By Dr. Fred Latimore Oghenesivbe
It is a well known fact that, in Delta State, the opposition political party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), has been relying extensively on the non-payment of local government workers salary arrears as the major propaganda and misinformation tool to shamefully garner support from Deltans and will continue to be their incurable focal point in campaigns and media politics as we coast towards 2019 election year.
Let me quickly state here and now that it is very unreasonable to deny any workman his wages, even the bible instructed us Christians never to owe workers their wages and in the same token enjoined the workman to serve his master diligently. This divine instruction is vital in prompt payment of salaries either in government or in the corporate world.
I am an advocate of Human Rights and it is proper and morally ideal for workers to be paid as at when due. It is suicidal to work and not able to meet one’s immediate family financial needs like School fees, feeding and other basic daily financial obligations. It can be very frustrating and on this note I truly feel the pains of the local government workers owed several months of salary arrears which is not the fault of Gov Okowa or Delta State government.
To set the records straight, we must now look into some relevant issues affecting the non-payment of local government workers salary arrears running into several months in Delta and in some other states across the country. In some states, we are aware that 10-20 months state workers salaries are unpaid talk less of local government workers. Therefore, it is not a problem exclusive to Delta State. We must get this very clear to understand the general overview of this article.
The local government council is the third tier of government recognized in the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFRN) 1999 as amended particularly in Section 7(1) that: “The system of local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every state shall, subject to Section 8 of this constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and function of such councils.” This Section of the constitution is very clear which is why the local government councils are clearly an independent tier of government saddled with vital functions and responsibilities in bringing development to the grassroots.
Now that we are done with the issue of the autonomy of local government as capture under Section 7(1) and Section 8 of the CFRN, we shall move on to examine the functions, duties and responsibilities of local government councils in Nigeria under the Fourth Schedule of the 1999 CFRN which include the following: Fourth Schedule 1(b) collection of rates, radio and television licenses; (c) establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm; (d) licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically-propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts; (e) establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences; (f) construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities as maybe prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a state; (g) naming of roads and streets, and numbering of houses.
Other functions in the fourth schedule are; (h) provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal; (i) registration of all births, deaths and marriages; assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such fees as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State; and (k) control and regulation of; (i) out-door advertising and hoarding; (ii) movement and keeping of pets of all descriptions; (iii) shops and kiosks; (iv) restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public, (v) laundries, and (vi) licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor.
Apart from the above exclusive functions of local government councils, there are other prime responsibilities and functions which shall include participation in the government of a state in matters such as; (a) the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; (b) the development of agriculture and natural resources other than the exploitation of minerals; (c) the provision and maintenance of health services; and (d) such other functions as may be conferred on a local government council by the House of Assembly of the State.
It can be seen from the last leg of the above functions of local government councils that they are in charge of the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education within their local jurisdiction but the state government in its wisdom decided to intervene in ensuring that primary education do not suffer unnecessarily in the hands of some unscrupulous council Chairmen who prefers to build petrol stations, build high rise mansions and other private investments with council funds meant for the local education sector and other vital areas such as agriculture and social welfare packages for our royal fathers.
These are some of the essential areas where state governments across the country have been accused of interfering with council funds. This decision was taken after cases of mismanagement of teachers’ salaries and inability to adequately provide for royal fathers as at when due became so embarrassing and unacceptable. It is hoped that the state and local government Chairmen will continue to partner in this direction to bring sanity in governance at local levels without interfering with the autonomy of local government as the third tier of government recognized under the constitution.
The constitution stipulated some concurrent functions between federal and state governments and in the same vein spelt out some State and Local Government concurrent functions which include the following; primary education, agriculture, health and any other function or functions that may be conferred on local government by the House of Assembly of a State. This provision is the reason why local government councils and their elected executives must never be idle, waiting for federal allocation to function. They must invest locally in agriculture and rake substantial profits which can be used to meet other financial obligations of staff welfare, payment of salaries, et al.
The state government or Gov Okowa cannot think or develop leadership strategies for the Council Chairmen. They must be proactive and display substantial level of competence and be able to fulfill their electioneering promises to the people within their local jurisdiction. This is very important. To blame the state or Gov Okowa is to accept gross incompetence and lack of visionary leadership.
As can be seen from the numerous duties, functions and responsibilities of local governments, it follows that Chairmen of local councils and their elected counselors must be proactive and creative to a reasonable extent so as to be able to look inward to generate substantial revenue to provide essential social amenities and develop the grassroots. They must of a necessity craft revenue generation strategies that will not inflict financial pains and burden on the people while at the same time doing the needful to impact on the lives of the people at the grassroots in various communities within their local jurisdiction.
The joint state and local government account is meant to ensure that local councils do not recklessly squander resources meant for grassroots development. It was abolished in the 80s and re-introduced in 1999 to ensure some level of accountability but this has been substantially abused by some state governors who short-changed their local councils thereby making them financially handicap. However, this cannot be said of the Okowa administration widely commended for prudent management of state financial resources. The governor must not look at one direction to the detriment of others. The little financial resources available is for all Deltans which is why the council chairmen and their team must wake up to prevailing socioeconomic challenges to provide good governance at their local levels. They can do this through strategic involvement in agriculture, revenue generation, staff audit and others.
The major cause of the huge backlog of local council salary arrears is due to the paucity of funds from federal revenue allocation due to states and local governments. Delta State is worse hit by the fall in prices of oil coupled with decline in oil export from Delta due to vandalization of oil pipelines occasioned by genuine agitation by Niger Deltans for the overall development of the oil producing region.
The unfortunate development in low oil and gas production downgraded Delta State from number oil producing state to a highly regrettable number four, the current position. We believe God that in the coming months our oil production will increase so as to restore the state to its rightful number one oil producing state. With God, all things are possible.
We are also aware that there are thousands of ghost workers in both state and local government workforce, a problem that must be tackled to save huge funds for payment of genuine workers and for grassroots development. Gross under utilization of local and state government workers is another problem. In some council, majority of the workers don’t come to work. They are fully engaged in other commercial activities but continue to earn full salaries and other financial entitlements at the expense of state and local governments. Once these problems are dealt with through staff biometric audit and local governments are able to craft result oriented revenue drive coupled with prudent and transparent management of financial resources, the problem of inability to pay staff salaries and grassroots development will be a thing of the past. Proactive leadership is therefore urgently needed at the local government level and the time for Chairmen and their local Excos to put on their thinking cap is now.
To blame Gov Okowa and the state government over non-payment of local government salaries is a typical display of gross incompetence in the sense that local government councils have been granted wide autonomy in the area of revenue generation to meet operational and other costs required to be viable and relevant in nation building. We are told that most of the revenues generated at the council levels are diverted to private bank accounts. This must be checked to make local government in Delta Sate more viable. It is unacceptable for local councils to fold their hands and wait for the little financial allocation from federal government. Wake up to your responsibilities and stop the blame game. Local governments are independent as captured in the constitution. Craft brilliant socioeconomic ideas, implement them and breakthrough is sure.
The opposition political parties, particularly the APC (which is now out of stock in our chemists) must look outside the issue of non-payment of council workers salary arrears and the fake Urhobo interest if they must go far and clinch second or third position in the forthcoming general elections in Delta State.
Dr Barrister Fred Latimore Oghenesivbe, is an Executive Assistant (Communications) to the Governor of Delta State.