If democracy remains the government of the people by the people for the people, then the tier of government that needs it most is the local government.
This is because it is the level of government that is closest to the mass of people and at the grassroots level.
But it is unfortunate that for an upward of nine years, democracy, and indeed good governance, have been alien to the local government councils in Ondo State. Rather than have elected officials to administer the councils and face their task of bettering the lots of the people at the grassroots, caretaker committees with limited scopes have been in the saddle.
All that the different caretaker committees in place at one time or the other in the councils in the state have been able to do are to pay salaries, grade few numbers of roads and embark on limited projects in their domains, while their basic responsibilities are suffering.
The scope of local governments as contained in section 7 of the 1999 constitution, which covers issues affecting the immediate welfare of the majority of the people in its mandate areas of primary education, healthcare, recreation and social development, markets, parks among others, underscores the importance of the tier to the mass of the people.
The travails of the local governments in the state started with the 2009 dissolution of the democratically elected councils by the immediate past governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, when he assumed office. Since then, it has been one litigation or the other by the state government against councils or vice versa.
Even the hurriedly elected councils emplaced by the Mimiko administration on the eve of its departure from office in late 2016 was not spared the litigations before they were booted out of office by court early last year.
But significant leaps are at present being taken by the governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, to change the narrative to ensure that grassroots people start feeling the impact of the third tier of government in their lives.
The governor’s moves are hinged on his conviction that playing politics with the destiny of the people at the grassroots level, which has created the unacceptable and unpardonable state of underdevelopment at that level, should be discouraged.
Already, the Akeredolu administration has inaugurated the chairman and members of the Local Government Service Commission (LGSC) to ensure local government personnel across the 18 council areas are in good stead to discharge their duties effectively and effectively, saying “Our people will be the direct beneficiaries of the services of a motivated public service”.
The governor has followed this with initiation of the process that will lead to the conduct of election for the executive and legislative arms of the local governments which the recent appointment and inauguration of the electoral body, Ondo State Independent Electoral Commission (ODIEC), represents.
The ODIEC, chaired by Prof Yomi Dinakin, has Dr Soji Omowole, Oladele Akinyelure, Tunde Adeleye, Mrs Stella Omotoso, Taju Ibrahim and Rotimi Olorunfemi as members.
With this, political activities are expected to pick up across the 18 local government areas in preparation for council elections which are expected to be conducted soon by ODIEC in accordance to the stipulation of law.
But an interesting thing here is that Akeredolu wants a fair contest among parties and candidates as he charged the electoral umpire to conduct free, fair and acceptable local government elections, saying the current democratic experience could only be deepened through credible council elections.
Speaking against the backdrop of the fact that opposition parties always boycott local government elections, while the ruling parties win all available seats, Akeredolu said: “It is possible for us to have the leadership of a local government belong to a different political party from that of the state. Our political experiences make the possibility appear remote in this clime. It is attainable if we are committed and sincere.
“It is, indeed, a challenge to the newly inaugurated members of ODIEC to ensure that the next round of elections to be conducted in all the 18 local government areas is free and credible. This is the only means through which the current democratic experiment can be deepened. The people of our State look forward to participating in a free and fair electoral process soon. We cannot afford to disappoint them,” the governor said.
According to him, inauguration of ODIEC members marks a significant leap in the quest to bring democratic governance to the mass of the people at the grassroots and as well underscores the seriousness which the administration attaches to democratic representation at the level where majority of the people feel the direct impact of the activities of elected representatives.
He said: “For us as a party, it is another electoral promise fulfilled. The choice of men and women of proven integrity, as elected servants of the people at the local government level, makes governance seamless. The practice and effect of democratic intervention in the affairs of state, at this level, find direct expression in the improved living conditions of the people. The much-vaunted service to the mass of the people should be discernible in their lives”.
The governor, also in his charge to members of the local government service commission, implored them to use their appointment to address all wrongs, both perceived and real in the system in the interest of a motivated public service.
He said: “I should like to congratulate the Chairman and members of the Ondo State LGSC on their appointment to serve the people of the State at the grassroots. It is imperative that persons of proven integrity must be in the saddle at this level. The mandate of this Commission underscores its importance. We cannot continue to play politics with the destiny of our people at the grassroots level.
“Extremely conscious of the mandate of the Commission as, basically, a personnel agency, saddled with the responsibility to superintend on issues of promotion, discipline, appointments, postings and conversion, among others, this Administration has been painstaking in choosing members who will serve conscientiously.
“We are aware of issues of corruption and gross indiscipline at the Local Government. Of serious concern to us also is the issue of indolence and truancy. The integrity of the staff list is another matter which your Commission should look into, as a matter of urgency. You will be sending the right signal to all and sundry if the various complaints bordering on sharp practices are addressed and appropriate sanctions are applied, vigorously, against any erring staff,” the governor said.
Akeredolu charged the LGSC members to see their appointments as a call to service, saying “it is our expectations that these appointments will translate to remarkable improvement in service delivery in the councils and the hinterlands. The ultimate character of our socio-economic system for development should be indigenous”.
The ball is now in the court of the Prof Dinakin-led ODIEC, which based on the proven integrity and track record of members, is being awaited to begin the process that will lead to conduct of a transparent poll and acceptable to restore democracy and good governance to the local governments.
QUOTE: “But significant leaps are at present being taken by the governor, Arakunrin Oluwarotimi Akeredolu, to change the narrative to ensure that grassroots people start feeling the impact of the third tier of government in their lives”.