THE FISCAL AUTONOMY AND SERVICE DELIVERY IN NIGERIAN LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: A CASE STUDY OF SELECTED LOCAL GOVERNMENTS IN AKWA IBOM STATE BETWEEN 2007 AND 2015
1.1 Background to the Study
Racism is a way to gain economic advantages at the expense or others. Slavery and plantations may be gone, but racism still allows us to regard those who may keep us from financial gain as less than equals – Alveda kings (www.brainyquotes.com/quotes/authors/a/alveda-king.html).
The only way you will ever permanently take control of your financial life is to dig deep and fix the root problem – suze Orman (www.brainyquotes.com/quotes/authors/s/suze-orman.html).
Ideally, fiscal autonomy to the three tiers of government in a federated country like Nigeria suppose to be synonymous with fiscal federalism fiscal equity, fiscal independence among its federating units. However, the Nigerian situation generally and that of Akwa Ibom State in particular seem to be more of racism as portrayed in the quotes above, hence the need to dig dip and fix its root problem for possible solution through a research of this kind.
Invariably, Nigeria as a federal state made up of three tiers of governments has delegated the constitutional assignment of responsibilities to each of the tiers in both the exclusive and concurrent lists with financial burden (Edame, 2004:249).unfortunately, due to the about eighty (80) per cent financial dependent nature of the federating units (states and local governments) on the federal government, those units become financially vulnerable, or what Edame calls “unviable political entities”. This problem is found to be more peculiar to local governments; and worsened by the unnecessary interferences or excessive control by the state governments.
Notably, the control of local governments in Nigeria by national and state governments is not only as old as the system itself, it also borders most significantly on fiscal policies. For instance, during the colonial rule, local government control, done through the deconcentrated agents of regional governments -the Residents, left no room for the local populace to contribute anything except their dues and taxes into the coffers of the colonial masters (Awofeso, 2004:66). The native authorities (as local administration was then called) were at the mercy of the Residents- who made and implemented policies to suit the whims and caprices of their boss at the expense of the local people’s developmental well-being (Awofeso, 2004:127). In short, the idea of fiscal autonomy, or the likes, appeared unimaginable then.
However, with the assiduous and relentless struggle for political independence in the 1950s by the nationalists, local authorities (in the Eastern and Western part of Nigeria) enjoyed impressive and unprecedented political and fiscal autonomy. Interestingly, the present Ikot Ekpene Local Government in the study area, was used in the whole of West Africa as experimental ground to test its workability. Its success led to the Western part of Nigeria borrowing a leave in 1952 (Ibok and Tom, 2010:33). Regrettably, this arrangement was grossly abused by the managers in less than three (3) years and was accordingly withdrawn by the higher authorities (Awofeso, 2004:128-129). Since then, till date, further attempts to run this level of governance, with fiscal autonomy for effective and efficient service delivery, have continued to produce same negative results. Accordingly, Adamelokun and Laleye (1988:30-31) noted that inspite of the erosion of the “splendid sense of local identity that characterized native or Local authorities in the past”, and “the obvious deficiencies of the methods of choice of local councilors and council chairmen, the system did not work too badly” during the parliamentary system of 1960 through 1966.
Moreso, with the military take-over in 1966, functions earlier performed by local authorities were taken over by higher authorities: the local government police and prisons services were taken over by the federal government, while public water, primary and secondary education went to the states (Awofeso, 2004). Also, at the end of the civil war in 1970, state governments, in lieu of fiscal or financial autonomy to local governments, penetrated the grassroots through their deconcentrated agencies to render development oriented services and functions to the people (Awofeso, 2004). This system, to Ofoeze (2003:120), was not local government, as council officials did not emerge through election by the local populace, let alone fiscal autonomy.
However, following the 1976 local government reform, local government was once more accorded both political and financial recognition. Both the federal and state governments were by law required to allocate ten (10) per cent of the federation account and State Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) to local governments. To further strengthen both democratic and fiscal autonomy of local government, the federal government saw the need to increase its statutory allocation from ten (10) per cent to fifteen (15) per cent in 1989 and later to twenty (20) per cent in 1992. To this effect also was the policy of direct payment of the revenues into local governments accounts (Awofeso, 2004:98-99).
