Barrister Ayuba Wandai is the immediate past Chairman of Nasarawa Local Government Area as well as the Chairman of Association of Local Government of Nigeria. In this interview with Ali Abare, Wandai, who is now a private legal practitioner in Abuja, opens up on his years of experience as local government administrator, among other issues.
There has been this clamour for local government autonomy across the country which is yet to bear fruit. Do you consider the autonomy as essential to the success of local government administration?
I have operated within the system for so long and as a legal practitioner, I know the laws governing local government administration. A lot of people will be surprised that as a former local government chairman, I will beg to differ from the majority of opinion on this. The clamour so far has basically been for the financial autonomy of local governments and I think the local governments will not function properly if given financial autonomy. This is because, the way our local governments are structured, nobody has told us that the state Houses of Assembly will stop making laws to run local governments. Nobody has told us that the various states local government service commissions will cease to exist. Nobody has also told us that the states will not have supervisory powers over local governments. Nobody also told us that direct deduction of teachers’ salaries will stop. If we don’t treat this issue of local government autonomy very carefully, it will end up leading the country into more problems than we have now. It must be something that is well thought out, well researched and we must have collective agreement within stakeholders. Firstly, the local government service commissions regulate the employment, promotion and discipline of local government staff from level 7. Tell me, if you passed all the money to the council chairman and the commission goes ahead to employ, promote and discipline, there will not be harmony in their relationships. I agree, that most states have abused the joint state and local governments’ accounts. For me, I prefer a situation whereby there will be sufficient discipline and there will not be manipulation of laws. What we are experiencing at the local government is that basically, manipulation of powers and laws. If everybody does what he is expected to do, I think we will have less challenges. If you check it across various states, you will see that the local government system administration differ. Though financial autonomy for local governments is a good thing but it is not every state that touches local government money. Like for instance, I can bear witness that for all the period that I have been a local government chairman in Nasarawa State, I have never witnessed a situation whereby the state government diverted local government money. Local government funds have always been local government funds. What the state does is that, there is strict supervision on local government activities and administration.
You were the immediate past ALGON chairman in Nasarawa State having been in local government administration for a period of more than six years. From your experience, what can you say constitute a challenge to local government administration in the country?
Basically, local governments in Nigeria have remained local. Notwithstanding the facts that we have had developments and advancement in other tiers of government. The local government has remained local, staffs in the councils have remained local and key actors in the local government politics and most political leaders have remained local. There is no enlightenment and the day to day activities of the local government are under reported and local governments have less public scrutiny. The facts remain that majority of the population in various local governments are not particularly interested in what kind of development local governments can give to their various communities. We have more of pursuits of individual interest and I think for the local government to function well, it has to be a local government of this present times, it has to be a local government that is advanced, it has regular staff training. For instance now, there is computerization everywhere, there is Information Technology everywhere but in most local governments, you will find such facilities, it is grossly underutilized. I think our local governments are still local.
Most Nigerians would readily associate local governments with mismanagement and gross abuse of funds. As someone that has stayed so long in the system, how true is this?
It is not correct. But, I think in buttressing my point, I have to speak from the Nasarawa State perspective. For all the while that I have served in the local government, I know we have undergone scrutiny. The law is that the state House of Assembly and also the state government, have right of supervision under local governments for us in Nasarawa State. Supervision is very high, there is high level of control. Local governments have been able to execute so many projects that have alleviated the suffering of our people. The local governments are key players in the wonders that Governor Umaru Tanko Al-makura is bringing to Nasarawa State. I think the local government constructed over 700 bridges and drainages and I think that is a landmark achievement in the country.
We are approaching another election year in 2019. There is ongoing agitation from several interested politicians seeking to take over from incumbent Governor Al-makura. Looking at the unfolding event, what type of person do you consider best to succeed the governor?
The choice of who will succeed Governor Al-makura in 2019 is a choice by God. As mortals, we are praying and ours is to wish. But I think what the people of Nasarawa State should do is to make sure that whoever is going to take over from Governor Al-makura has very high standards, it is not going to be business as usual.
