As part of its programme of citizen engagement with government officials, the Institute for Innovations in Development with support from the Ford Foundation convened a civil society-legislature dialogue on “Improving the Quality of Local Governance in the South East” on the 2nd of December, 2015. The dialogue brought together legislators, civil society organizations and academics to deliberate on salient issues on the quality of local government in the Zone.
The following major observations were made by the dialogue:
- There is lack of clarity in the meaning of the existence of Local Governments as the “third tier” of government in Nigeria;
- That there is generally poor democratic practice at the local government level in the South East, and particularly low level of direct participation of people in local governance and minimal accountability of local government officials to citizens;
- That local governments do not leverage the enormous human resources available in localities in the South East such as community based organizations, faith based organizations, Town Unions and skilled retired public servants for the purpose of developing their areas;
- There is a general adversarial relationship between legislators and civil society organizations in the South East, thereby engendering inadequate collaboration between them on critical issues of governance;
- There is widespread opaqueness in financial matters in local governments;
- State Executives, especially Governors are overbearing on both the legislature and local governments, thus stifling the relative autonomy of both and undermining the quality of governance at the local level; and
- Most State governments often sequester the funds of local governments, while not contributing their share to the JAAC, thus denying local governments the capacity to carry out the functions enshrined in the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The Dialogue resolved to initiate a process of collaboration between civil society and legislators in the South East to vigorously pursue the following in the next one year as irreducible minimum for improving local governance in the South East:
- Work towards producing a Model Local Government Law for the South East to institutionalize general best practice while preserving the uniqueness of each State. The model should be a basis for amending existing local government laws in the five States of the South East Zone.
- Increase popular participation in governance process through involvement of Community Based Organizations (CBOs), Faith Based Organizations (FBOs), and Town Unions, among others.
- Utilize the skills of retired public servants to improve local governance
- The Association of Speakers of South East Houses of Assembly should continue the discussion on improving the local government affairs in the South East. They should involve Civil Society Organizations and academia in the discussions. Civil Society Organizations in collaboration with the Legislature should facilitate the dialogue.
- Strongly recommend the establishment of a South East State Legislators’ Forum (SELF) to articulate common positions and build synergies on issues of governance and development of the South East Zone.
- Houses of Assembly should have liaison officers to liaise with civil society on issues of governance and development, including local government. This will help facilitate collaboration and understanding between local governments, CSOs and the citizenry for accountability in LGAs in the region.
- The capacity of Local government councillors should be strengthened to make them more effective in carrying out their oversight functions.
- South East political leadership should encourage further decentralization of power through town unions and other CSOs in order to ensure a vibrant system of local government in the South East.
- There is need to ensure financial stability of local governments and their relative autonomy in financial matters. This should include direct remittances of funds accruing to local governments and the proper functioning of the State Local Government JAAC.
- Strengthen accountability mechanisms for local government. This should include at least some of the following:
- Strengthen Local Government audit mechanisms, including the office of the Auditor-General of the local government, as well as create avenues for effective participation of communities in project monitoring and evaluation
- Strengthen the capacity of local communities to demand for accountability in the local government system.
- Encourage regular consultation between local government officials and communities for the purpose of open governance.
- Institute a reward system for local governments that are highly rated for accountability and sanction unaccountable ones.
- To ensure the actualization of the spirit of Section 7 (1) of the 1999 constitution the following were recommended by the Dialogue:
- Efforts should be made to make State Independent electoral Commissions (SIECs) truly independent and financially autonomous of the State Government.
- Reducing the likelihood of using Care-Taker Committees and Task Forces to run local government affairs
- Encourage direct democracy in the local governments by devising means of direct meaningful participation by ordinary citizens in their affairs.
Adopted and issued in Enugu, Enugu State, Nigeria, 2nd December, 2015.