On Thursday, May 6, history was made when the Lagos State Government endorsed a four year tenure for local government chairmen and other council representatives under what it called the Local Government Administration Amendment Law.
Speaking on the development, Governor Akinwumi Ambode said the purpose of the Local Government Administration Law was to provide for the local government system establishment and to regulate administration of local authorities and other connected purposes.
The Lagos State Government's action is indeed the first since the clamour for the extension of the tenure of the third tier of governance began. It is a development that is laudable. It is laudable because the third tier of government is supposed to be the one that will touch the grassroots the most and offer them what the state cannot give them.
But sadly, this third tier has been merely a glorified arm of government without much powers. The state governments tend to stifle the local governments by manipulating their joint accounts, taking virtually everything and leaving the local governments gasping for breath.
Thus, many of these local councils have become mere appendages of the state governments. This is largely because of the fact that local government elections in Nigeria have always been manipulated by the State Independent Electoral Commissions to favour the parties in power.
This means that the local government chairmen and their councillors are almost handpicked and thus are powerless to challenge the governors, even when the governors are milking them dry and stifling their autonomy.
But perhaps the worst thing to have happened to the third tier after the boxing in by the states is the cutting down of their tenure from the original three to two years in many states.
This has ensured that local government chairmen and councillors have little time to initiate and finish projects before thinking of the next elections. It is thus, a scenario where the first year is used for settling down and the second, for planning for elections. The result is that the third tier has remained underdeveloped.
The lifespan of the third tier of government is one that should be the same as those of the executive and the legislature, given the important role the third tier is supposed to play. It has to have enough time to plan and execute projects and impact on the lives of the people in the grassroots. This is why the two year-lifespan it enjoys in most states is ridiculous.
We are therefore asking state governments to take the third tier more seriously and allow it to impact on the people, being the nearest government to them. It is no use having the third tier when it is not allowed to function. Rather than what obtains now, it should be scrapped so that everyone will know it does not exist.
What we are saying essentially is that states should appropriately fund the third tier and borrow the Lagos example by giving it a full four year tenure for effectiveness, especially as the states have virtually no presence in the grassroots.