Our present governor has set a standard that I am very sure, no genuine lover of Nasarawa State will want that standard to drop.
It’s a challenge for all those vying for governorship in Nasarawa State to note that the people of the state have tasted genuine development under Governor Al-makura and if we want to be at par with other states, we must have a governor that is willing and ready to do just like Governor Al-makura or even better. Like Governor Al-makura always said, Nasarawa State is a state in a hurry, not only to be at par with her contemporaries but to also be at par with states that was created over 30 years ago. I think Nasarawa State has witnessed unprecedented development and we must continue in that pace. Interestingly, I am very happy with the array of contestants, most especially in the APC. We have people that have been working closely with Governor Al-makura, we also have people that have also made their marks in their various callings. I am very happy that the APC is parading a lot of qualified gubernatorial aspirants.
Another issue that is cropping up has to do with agitations for zoning the governorship seat under the APC to particular zone in the state. What is your take on this?
The fact remains that, I am in the APC and for the APC in Nasarawa State, the party has not come out with a decision agreeing or adopting zoning to any particular zone. If you observe, even the Nasarawa South zone, where Governor Al-makura comes from, the zone has enjoyed three terms, we still have aspirants contesting from that zone under the APC. We also have lots of aspirants from the Northern and also the Western zones. The fact remains that, for now, it’s an open contest and it’s only when our party leaders seat down and try to agree on zoning or not zoning before we will be able to take a decision. But I know there has been a lot of clamour from the northern zone for inclusivity and togetherness, for brotherliness, they feel that the governorship seat should go to their zone. I think all these can be determined by elements of politics, it is not something that is forceful, not a right but I think as politicians, our leaders should talk to themselves and I know by the grace of God, they will be able to come up with something that is best for everybody.
You have been part of the Governor Al-makura administration through the years. With the tenure of the administration winding up and looking back from 2011 to date, would you say Al-makura has justified the trust reposed in him by people of the state?
I am a very proud man. I am proud because I have been part and parcel of the struggle and I will tell you, I am very proud to be associated with Governor Al-makura. The fact is that, Governor Al-makura is the best governor so far in the history of Nasarawa State. He has done lots of things that are unthinkable, he has touched the lives of people like it has never been touched before. Infrastructural wise, he has done his best. His commitment to leadership is unprecedented. He has done things that have lifted Nasarawa State. You will agree with me that before the coming of Governor Al-makura in 2011, at some point, most especially for some of us that are well traveled outside Nasarawa State, it was becoming an embarrassment to say you are coming from Nasarawa State. Because, aside from knowing that we have a state, there was nothing to show that we had a state. But Governor Al-makura has done his best, if you go to Lafia, he has transformed Lafia from a glorified local government headquarters to an ideal city, an ideal state capital. If you go to all the council headquarters, he has constructed lots of roads, he has touched the lives of people through various projects and programmes. He has provided portable drinking water, electricity and he has shown genuine commitment to his mandate.
Coming to the national level, do you consider recent defections from the APC a threat to the party ahead of the 2019 presidential election?
Quite alright, it’s normal that in an election year, there will be lots of realignments. But the fact is that most of the realignments we are seeing now, especially those leaving the APC, does not portray for the sake of national interest. It looks more like trying to satisfy individual ambitions, not putting into consideration the feelings of the common man. For me as an individual, I believe we in Nasarawa State are for President Muhammadu Buhar because we were the only CPC state, a party founded by the President. We were the only CPC state in the country and we believe in what President Buhari is doing to reposition the country and bring back credibility and respect in the comity of nations. He is fighting corruption head on. We are not where we ought to be but we are pretty sure that he has taken the right steps to take us to where we ought to be. I don’t think there is any other aspirant that will defeat President Buhari in 2019. President Buhari remains the most credible, most acceptable by Nigerians and APC is the party to beat in 2019.