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The imperatives of local government elections in Abia State ~ By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu

The local government, which is referred as the third tier of government in Nigeria, may be defined lowest level of government in a country established by law to ensure the effective and efficient administration of the localities or rural areas. The United Nations Department of Public Administration defines the local government as the political sub- division of a country which is designed by law and has substantial control of local affairs including power to impose levies and exact labour for prescribed purposes.

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The local government is an indispensable unit of the federation. It is the tier of government nearest to the people. Part II, section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended 2011) guarantees that the government state shall ensure the existence of local government under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.

The local government is created to bring government nearer to the people; serve as the medium to articulate and promote local interest; act as the instrument for political education; and promotion of rural development. Others are to mobilise and harness local resources; and to serve as link between the rural dwellers and other tiers of the government.

However, for more than half of a decade in Abia State, the local government elections have not been held in Abia State. The local government system has been operated under a caretaker arrangement. While this has attracted barrage of criticisms in the past, it has seriously hampered progress and development of the local government areas in the state. That is why the recent pronouncement by Abia State Independent Election Commission (ABSIEC) fixing local government elections for chairmanship and councillorship positions in all the 17 local government councils and  292 ABSIEC wards in the state for December 17, 2016 is a cheering news for all Abians despite their political divide.The announcement also directed all candidates of political parties intending to participate in the election have been asked to proceed to ABSIEC’s headquarters for collection of nomination forms not later than October 14.

Abians across the 17 local government areas are viewing the action beyond the  exercise of the powers conferred on the commission by Part 11, Third Schedule, Section 4, Sub-section (a) and (b) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and pursuant to the Fifth Schedule, Section 160 of Abia State Local Government Law No. 9 of 2002. This singular action portrays Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as a man whose words are his bond. It portrays him as a man who has departed from the previous ways of doing things and wants to do things differently.

The important  roles the local government plays in a system cannot be overemphasised. They  are divided into Mandatory, permissive and concurrent. The obligatory roles of the local government are those roles provided by Schedule IV of t Constitution. They are functions which the local government is bound to render to the people because  of its knowledge of the local problems.The obligatory roles include maintenance of rural roads, streets, and drainages; construction and maintenance of motor parks, public conveniences and cemeteries; provision of health facilities such as clinics, dispensaries and maternities.

Others are disposal of refuse;building of primary schools;collection of rates; radio and television licenses; licensing of bicycles, trucks, wheel barrows; naming of streets, roads and numbering of houses, registration of births, dethas and marriages; establishment and maintenace of recreational facilities; and regulation of outdoor advertisements,movement of domestic animals, shops and kiosks, restaurants and food and liquor renders.

Indeed, it is not out of place to state here that these functions have suffered for lack of a democratically elected executives in the local government areas in the state. Also, Gov. Ikpeazu's developmental strides in the urban centres cannot be complete in the urban centres if there are no complementary efforts in the rural centres because this is where the bulk of the residents dwell.

No wonder the Gov. Ikpeazu's administration in its bid to to close the gap of infrastructural development between rural areas and the cities,  constituted the Abia State Rural Infrastructural Development Initiative (ASTRIDE).The initiative is charged with providing at least one project in each of the 184 INEC wards in the 17 local government areas of the state.

The forthcoming local government elections have provided Abians another window to contribute meaningfully to the development of the state. There is a passionate appeal to shun our differences and embrace this golden opportunity. " There is no tomorrow better than today"!

Ukegbu, a public policy analyst and communication strategist, writes from Umuahia, Abia State. keshiafrica@gmail.com.

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