Unfortunately, and as in the early 1950s, corrupt practices of political leaders, this time at all levels in Nigeria became apparent, and local governance became the only “scape-goat” brought under absolute control by higher powers. Historical accounts also show that inspite of all the reforms, initiated policies and programmes of successive governments in Nigeria and Akwa Ibom State in particular, including that of Governor Akpabio’s predecessor, Governor Victor Attah, who assented the first local government law made by Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly in 2003 (Offiong 2006:46), local government challenges remain unresolved, much more compounded, and complex by the day. Local governments become platforms of abandoned projects, “money- sharing” or looting of public funds et cetera; and due to poor service delivery at this level, the bore-hole theory becomes prominent.
As a collaboration to the above view, Ibok et al (2010:84) posit that over the years, attempt by federal and state governments to float programmes using special agencies like River Basin Development Authority (RBDA), State Universal Basic Education Board (SUBEB), Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs), Akwa Ibom State Rural Water Project (AK-RUWATSAN) and Akwa Ibom Investment Company (APIICO) just to mention but a few, without due respect for and or collaboration with local government, had almost always contributed to the failure of such programmes.
The authors also join other observers to decry the ambiguous or rather detrimental constitutional “role granted state government as arbitrators or umpires for local government in matters of statutory allocation such as: state – local government joint account empowerment of the Governor to dissolve crisis-ridden local council and also removal of erring chairman/councilors and appoint administrator or care-taker committee to pilot the affairs of such council”. Consequently, that provision during Governor Akpabio’s first tenure in office led to abrupt removal of the then chairman of Ikot Abasi local government area. At the same time, Akpabuyo local government council in Cross Rivers State stood dissolved (Ibok et al, 2010:87). The source, in conjunction with Osinachi (2003:180) also noted that section 7 (1) of the 1999 constitution which reads:
The system of local government by democratically elected 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 functions of such councils (The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Vol. 86, No.27, Lagos),
prompted Nasarawa and Lagos states to create new local government areas later refused recognition by the federal government. Other states which attempted creation of local government areas based on provisions of section 7 (2), 8 (3) (4) (5) and (6) of the same constitution were: Yobe, Ebonyi, Bayelsa, and Katsina (Offiong, 2006:46). In reaction, Lagos state challenged the refusal at the court to no avail.
Notably, most of the earlier mentioned programmes of higher authorities were single unit like agriculture, water or housing; but the Akpabio IMDLCC adopted near holistic or comprehensive approach for health, education, electricity water et cetrea at the same time. However, judging from increasing hunger, poverty, unemployment, decay of villages, towns and cities et cetera in Akwa Ibom State, Tamino, (2000:144 in Udoh, 2013), posits that instead of such seemingly wonderfully orchestrated policies serving as panacea for the perennial challenges at the local areas, it generates controversies calling for fiscal autonomy to the local governments to discharge its statutory functions efficiently as practised in other countries of the world; or the local government system be completely scrapped as it appears to be serving primarily political interest of few politicians to the detriment of the poor masses.
Worthy of mention at this point is the seeming contrary views of some authors who see the operational rules of the entire system of local government as being contrary to the spirit of democracy. Such scholars accuse local government of horizontal division as opposed to democracy where individuals are supposed to “have direct contact with the authorities rather than through intermediaries” (Awofeso, 2004:39-40). Whatever the case, the issue of direct contact with the authority here best suits fiscal autonomy for governance at the grassroots than any other level of authority.
It is therefore the intention of this researcher to expand the frontiers of knowledge by inter-alia investigating the extent to which the tool of fiscal autonomy on Nigerian local governments could serve as the best means of rendering to the rural people the needed proficient service delivery for the populace in Nigeria generally, and Akwa Ibom State in particular.
In the same vein, the researcher will examine some of the key factors responsible for repeated abuses of local government fiscal autonomy in Akwa Ibom State in particular and Nigeria in general, and with a view to proffering possible solution.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Fiscal autonomy in local governments is generally believed to be the best tool for effective and efficient service delivery in rural areas of federated countries like Nigeria. In other words, with adequate funding, due process and accountability (devoid of excessive control by higher authorities – federal and or state government), local governments stand to serve best in the provision of basic social amenities like portable water, electricity, education, health-care service, recreational facilities to their respective communities. By so doing, the system could have inter-alia prevented rural-urban migration and its attendant socio-economic, political and environmental ills- inculcating in the people an ownership spirit toward national development.
