Why I don’t Support LG autonomy – Fayemi  

Former Governor of Ekiti State and Ex-chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum, Dr Kayode Fayemi speaks with Seun Okinbaloye on Channels TV Politics Today programme where he talked about Nigeria’s Democracy, Local Government Autonomy, Minimum wage, among other issues. OLUMIDE OLUSEGUN brings excerpts.

25 years of unfettered democracy. We look back and see how hard some people have worked and how much they have labored. Give us an understanding of what you make of that 25-year journey.

For me, democracy has to be seen as a process rather than an event and a journey rather than a destination. It is not everything that we expected has come to fruition, but it is like democratisation that we are bound to have bonds, values, and meandering along the way. What is important is for us to ensure that we make progress and not reversal. There are challenges that have confronted Nigerians in this journey. But you have to remember that our democratisation process was not a contest. It was a transition without transformation. That’s not what we were campaigning for. In terms of the recognition of the June 12th election, we were at the time also campaigning for a reordering of the national project and enhancing the national question. In other words, the clamour in the pro-democracy movement was for a sovereign national conference rather than just an election that would produce civilian rule. What we got was a civilian rule on that journey with all of its contradictions. But memory is important, and that is why we must commend President Buhari for declaring June 12th a national holiday, and also commend the current president, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, for continuing with that tradition. Because for us, we have to constantly remember the words of Milan Kundera. You remember the renowned Czechoslovakian writer in the days of totalitarian rule in Czechoslovakia who argued through one of his characters that the struggle of man against power is always the struggle of memory against forgetting. And one of the banes that we have in Nigeria is that we do not remember enough. We don’t pay attention to history.

What are those things that you think are an aberration that we need to fix to make our democracy better?

I think if we are not to take a cynical view, we are not where we were in 1993. We are certainly operating with a greater air of freedom. I don’t want to take an instrumentalist view of democracy, but it’s important to let people know when they write whatever they write on social media or in the newspapers. This has been made possible by the struggle and the toil of many in society.  And they deserve to cherish the freedom that is now there to operate without little hindrance. Yes, there are still some residues of that era. I know some people are still being picked up for writing one thing or the other or for planning to write something or the other. And clearly, we really should move away from that authoritarian instinct that is remaining in our system. I hope we’ll get to the point where anybody who violates people’s credibility and integrity and assassinates character, can go through a court process, which the Constitution provides for. Many of us get defamed and our character gets assassinated. And we try as much as possible to follow that line in dealing with it. And I know the president, who is used to being attacked and abused, is no less committed to ensuring that we maintain that fundamental freedom in society. But as things are, many of these things may not even get to his attention. He may not know when they happen. But if the institutions are working as they should, we should reduce the persistence of this authoritarian instinct in society. But as to the other point of where our democracy is, which I would like to describe as democracy must bring food to the table, we still have challenges there. And we have to do something to ensure that we do not jeopardize the democratization process in the country.

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A lot of Nigerians will blame some of you in the political class for eroding the middle class and that the political class has impoverished the average Nigerian. What have you in the political class done to our society?

The political leadership in the country definitely cannot absorb the deleterious impact of the economic challenges that we’re facing. And yes, ordinary Nigerians should blame us and hold us to account for not making their lives better. But you also must be careful not to just take a generalised picture of the macroeconomic challenges that we face. Yes, we are a federation and there’s a central government that gets to take responsibility for fiscal policies, particularly, and monetary politics as well. You also must find a way to look at variations in what is happening at the federal center and in various states to draw a full picture of our trajectory in the democratic journey. The general point you have made is true. The government that is in office now inherited a challenging situation. We are not unaware of where we have come from because it’s the same party that transitioned into the current government. I think there were some missteps, not wrong policy changes. I think the policy changes made were the appropriate policy changes but the announcement at the inauguration was a little bit precipitated and did not allow for enough room to prepare the ameliorating circumstances that would address the challenges that were about to come in terms of inflation with the fuel subsidy removal, foreign exchange convergence, and from then we seem to have gone downhill. But you can also see that the government recognises that and they are trying to address that to the best of their ability. But the reality must also be confronted that the Nigerian people in a democracy have the last word. If they are not happy with our political party, then they have to decide on that front. But I believe that things will begin to improve. The government has only been in office for one year. If things don’t improve, then Nigerians reserve the right to decide what they want to do with us.

Are you worried about the state of the APC? and the fact that it’s going to be a big challenge for the party in 2027?

It is new to me that some of our leaders, as you have put it, are going outside the party to look for an alternative. I haven’t had that yet. But I’m worried about the way things have gone so far. Certainly, I am a foundation member of this party. Yes, you are right, I was one of those who drafted the original manifesto that we sold to Nigerians in 2015. I was the director of policy in that campaign. So I am not unfamiliar with what we articulated, the vision we shared with Nigerians. I believe our party is still committed to that.  But we are falling short in the relationship between party and government. We don’t even have the necessary organs within our party functioning as well as they should. I can’t recall the last time we had the national executive committee of our party. I can’t remember the last time we had the caucus of our party or even the yet uninaugurated elders council of the party. So clearly, there are things that the party needs to do that ought to hold the government to account. One of the propositions we made in the early days of the party was that we must have policy conventions, and midterm policy conventions that will review how far our government has delivered on the promises in our manifesto to the people. We are not yet in the midterm of this government, and I hope our party will still get to the point of doing that. But the signs are not positive that we are doing that. I hope the leadership of my friend and brother, my elder brother, Governor Ganduje, and his team would sit with the president and underscore the importance of not loosening the cord between party and government. Because right now, it seems the tail is wagging the dog, not the other way around.

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The issue of local government autonomy has become somewhat of a worrying and concerning issue. Why is it difficult for state governors to allow the local government to breathe?

