibom
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The third tier of government in Akwa Ibom State has over the years not been operating on its optimum capacity following the overwhelming control and influence of the State government.

Checks by Aljazirah Nigeria revealed the administration at that level has collapsed, following the decision of  governor Udom Emmanuel, to run the grassroots system with handpicked officials under a care-taker arrangement, until public outcry forced the conduct of Local Government polls on December 2, 2017.
Although the main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) had raised the alarm before the polls of plans to rig, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) went ahead to win massively across the 329 Wards spread across the 31 Councils.
Chieftains of the APC in the State including former Petroleum Minister, Atuekong Don Etiebet; Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to President Muhammadu Buhari, Senator Ita Enang; State Chairman of the party, Dr. Amadu Atai and the Managing Director of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Obong Nsima Ekere, were among those who flayed the conduct of the polls, alleging “the exercise was deliberately stage-managed to have a pre-determined outcome for the PDP”.
Most of the Chairmen, who administer the Councils as care-takers, it was learnt, were returned as ‘elected’ at the conclusion of the polls on December 2, 2017.
Since their inauguration, there have been widespread lamentations by the Councils’ helmsmen, who alleged “our statutory allocations from the Federation Account have been seriously tampered with by the State government through State\Local Government Joint Account”.
Lamenting his ordeal, a Local Government Chairman in Ikot Ekpene Senatorial District, who would not want his name in print, told Aljazirah Nigeria that “the State government has been deducting allocation accruing to my Council illegally”.
“That is why we are not able to honour most of our obligations including fixing rural roads, water, renovation of basic schools and primary healthcare. If you complain, the State government would starve you of funds and even engineered the House of Assembly to remove you through phantom allegations”, he lamented.
He recalled that “when we were running the Councils as care-takers, most of us were living in Uyo, the State capital, because when you remain at the Council Headquarters, you are sure to face lots of challenges which you cannot meet for the people”.
“During the period, when the little cash came after all illegal deductions by the State government, you only struggled to pay salary; sometimes you owe for months. That is why most Local Governments including Abak, Ikot Ekpene, Uyo and others are still owing backlogs of salaries left behind during the era of Chief Godswill Akpabio, as governor”.
Governor Emmanuel, it was gathered, is not amenable to full Local Government autonomy because of the huge cash coming into the State from the Federation Account in view of Akwa Ibom being the number one revenue earner from Federal allocation for over 10 years.
For instance, in the ongoing constitutional amendment, the governor was said to have arm-twisted members of the House of Assembly to suspend voting on the issue of Local Government autonomy.
Members, after voting for other issues stayed action on the question of Local Government autonomy, citing what they described as “protest to Abuja by the State chapter of the Nigerian Union of Teachers (NUT) that Local Government will not be able to pay them salaries if given autonomy”.
But a serving Chairman of Council, who spoke to Aljazirah Nigeria, on condition of anonymity, dismissed such excuse, arguing that “the House is only acting the script of the governor”.
“Tell me, how can I get my complete allocations as they come from the central government every month, then I will not be able to pay teachers, repair rural roads, water, primary healthcare and other essential services?”, he asked.
“The State government should do the needful and correct all the anomalies inhibiting the growth of the government at the local level because it is the closest to the people”, he added.
In the same vein, the member representing Ibesikpo Asutan in the House of Assembly, Hon. Aniekan Uko, described lack of autonomy at the Local Government level as “a great disservice to the people at the grassroots”.
Against all odds, Uko, former Speaker of the 26-member House, vowed he would vote for the autonomy of the Local Government, if the matter is resurrected again at the plenary.
According to him, the Federal, State and Local Government were all tiers of government with the constitutional backing to exist and discharge statutory responsibilities independently, wondering why a vital administrative block like Local Government should be allowed to remain a toothless bulldog.
“Local Government is the closest to the people at the grassroots, it should be allowed to function independently”, he stressed.


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