However, due to some known and unknown factors which this research is set to confirm and or discover, the system appears to have become a mirage in spite of several calls and reforms to that effect. The situation seems so bad that the more the higher authorities try to intervene through reforms and programmes, the more such attempts attract public suspicion and condemnation. A typical example is the all-time-many projects executed by the immediate past administration of Governor Godswill Obot Akpabio across the thirty-one (31) local government areas of the state through the Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Coordinating Committee (IMDLCC). Contrary to the expected, most members of the Akwa Ibom general public seem to perceive the mentioned programme as not only a ploy to continually deny this level of governance its statutory fiscal autonomy, but also as safe haven for misappropriation of public funds and strengthening of political patronage base, to the detriment of the poor rural masses.
Accordingly, available sources also reveal that Akwa Ibom State, under this circumstance in 2010, had the third highest poverty rate of 27.1 per cent in the South south zones; 63 per cent of the entire population considered ‘poor’ with 53.6 per cent in US$1 a day; second highest unemployment state in the zones with 25.8 per cent; continuous increase in unemployment rate (from 18.2 per cent in 2005 to 18.4 per cent in 2011), especially amongst the vulnerable groups like Youths, Women, Handicapped persons, Aged persons and Orphans); prevalence of HIV/AIDS (from 8.0 per cent in 2005 to 10.9 per cent in 2011)
. gov.ng,20/11/12 in Udoh (2013).
In the same vein, scholars further raise the curiosity of stakeholders by positing that, due to lack of due process and accountability, mere spending of annual budget on infrastructure as done in Akwa Ibom State by Akpabio administration (80 per cent, far above the internationally recommended 70 per cent minimum for capital development) in lieu of local governments’ fiscal autonomy, has not always contributed to much service delivery that is of benefit to the poor (Jerome, 2006:16, Eminue, 2009:311). To this end, Mahajan (2006:599) posits that:
We cannot realize the full benefit of democratic government unless we begin by the admission that all problems are not central problems and that the results of problems not central in their incidence require decision at the place and by the persons where and by whom the incidence is most deeply felt.
Notwithstanding the fact that most of the aforementioned postulations depict intuition and figments of political imagination without any known empirical investigation to further substantiate those claims, there are apparent dissatisfaction, differences, doubts, claims and counter claims with attendant adverse effect on the citizens on one hand, and the government of Akwa Ibom State on the other; hence the apparent need for this research to highlight the import of fiscal autonomy in enhancing services delivery as a way of realizing the goals of local government administration.
To this end, the following research questions guided this study.
- How does lack of fiscal autonomy bring about poor service delivery in local councils of Akwa Ibom State and Nigeria?
- To what extent is insufficient funds directly related to poor service delivery in rural areas of the state?
- To what extent is poor leadership in local councils of the state an impediment to effective and efficient service delivery in the rural areas of Akwa Ibom State?
- How different was service delivery of fiscal autonomy situation of 1987-1993 from the non-fiscal autonomy situations of 2007-2015?
- How could challenges of fiscal autonomy be resolved to meet service delivery needs efficiently in the local government areas of the state?
1.4. Objectives of the Study
(i) Main Objective
To find out why most local governments in Nigeria in general and Akwa Ibom State in particular are unable to acquire fiscal autonomy toward effective and efficient service delivery with a view to highlighting problem for possible solution.
(ii) Specific Objectives
- To assess the extent to which lack of fiscal autonomy brings about poor service delivery in rural areas of Akwa Ibom State.
- To examine the extent to which insufficient funds enhances poor service delivery in rural areas of the state.
- To examine the extent to which poor leadership in local councils of the state tends to bring about poor service delivery in its rural areas.
- To describe the extent to which service delivery of 1987-1993 was different from that of 2007-2015.
- To proffer solution to challenges of the subject matter by way of recommendations
- Lack of fiscal autonomy tends to bring about poor service delivery in local councils of Akwa Ibom State.
- Insufficient funds tend to enhance poor service delivery in rural areas of the state.
- Poor leadership in local councils in Akwa Ibom State tends to bring about poor service delivery in rural areas of the state.
1.6 Significance of the Study
The overall significance of this study to Akwa Ibom people and the larger society lies in its chances of proffering enduring solution to the age-long controversies surrounding actions and or inactions of higher authorities vis-à-vis local council governance. This stands to be possible as the study has exposed some of the hidden agenda of government and constraints that preclude the functionality of government(s) for the general good of all the stakeholders. It will enable the promulgation of necessary law to checkmate the excesses of leaders and enhance a robust democratic relationship between and amongst stakeholders.
Finally, this study will assist as blueprint and strategy of policy formulation, implementation, and evaluation to governments, academics, analysts as it will check a dearth of literature and stimulate further studies on the subject matter or its related areas.