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Wrestling LGs from the pockets of governors: A daunting task for ‘Babalawo’ or mission possible?

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By Oludare Mayowa

For the uninitiated, Babalawo is the appellation of the suspended chairman of the Ijebu East local government of Ogun State, Wale Adedayo. His present battle with his state governor, Dapo Abiodun, was not his first against the governor of his state, and if God spares him, it may not be his last either.

Adedayo was well known for his political reporting while in full-time journalism; maybe that was the reason he eventually joined politics. His allure for controversy has no secondary level; for him, controversy seems to be like oxygen, without which he may not thrive successfully.

From his day in journalism as political editor in the Punch, his writing has always attracted controversial reactions, but he sure knows how to balance it to stay out of trouble.

His stint as the chief press secretary to the then Ogun state governor, now a senator of the Federal Republic, Gbenga Daniel, was short-lived because he later fell out with the governor, and what followed thereafter in the form of a battle royal is now history.

Perhaps it was his experience with Daniel’s administration that made him decide to contest as a local government chairman rather than entangle himself as a political appointee, where he would be subjected to taking orders from a superior.

In spite of his experience as a political reporter, he must have forgotten to remember that local government is an appendage of the state chief executive, and the chairman of the third tier of government is subject to taking directives from their state chief executives regardless of what the constitution says about that level of government.

Initially, he was on good terms with his governor, who was responsible for his being picked as a candidate of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) to contest the local government election, and his winning that election was through the grace of the sitting governor of the state.

Elections to local governments are usually written by the state chief executives, regardless of what the ballot reads at the polls. In fact, many citizens of the state are usually unaware that elections are held for local governments. Such elections are done within the circle of the ruling political party, while the opposition simply watches from the sidelines without a whimper.

READ ALSO: Abiodun and Adedayo: When emotion takes the place of logical thinking

So, when Adedayo wrote in his famous letter to the leader of the APC in Ogun and a former governor of the state, Olusegun Osoba, that the sitting governor, Abiodun, diverted allocations to local governments, including palliative allocations to them, it was obvious that things had fallen apart between the two.

However, the subsequent drama that followed the state executive response to the letter was another political novelty that has always characterized political players across the divide.

First was the coming together of 18 out of 20 chairmen of local governments in the state to apologize to the governor for the ‘insolence’ of one of them in challenging him for holding on to their federal allocations.

For them, Adedayo ‘is a children’ (apologies to Madam Peace Jonathan, our former amiable first lady, whom we are still missing her drama till date). who does not know what he was doing or saying. Sorry, I digress. They practically threw him under the truck for the sake of their survival because therein lies their ability to retain their positions.

They unequivocally declared that the governor did not withhold their funds; rather, he was actually helping them to survive as the third level of government. They denied the allegation that the state government had been diverting their funds, resulting in zero allocation to them.

While speaking during the visit to the governor, where the now popular ‘dobale fa gba’ was crooned by the 18 LG chairmen, the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) Chairman in the state, Emilola Kazal, told the governor that the visit was to acknowledge the mistakes that were made and to beg for forgiveness.

Kazal acknowledged that the governor had at no time interfered in the distribution and sharing of local government funds from the federation account.

In his response, Abiodun parroted his role in “ensuring that we are all successful when you were contesting either at the primary level or at the general elections’ and denied the allegations of diverting local government funds.

However, from the explanations of the state government, it was obvious that money meant for the third tier of government in the state is being ‘managed’ for them by the state executive. According to the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Tokunbo Talabi, the state spent N1.8 billion executing projects in local governments in the state.

To date, many states have refused to conduct elections at the local government level and have chosen to appoint caretaker chairmen to run the affairs of the third tier of government in their state. This was to enable them to control the finances of the local governments in the manner they wished.

Efforts by the last administration to ensure the full autonomy of the third tier of government by way of constitutional amendment ended in futility as the state houses of assemblies declined to adopt the provision in the constitution.

Today, many local governments are not able to attract the right caliber of people to contest elections or manage their affairs because of the shenanigans of the governors, who have retarded the growth of local governments in their respective states.

In many cases, the governors dissolve the local governments and terminate their tenure at will while appointing whosoever suits their whims and caprices, who would not have the guts to challenge them in the ways and manner in which their funds are managed.

Adedayo’s move was the first of its kind in recent times by any local government chairman to openly challenge his governor for diverting money meant for the local government. However, analysts are wondering if he would be able to withstand the repercussions of his daring action against the established practice of state governors.

Already, Adedayo has been suspended at the behest of his state governor, and speculations are rife that the Department of State Security (DSS) is after him with the intent to arrest him. Obviously, those whom Adedayo was trying to protect and free from the shackles of the state would be the same ones that would be unleashed on him to cause him political, economic, and social pain.

Those local government chairmen that went to ‘dobale’ for the governor are the same behind the scenes who complain to their people about how there is no money to deploy for developmental purposes within their territory, but because of the desperation to retain their positions, which in actual fact they do not merit, they went behind to lick the boots of their governors.

For Wale Adedayo, though he was not new to such battles, and hopefully this time around, he is ready to withstand the backlash from his own people, the so-called commoners in the local government who are willing to betray him for a portage and queue behind the governor against him when the chips are down.

Nigerians need to speak with one voice to ensure that local government administrations are extricated from the grip of the governors and allowed to perform the functions for which they were created.

In other countries, local governments are closer to the people and more effective in passing down the impact and effect of government policies without overburdening the federal or state with the basic amenities needed to make life easier at that level of government.

Therefore, Nigerians, including the civil society group, should rise to the occasion to ensure that local governments across the length and breadth of Nigeria receive the autonomy they deserve.

Would Adedayo be the expected Messiah to finally ensure the liberation of the local governments and ensure that they obtain the needed freedom to play their assigned role in the development of the country by bringing governance nearer to the people, or should we wait for another day and another person to spearhead the battle? Time will surely tell.

(Contact; omayowa@globalfinancialdigest.com; Newsroom: +234 8033 964 138)

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