I have a known position on this show. As you know, I was chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, and this is a matter that we dealt with repeatedly under President Muhammadu Buhari. I had several occasions to meet the president to explain the position of the governors to him and the position of the constitution because people tend to forget. I know that there’s a large army of choristers who talk about local government autonomy. I don’t know what they mean by local government autonomy, because in a federal entity, anyone familiar with the principle of federalism, even though it differs from country to country, but anyone familiar with the broad theory of federalism would know that you only have two federating units of coordinate rather than subordinate jurisdictions. And states and federal, the central government, are the federating units in Nigeria. I know that this is confused often when people use the second tier, the third tier of government, the fourth tier of government, and all those indeterminate technologies for it. But what is important is that the constitution of Nigeria as it currently stands does not even give that window. And I think the framers of the Constitution were right when they did that by subsuming local government within the ambit of the state. Even the current president, one of the battles I was known for that he fought as governor in Lagos state was to ensure the right of states to be able to determine the number of local authorities they want to have and development areas. So it is a sub-entity within a state. And I think we need to return to that. In the current constitutional reform process that we are undergoing, my humble submission is that we need to return to a proper two federating units arrangement in which the list of local governments that are contained in the constitution is expunged and the position is clearly defined. Now to your substantive concern, which is the concern of many Nigerians, that local governments as they are currently constituted are not allowed to function by governors. I am not aware of that. I was a governor for eight years. I never interfered for one day with local government finances. We were just a conduit for local government in Ekiti state. They got their money as we received it by what we used to call first-line charges. Because if you don’t do that, then the traditional rulers, the teachers, and the health workers will not get paid on time or at all if you leave it to some local government. And in more cases than not, we even subsidise local government funds because what comes from the federal to service their interest is inadequate. I know of my successor in office, he has continued the tradition. So I am not aware of states where governors don’t allow local governments to function and their monies are taken away. It may happen. I am not saying it doesn’t exist. I am just not aware of it to the best of my knowledge. But if that is the situation, what we need to do is use peer pressure within our forum. And I believe that the current chairman of the governor’s forum will be prepared to do that. I don’t see that. Well, I am not a judge. But if it is based on what is contained in the constitution, I took the Federal Government to court as chairman of the governor’s forum two years ago. And this was thrown out by the position of the Federal Government was thrown out by the Supreme Court. And it is the same issue that my friend and brother, the Honorable Attorney General, I am just an educated friend of his, has taken to court. The issues that were argued in the case that the governor’s forum took to the Supreme Court for clarification two years ago are the same issues that have come up now. So I would be surprised if the Supreme Court were to rule against itself or change its position on that.

The school of thought that you are following in describing how a federal state should be structured, and the concept of the federal system is to allow the breakdown of government roles such that the people can have a benefit and a connection with government. What theory do you have to prove that there is a federal system is supposed to be two-tier?

I am not just a governor. I am a student of political science. I am also teaching political science as I speak at a university. So if I said that we have a federating, we have a federation as two federating units, you can go way back to Casey Ware, the father of federalism, and you would see how that is structured. I am not saying that municipalities would not exist or that local government should not exist, but they would exist based on what the local circumstances in their state proffer. That is why when Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu went to the Supreme Court after the creation of the 37 LCDAs in Lagos, he was taking that particular point forward that we in Lagos, where we have 20 million people, can determine how close we want our municipalities and local authorities to be to the people. And that is why we have created more development areas. I am not saying that we’re not going to have municipalities, I am saying that you will be introducing surreptitious Unitarianism if you are saying the central government should be the one to determine what happens in the local governments. That is a travesty of federalism. It’s not an advancement of federalism.

The issue of minimum wage is on the play, and there are arguments as to why we have to live for almost five years for us to review. The question is whether or not the states can be able to sustain. The AGF said they cannot sustain it if it gets above N60,000. What do you think is sustainable?

This is a perennial challenge. Every governor has to deal with the issue of national minimum wage. The position of the Nigerian Governors Forum, by the way, when I was governor and chairman of the Governors Forum, and I believe even till this recent negotiation, is that we should decentralise minimum wage negotiations and allow states to have their negotiations with their labour unions whilst the Federal Government conducts its negotiations because the fingers are not equal. We have argued at the level of the Governors Forum, that that should also apply to governors. The governor of Lagos State should not be earning the same salary as the governor of Ekiti State. He has more resources but we all go by RAMFAC, and the 600,000 that I earned in Ekiti is what Governor Sanwo-Olu earns in Lagos. We are not being real with ourselves. This should be decentralised, and each state should define in conjunction with their labour unions, with transparency, with all the records provided to the labour unions that, look, this is what we have. But you are also only five or 10 percent of our population. We also have 90 percent of the population that we must attend to. Yes, you are 10 percent, and you probably cater to maybe four or five months by each of you in your various homes, but the reality is that there are things that must come from the common pool to service the overall interest of all the citizens in the state or at the national level. So I think we need more thinking, more rigorous thinking into this process rather than dogma. What we are dealing with now is dogma. Labour does not want to hear anything about decentralised national minimum wage, and decentralised national minimum wage does not mean that what is paid at the level of the state will be lower than the federal. In the 60s and the 50s, civil servants in the western region used to earn more than federal civil servants. Those Edo State have now given N70,000.

If the president has to do something about this issue of structure, what do you think he should do now?
Well, I think he should just collate all the works that have been done, the 2005 political reform committee work, the 2014 committee under former president Jonathan’s administration, and APC’s true federalism committee (report). Combine and send it to the national assembly as his bill to be considered for enactment into law and the constitution. And that should then be subjected to a referendum. I think that is the part that is missing in the current constitution. We need a national referendum on whatever the outcome of what the national assembly produces.

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