By Yusuf Ishaku Goje
Kaduna state has been in the news for manifest reasons, made up of the tripod of the good, the bad and the ugly. In this regard, the good being the implementation of globally recommended reforms that has increased transparency, expanded the fiscal space, brought about rapid urbanization of infrastructure etc. While the bad could be attributed to the immediate impact of losses of jobs due to civil service reforms, loss of livelihoods as a result of urban renewal etc.
The ugly no doubt, remains the widespread insecurity, leading to deaths, destruction of properties, displacement and impoverishment of victims, due to huge ransom payments to kidnappers.
Nonetheless, one reform initiative being carried out by the government that has stood out, but has gotten little or no public scrutiny, is that of local government administration. Kaduna state has 23 local government areas (LGA) and 255 wards.
To buttress the significance attached to the third tier of government, it is said that if you, figuratively speaking, remove all the local government areas there is no state, as even the government house is situated in one. As the closest tier of government to the people, it is only appropriate to appraise all sides of the reforms. It would be understandable, if reactions to the reforms, as outlined below, are mixed.
This is against the backdrop that in 2018, Governor Nasir el-Rufai, headed the All-Progressive Congress (APC) True Federalism Committee, which recommended in its report that “LGA should be removed from the federal constitution and states be allowed to develop a local administrative system that is relevant and peculiar to each respective state.” The merit or otherwise of this contentious recommendation is a topic for another day, but should be noted it has a far-reaching effect on the success of ongoing reforms.
Looking at the good side of the ongoing reforms, one is quick to cite the enactment of the Local Government law in 2018 (which repealed the Local Government (Administration) law of 2012 as amended and others). The law returned to the presidential system where it makes provision for a legislative council made up of all elected councillors.
Commendably, in section 56, it mandates local governments to develop a culture of participatory governance. Furthermore, in sections 62, it compels the councils to ensure that at least 60% of its net revenue after statutory deductions is utilized in the development and provision of basic infrastructure and services.
It is important to stress that the ongoing reforms have strengthened the budgeting system and fiscal sustainability. Consequently, the capacity of local government budget and planning officers has substantially increased. The 2021 budget was developed using the local government charts of account in line with the National Charts of Account.
The introduction of the Community Development Charter (CDC), another milestone, has increased citizen’s involvement in the budget process. The reports from the civil society CDC influence tracker shows on average across the 23 LGAs – the CDC informs 50% of the local government budgets.
Another plus is the introduction of the Local Government Fiscal Transparency, Accountability & Sustainability (LFTAS), a performance-based program with attached financial incentives, which has gone a long way in strengthening many of the ongoing reforms. Over the past 2 years LGAs now hold annual budget town-hall meeting in line with section 72 of the Local Government Law, 2018.
Likewise, in anticipation of stepping down the Open Government Partnership (OGP) to the LGAs as captured in the State Action Plan (2018-2020), the Ministry for Local Government Affairs, Partnership to Engage, Reform & Learn (PERL) and Civil Society partners, are inaugurating and training technical working groups (made up of equal number of government and civil society actors) to institutionalize these reforms.
However, the bad side of the reforms exposes some of the blockages hindering the effective implementation of the reforms. The biggest gap so far is that some of the local government councils seem not to buy into many of the reforms such as the CDC, with many of them seeing it as a threat to their monopoly over project selections. During budget spending they end up prioritizing only projects they insert into the budget to the detriment of CDC projects.
Also, while the increase of minimum wage for local government staff on the directive of the state government is a welcome development, it has limited the capacity of many of the councils to invest in infrastructure and other social service.
Many of them are left with deficit after paying monthly salaries from statutory allocation, as their internally generated revenue is nothing to write home about. The inability of the state government to be consistent in remitting the statutory and mandatory 10% IGR (according to the Kaduna State Tax Law) to LGAs has not also helped matters.
For instance, according to the auditor-generals report, in 2019 the state government was to allocate ₦7,621,495,000.00 to the LGAs; but zero Naira was remitted. Also, there is delay in the process of payment of the LFTAS performance-based grants – even though recently the government made the disbursements.
The ugly side outlined here reflects the effect of some of the reforms, which even though looks logical, negatively affects the livelihoods of many – directly and otherwise. In 2017, the government sacked 4,042 local government staff across the 23 local government areas of the state. Out of which 3,159 staff among those disengaged had put in 10 years and were retired, while the remaining 893 had their jobs terminated for redundancy.
Just recently, the Governor also sacked all the Education Secretaries of the 23 Local Government Areas. Even at that some of them have alleged that they are yet to get their entitlements since 2018.
In all of this, we can say that tremendous progress has been made in strengthening transparency, accountability, citizen’s engagement and fiscal discipline in local government administration in Kaduna state. We have seen local government council chairmen that have taken ownership and become champions of these reforms. They include that of Jema’a, Lere, Kajuru and Zangon Kataf. This is based on the assessment of civil society partners during the inauguration of the Local Government Accountability Mechanism.
Nonetheless, the state government needs to ensure that all funds due to the LGAs are timely remitted to them. Also, the process of payment of entitlements to some of the sacked local government staff yet to receive theirs should be accelerated; and many of them should be considered in the various government-driven social protection interventions.
Furthermore, the legislative councils of the local governments need to be strengthened to ensure that they effectively carry out their responsibility of checks and balance. Lastly, it is evident that the councils would need political and financial autonomy to be able to drive the reforms to a logical conclusion.
Goje is the Head, Leadership, Governance & Advocacy of the Coalition of Associations of Leadership, Peace, Empowerment & Development (CALPED), Kaduna