Lagos deserves special grants from FG – Oshun
Olanrewaju Oshun is the Chairman of the Lagos State House of Assembly Committee on Local Government Administration and Chieftaincy Affairs. He recently led other members of his committee on a tour to all the 57 councils in Lagos State. In this interview with some journalists, the lawmaker spoke on some challenges faced by the state. Excerpts:
There is this feeling that local governments hide under the Federal Government and the state governments not to perform, would you say this is true?
That is not true. The Federal and state governments have their own functions, the local governments have their own, people are just being mischievous. Under the constitution of Nigeria, there is what is called exclusive list, the federal government has some powers, and nobody can touch their powers. In Nigeria, we have three types of roads, that of the Federal Government, state government and the local governments roads. So, the Federal government has to maintain their own roads, there is nothing the local governments can do on federal roads. Normally, there are some federal roads that the state governments should not touch, but because they are affecting the lives of our people, we decided to do these roads. Federal roads should be done by the Federal Government likewise state roads and local government roads, everybody should do his roads. So, if we are saying this is federal road, how do you expect a local government to jump into it and start doing it, it’s not possible. It is wrong to state that they hide under federal or state government not to work, what is out of their purview should not be given to them.
Can you enlighten the people on some of the duties of local governments?
It is the duty of every government to make sure that the people are well-taken care of. The duties have been divided: we have those of the Federal Government, the ones for the state governments and the duties of local governments. If you are talking of motor parks or markets, they are all under the local governments and they do their job, they do what is expected of them. But, if you are talking of other things for instance, Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) is being run by the state government in agreement with the local governments. Until we begin to look at the agreements, we may not understand, if you are talking of security or communication, and so many other things, they are under the Federal Government; even the state governments cannot do anything about them. If you talk about the poor service from telecommunication providers, it is under the Federal Government; even the state government cannot do anything about it. What we need in this country is education, many people don’t know what is happening, we need education, and we need to let them know, people you think should know don’t know. Even educated people don’t know what the local governments should do, imagine them asking us legislators to provide schools, roads, water for them! It is not our duty.
When a community is springing up, they are supposed to have some things. Let us give example of a place like Ahoyaya in Lekki-Epe Road; they have only one primary school, which even belongs to missionaries. You need to see how the place is, primary healthcare centre is not there, no market, road is another problem there. What is the duty of the local government in bringing about development?
I am not going to be specific on that, because when you say there is only one school in that area, I am not sure of that, but we will work on it and do our investigation and I can assure you, if it is true, we will work on it. But generally, when you talk of primary school, it is under the local government, when you talk of healthcare, a local government could build health centres and they could run it. Also, the state government provides hospitals and in some cases, we have federal hospitals like the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), you can see that for health, all of them are involved. So, if a community is coming up, the local government would provide what it can within its reasonable means, you need to understand that the main problem of local governments in Lagos State today is funds. If the funding is good, they would do more, the local governments are trying their best. It might not be enough because Lagos State is a cosmopolitan state; it is the only state you can call Nigeria because there is no state in the country that is not represented in Lagos. Just take any community you like, you can be rest assured that people from all the states in Nigeria would be there even if it is small. The population of Lagos is the highest in Nigeria; it is a state that the federal government should not abandon. There should be something special the Federal Government must be doing for the state. If you move the capital of Nigeria to Abuja, you cannot move the people to Abuja, that is the case. There must be a special grant for Lagos. People are talking about 30 per cent derivation for the oil producing states in Nigeria, there should be 30 per cent derivation for Lagos State for the sea, 80% of what comes into Nigeria comes through Apapa Port and Tin Can Island Port, and that means they use Lagos parks, and Lagos roads. If you bring some goods to Nigeria through the ports and the goods are going to Kano or Kaduna, they go through Lagos roads, and LASTMA officials, who are being paid by the Lagos State Government. Local governments in Lagos are doing well; they cannot do enough because of the population of the state and the number of the people in the areas. Ahoyaya and others can never have enough schools because people come to Lagos everyday, many of them don’t even have families in Lagos. With what is happening in Lagos today, the federal government should not abandon Lagos, it is the mirror of Nigeria. If you go outside the country, the first thing people talk about is Lagos, not Abuja. That is why people would say if you come to Nigeria without coming to Lagos, you have not come to Nigeria. You are lucky to have good leaders in Lagos, when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was there, he laid the foundation, Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola is building on it and whoever would take over from him would continue with the trend. The Federal Government cannot afford to abandon Lagos.
What are the challenges you encounter in monitoring projects and developments in the local councils?
