In the ‘fifties and soon after Nigeria’s Independence, when the old County Councils existed in our part of the country, one could sincerely talk about the councils being the third tier of the administration with the Federal and the Regional Governments constituting the first and second tiers respectively.
In those days, one practically felt the presence of the local county councils. They awarded scholarships to deserving pupils; they ensured that the environment was clean and had Sanitary Inspectors to enforce it by visiting homes. Appropriate sanctions were meted out to those who defaulted. Roads were maintained all year round.
Primary Schools were spruced up. Flower hedges adorned every School compound. Court messengers were a terror to all who showed criminal tendencies.
Here in Eastern Nigeria, who cared about far away regional capital ofEnuguor the Federal capital ofLagosfor that matter?
They became important only at election time when aspirants campaigned for our votes to send them to either the Eastern House of Assembly or the Federal House of Representatives.
Hospitals and Health Centres were well equipped. Chairmen, Treasurers and secretaries of the County Councils were real “big men” with honour and integrity.
They related directly with the colonial District Officers (D.O’s) beforeIndependencein 1960, and with Provincial Commissioners, soon after.
All of the time, the populace had precious little to do with both Regional and Federal Ministers.
Many notable families in Igboland today are scions of those who functioned in the Local County Councils either as Chairmen, Secretaries, Treasurers, Interpreters to the European D.O’s andADO’s, as well as Court Messengers and Sanitary Inspectors.
Even labourers and road workers of those days received their wages and salaries as, and when due.
Pensioners rejoiced and let off gun shots or Cannon shots on retirement and received their entitlements promptly.
Local government employees were indeed an elite group and were proud to serve at whatever capacity.
Today, what we have as the third tier Local Government Area Councils are mere glorified conduit pipes for States Chief Executives who think nothing of the people they are supposed to govern.
In fact Local Governments and whatever impacts they exerted on the so-called grass roots disappeared with the military regimes that had featured inNigeriasince the first coup of 1966 until their final exit in 1999.
Without any doubts, real governance at the local government level has been a big joke inNigeriasince General Olusegun Obasanjo was maneuvered out of prison to ruleNigeriaagain as civilian Chief.
The internet monitored debacle at Jos in 1998, when former Vice President Alex Ifeanyi Ekwueme was conspiratorially robbed of Presidential nomination by the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, a party he virtually created, set the stage for official corruption that has trailed our country like a faithful dog.
What started at Jos was soon concluded atAbujawith the swearing-in of Obasanjo as President after a manipulated election.
The PDP recreated its act in the States and installed who it would as Governors wherever it could.
Thanks to the Western States that showed guts.
The Governor refused to organize Local Government elections.
They simply hand picked care taker teams that were beholden to them.
The governors filched Local Government federal allocations at will.
Their appointees merely reported at the Government House and picked up their cheques to enable them pay staff salaries, look after the DPO’s and SSS personnel in their areas and, maybe “see” some godfathers.
Grassroots development was forgotten. Roads were neglected. Health Centres were left to care for themselves.
Local Government headquarters became mere skeletons with demoralized employees who received their salaries only when the Chairmen bothered to pay them, usually part payment of arrears that have built up.
So, the so-called third tier has ceased to function in the manner stipulated by the Constitution that every body is quoting nowadays.
ImoState, Governor Owelle Rochas Okorocha is virtually introducing a paradigm shift by his Community Government Council.
From all that he has said so far to explain his intentions, and from all that Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Dr. Obinna Duruji, has laboured so brilliantly to expatiate, the bottom line is that those high hopes and expectations of the people from their Local Councils that had not been fulfilled, are now brought home to the Communities where they are condemned to succeed.
From the assured success of the Rochas experiment, our legislators atAbujamight wish to invite their colleagues toImoStateto see the proper “third tier” in action.
One fine day, the framers and amenders of the Constitution might reconcile Imo system with what is in the books and decide accordingly.
Since the Local Governments have failed woefully to live up to their biddings, the Communities could as well do the job. This time it is difficult to contemplate failure.