Effective Grassroot Governance: Collaborative Effort Of The Legislature – Onofiok





    It is my pleasure to address this In-house Workshop as keynote speaker. Permit me to specially thank the Local Government Service Commission ably led by our Father and Seasoned Administrator, Sir (Dr.) Val Attah for putting this together. This workshop is very timely. It is coming at a period that our State is gearing up to elect and set in motion a democratically elected local government structure. Again, it is even more apt because it will, among other things sharpen, refine and prepare our local government officials for excellent service delivery.

    Ladies and gentlemen, truth be told, what will be happening on December 2nd will be the election of politicians into local councils. These will be people who may never have had the benefit of prior experience in the operations of the third tier of government. So the responsibility of preparing the ground for the smooth takeoff of this tier of government work will rest on the shoulders of the noble men and women who are gathered here this morning. It was in recognition of this fact that we at the house of assembly provided in Section 76 of the local government administration law 2017 as amended that members of staff of the council must help in ensuring the smooth running of the business of the local government councils. These especially include legal officers, heads of local government service, unit heads and legislative clerks.

    Let me state here that what will stand out as the beauty of the local government administrative structure from December 2017 will be the legislative council as will be constituted. Legislative Councils will confer a full democratic status on local government councils in the state. Established by Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution(as amended) , local government areas in Nigeria are vested with executive, legislative and administrative powers. Expectedly, the legislative powers of the local government are vested in the legislative councils as guaranteed by sections 1(a) and (b) and 2(a) and (b) of the fourth schedule of the 1999 constitution(as amended). This lawmaking powers are exercised by these councils through bye-laws and approvals/resolutions made by it. The Akwa Ibom State Local Government (Administration) Law, 2017 has created a legal framework for the establishment of local government legislative councils in the state as contained in Section 6 of the law. Section 28 (1) (a) – (g) of this law clearly gives the local government legislative councils the powers to supervise the activities of executive arm of the local government. The judicious use of these powers by the local government legislative councils will embolden the legislative councils to discharge their functions without bowing to undue pressure from the executive arm of the local government.

    The existence of local government legislative councils in Nigeria is predicated on the letters and spirit of Section 7 (1) of the Constitution which guarantees amongst other things the structure of local governments. Sections 6 and 35 of the Akwa Ibom State Local Government (Administration) Law 2017 establishes local government legislative councils and executive arms for each local government area in the state. These legal provisions presuppose the existence of the doctrine of separation of powers as propounded my Baron de Montesquieu in the conduct of the affairs of local governments. Interestingly, by the provisions of the 2017 law, there is now an innovation in the legislative councils of Akwa Ibom state. It is basically the position of the legislative council clerk. The position of the clerk of the local government legislative council pursuant to Section 12 of the Law will ensure professionalism and impartiality in the conduct of the affairs of the legislative council. The sensitive nature of the position of clerk is why the house of assembly insisted that an officer to serve out this function must be one not below Grade Level 09 in the Executive or Administrative cadre of the Unified Local Government Service in the state. It must be noted that the clerk being a civil servant will steer clear of partisanship and politics in the discharge of his or her duties.

    Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I must state here that despite this legally defined and constitutionally guaranteed procedure for the operation of local government administration in Nigeria, there are still prevailing challenges militating against the smooth operation of this tier of government. In view of the above, my duty this morning as a the keynote Speaker is to highlight some of these challenges specifically as they affect the legislative councils and proffer solutions that can stimulate good governance at this level of government .

    First and most profound are the issues of limited autonomy, lack of accountability, inadequate models of good governance, paucity of leadership at the grassroots, executive/parliamentary rancour, unskilled parliamentary workforce and parliamentary quackery and mercantilism are some of the daunting but surmountable challenges facing local government legislative councils across the states of the federation. But notwithstanding the attendant challenges of local government legislative councils in the state, there are prospects for this important arm of government to help in ensuring good governance.

    While issues such as financial autonomy for the third tier are those that we hope will be fully addressed as our country attempts a new draft of the 1999 constitution, other matters which weaken good governance at the local government level are those which require nothing but simple political will to address. And for me, the legislative instrumentality is one with the powers to force the right political will on any administration. This is where the local government legislative councils will have to come in to ensure that council executives represent nothing but the interest of the people.

    The legislature anywhere is the clearing house of government. It has three key mandates of lawmaking for good governance, oversight to check against abuses and excesses, and representation which demands the lawmaker to present issues which could depreciate development in his constituency. The legislative assemblage at all times therefore must step up and fill the gap as the conscience of the people by ensuring accountability and transparency especially in the use of public funds.

    Good governance at the grassroots will result from a collaborative effort of the legislature. While powers are separated between the legislature and the executive for the purpose of checks and balances of functions, this does not mean that both arms of government cannot collaborate on issues of development. This, for me, is a necessary cooperation of powers for the utmost good of the people. The executive and the legislature must see themselves as partners not enemies in the development process at the grassroots. This will enable them to work as a unit thereby stimulating good governance and development at the local level.

    Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, to make our local government areas centres of grassroots development, we need to totally discourage parliamentary quackery and legislative mercantilism which breeds lazy lawmaking. In its place, legislative intellectualism and civic engagement with citizens should be promoted.

    Let me end my address this morning by saying that to have a focused and development-oriented local government administration in our state is primarily a question of leadership. To this end, political parties and the electoral umpire have a huge role to play. To fulfil this role, they need to ensure that the leadership recruitment process at this level of government is not only free, fair and credible but must be one that represents the yearnings and aspirations of the governed. This is one of the first major ways through which we can make the local government system to work for the benefit of our people. I would love also to once again commend the Local Government Service Commission for this workshop. The fact is that we would achieve development at a large scale, we must consider manpower development as the cradle of development. So I encourage continued education and constant trainings like this for local government administration staff and particularly parliamentary staffers. This will enhance optimum productivity as will be evident in the quality of bye-laws enacted. As one who by God’s Amazing Grace and the support of my colleagues happens to lead the state assembly as speaker, I can testify to how much trainings, both locally and internationally, has positioned our parliamentary staff and parliamentarians for the modest achievements which we have made in the last two years. It is my prayer therefore that as we ready ourselves for the full return of democracy to our local government councils, we shall be seeing all-round development in our state as a result of development from all 31 local councils in the state. I thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts and thank you for listening to me.

    Follow Speaker Onofiok Luke on Twitter @LukeOnofiok



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