I don’t think there is any major problem. If you are asking me the problems encountered by local governments to deliver the dividends of democracy to their people, I would say funds. But if you are asking me the problems my committee or the House of Assembly encounters in monitoring local councils, there is none. I can tell you we have gone round the 57 local governments and LCDAs twice in the last one year. The only thing we can talk about is the stress of going round all the local governments, considering the roads and all that. I would tell you it is a thing I enjoy as it gives me an opportunity to know Lagos. I have gone through all the nooks and crannies of Lagos and I enjoy it.
What of the grey areas? Is it because it is a one party state that you are saying all is well in the councils?
You are mixing it up; you are talking about the problems we encounter in going round the councils as a committee. I said there is none and that we enjoy it, there was no stress. But, if you ask about our findings, there are no loopholes, we push the local council chairmen to work hard, and we go to some places and tell them they can do better. In some places, we correct them about their system of collecting Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and they improve, not that they are fraudulent, but they are advised to block loopholes as they give some of the jobs to consultants. We go to site to see their projects, and let them know that the experts cannot do the jobs without supervision. As we are monitoring them, the governor is also monitoring them, he is looking at what they are doing through a monitoring team and the Ministry of Local Government as well as the Accountant General of Local Governments that monitor their accounts, the house of assembly is there. There is no room for them not to perform; you need to understand that the population of Lagos is much. You will add five or six states together to get the population of Lagos. We are about 21 million people in Lagos whereas some states are only three million. The governor is pushing everybody to work and to improve our IGR so that Lagos can compete with major cities of the world such as London, Paris and New York. The mistake we keep making is that we keep blaming our leaders, but you can contribute your own quota too as a Lagosian. The United States of America did not get to where they are today because they left it to their leaders, it is great because they all believe it is their country and they must make it great.
How often do you pay unscheduled visits to these councils? There are times we, as journalists, have tried to see some local government chairmen and they are not there.
I have done that so many times. What you think are flops are not flops, you need to understand the peculiarities of our people, the Chairman of Ibeju-Lekki Local Government you talked about is very hardworking. The pressure of work of these people is enormous such that going to work is even a problem. You may be surprised that he could be in the office attending to people from morning till night and many of these people come for personal matters not the development of the community. The council chairman is a human being, he has his own family. Forget about one party state, I tell it the way it is, if someone is doing well, I would tell you he is doing well regardless of the party. It has got nothing to do with party, if an APC chairman is not doing well, I would tell you he is not doing well. We advise them and where we need to sanction them, we sanction them. We have even brought some of them to the floor of the House so many times. Like today, I invited a council chairman to this place to talk about his local government and we told him we would be coming there in two weeks. It is not every time we go the national newspaper and say a chairman should go and sit down at home, it is not like football that the referee must show players a red card all the time, when you are wrong, we tell you, and we make sure you correct it. It is not showcasing that you are working, it is for you to get the dividends of democracy to our people.
How best do you think the Federal Government can make our local governments work?
The major thing is for us to practice true federalism with a weak centre and strong units, in the United States, the states are stronger than the central government, but in Nigeria the reverse is the case. You see the states going cap in hand to the Federal Government begging for money, in the US, it is the Federal Government that begs for money from the states. Those are the things we need to correct, in how many other countries would you see the Federal Government running education? Here, they talk of giving licenses to private universities, the universities the Federal Government is controlling, they are not running them well. We need to go back to the base, to our roots; we are not practicing federalism the way it should be practiced.
People are canvassing for local government autonomy and freedom. What is your opinion on this?
You cannot have freedom. Local government is a creation of the state assembly. Are you saying the states should have freedom from the Federal Government? Can the Federal Government survive without the states? The local governments were created by the state houses of assembly; the states can say they don’t want local governments, what will happen? If Lagos State decides that they don’t want local governments, the Federal Government cannot do anything about it.
What would you say to the issue of local governments’ allocation deduction by some state governors?
I don’t know about that. In Lagos State, they get their money. It is not possible, the state is working with the councils, some council chairmen are members of the Board of LASAA, for instance, that is where we are now. Most of the things we are doing in Lagos and people are criticizing, other states are coming to copy us, they come to the executive and the state house of assembly to see what we are doing and they copy them. We have only two states in Nigeria; Lagos and others.
How can the local councils become more sensitive to the grassroots, or do we need more vibrant people there?
The people there are vibrant, it is easy for you to judge from outside, to think that the grass is greener out there. The local government constructs roads and you see people destroying the roads, we have seen it so many times even against the state, people dig roads to put pipes and damage the road built by the state and local governments. People destroy government properties, trucks are parked on the streets, even on bridges that are not made for stationary vehicles. Mechanics damage the roads with engine oil and people damage roads only to blame the council chairmen and not the people that spoilt them.
The population of Lagos is the highest in Nigeria; it is a state that the federal government should not abandon. There should be something special the Federal Government must be doing for the state. If you move the capital of Nigeria to Abuja, you cannot move the people to Abuja, that is the case. There must be a special grant for Lagos.