Local government autonomy can only be determined by Nigerians and not the National Assembly, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila said on Monday.
Speaking at a two-day leadership training for local government chairmen and councilors from Delta state sponsored by House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, the Speaker said Nigerians have the opportunity to decide what type of local government system they want through the ongoing constitutional amendment.
He said: “It’s not for us as legislators to do that. I’m sure you’re surprised. But it’s actually for the people to address. We have constitutional amendment, we will throw it to the people and they will make their decision.
“We did it the last time and went back to the states as required by the constitution. But we couldn’t get the 2/3rd. There is a process and we followed due process.
“We amended it last time but 2/3rd of the states did not agree with us. So it’s the people that will decide whether they want autonomy or not. We will do what we need to do as Constitution provides”.
The Speaker described the local government as “the foundation of democratic governments in Nigeria. Ideally, it ought to be the center of governance activities and government innovations that serve to improve quality of life for all Nigerians.
“The system we have in place now has not served as well because of obvious overemphasis on the centralised policy planning and implementation at the federal government level.
“We have an obligation to try as much as we can to change the status quo in favour of an alternative that serves present needs and meets future expectations.”
The Speaker stressed there has been a lot of misunderstanding about the local government system in the country while many elected local government chairmen and councillors do not understand the role for which they were elected.
He said: “Many people believe that there are three tiers of government. Yes, there are three tiers of government. But do we understand what a tier means?
“A tier means that there are different layers and those layers are independent and they check each other. Many people believe there is separation of powers.
“Let me ask quickly, without trying to embarrass any of the Chairmen or Councilors. Constitutionally, what do you understand your role to be in government? Does anybody have an answer to that? I don’t think so. But we all have a general understanding.
“But many of us are not bold enough when we are told the specifics of what our roles are because we are beholding to whoever and I said this at the risk of respecting the powers of State Governors, the federal government, and in also balancing it on understanding the powers within these responsibilities of the local government.
“So there’s something called utra vires in law and that concept cuts across everything including governance. The President cannot interfere in the work constitutionally given to you at the local government level. Neither can you do what the state Governor is supposed to do.
“So when we talk about separation of powers, most time people understand that concept to mean executive, judiciary and the legislature but that’s a very narrow interpretation of separation of powers. That is the horizontal separation of powers.”