The hijacking of funds meant for local government councils by states is stifling the growth of democracy in Nigeria, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, has said.
A statement issued by his spokesman, Turaki Hassan, said Dogara spoke when he received chairman and members of conference of state legislators in his office in Abuja on Wednesday.
The Speaker maintained that the intention of the framers of the 1999 constitution was to have strong local councils where dividend of democracy will be delivered to the people.
If that had happened, Dogara said, even university professors and federal lawmakers may run for elections to become local government chairmen.
He opined that democracy is not just about elections, and that it is nothing if it does not deliver on its promises to the people but lamented that since 1999, Nigeria’s democracy has not been able to do so.
This, he said, was because some elections in the past had produced even enemies of democracy in Nigeria.
“Democracy must be able to deliver value to the people and as long as it does not deliver, we can’t say we are truly practising democracy, but a mere nominal one,” he noted.
“We must ask ourselves; what prevents us from delivering the promises of democracy to the people? No one should pretend that there is sanity at the local level”, he said.
“I must urge you to listen to the voice of the people and not just that of leaders or elites. That is what has stifled the growth of democracy in the country.”
“The intention of the framers of the constitution is that we should have very strong local governments so that they are able to meet the immediate needs of the people at the grassroots.
“This noble intention could not be achieved because funds meant for them are being hijacked elsewhere and it never gets to them…it has deprived the local level the needed calibre of leaders that will engineer development at that level.”
“If the funds get to them directly many people or even professors may decide to be local government chairman. We have to start our development from the base to the top because as someone says, anything you do where you start from the top you are digging a grave. We have not only dug a grave for democracy in Nigeria but are also in the process of burying it.”
The Speaker then called on the state assemblies to endorse financial autonomy for themselves and the local governments when the National Assembly eventually transmits the documents to them.
He regretted that the last alteration exercise was vetoed by former president Goodluck Jonathan but assured that the House won’t start work on the Bill de novo.
He said state assemblies in the 6th assemblies rejected clauses granting them autonomy but appealed to them to summon courage because “if they had the courage to vote yes by now we will not be here on it”.
“Without courage and sacrifice there cannot be leadership. Sometimes, you need to take decisions that are not popular with some power blocs but you must do it as a leader.
“If our motivation is to always do right then we must do things that will protect our democracy and our people. The Federal Government cannot reach out to all the local levels to deliver dividend of democracy to them.”
On request for devolution of powers by the state assemblies, Dogara said it is one of the issues that will be looked at by the House in the ongoing amendment.
“Concentration of powers is dangerous to democracy. Democracy itself abhors concentration of powers in the hand of one individual or body. We will look into the constitution and come up with what is best for the system.”
Speaking earlier, chairman of conference of speakers of parliament Hon. Abdulmumin Ismaila Kamba commended Dogara’s exemplary leadership in the House.
Hon. Kamba called on the House to grant financial autonomy to the states assemblies and local government councils.
He reiterated the commitment of the state assemblies to expeditiously pass any constitution amendment bill that will be forwarded to them by the National Assembly.
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