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The National Assembly, yesterday, passed the bill seeking abrogation of the states/local government joint account as well as a bill proposing to grant autonomy to local government areas with an overwhelming majority.

The legislation entitled: ‘Bill for an Act to Alter the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to Abrogate the State Joint Local Government Account and Provide for a Special Account into which shall be paid all Allocations due to Local Government Councils from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State; and for Related Matters’ scaled the hurdle effortlessly.

Both chambers also passed the bill granting financial autonomy to the state legislatures and judiciaries. While the lower legislative chamber passed the bill with 286-1 votes, the senate passed it with 83-1 votes.

The parliament dumped the bid to expand immunity to presiding officers of the National Assembly and the Chief Justice of Nigeria. Presently, only the president, vice-president, the 36 governors, and deputies enjoy immunity.

Using the electronic voting system during plenary, 185 members of the House voted in favour of the bill while 111 voted against it — and five lawmakers abstained. At the upper legislative chamber, 50 senators voted against while 29 voted in favour of the bill.

Similarly, the assembly threw out the ‘Bill For an Act to alter the provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 to provide for special seats for women in the national and state Houses of Assembly and for related matters.’  While the House voted 81-208 to throw the bill out, the Senate had a 30-58 vote despite enjoying the backing of Aisha Buhari, wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, and Dolapo Osinbajo, wife of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo.

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It also approved bills seeking to move electricity generation and distribution, airports, railways and prisons from the exclusive to the concurrent list. The attempt to make the collection of VAT a sole federal concern also suffered crunching defeat.

The National Assembly is voting on the amendments to the 1999 constitution with 68 constitutional bills up for consideration.

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Meanwhile, Nigerians from various walks of life, particularly representatives of ethnic nationalities, have applauded the National Assembly for granting autonomy to local governments in Nigeria and rejecting moves to make provision for pension for Senate Presidents and Speakers of the House of Representatives in the ongoing constitutional amendment.

President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), Dr. Pogu Bitrus, described the autonomy for local governments as a good development. He noted that the local governments have been an appendage of the state, which has given the governors the leverage to do whatever they liked.

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Commending the National Assembly for the bold step, he said: “It will bring the government closer to the people. It will also bring about enjoyable facilities to the grassroots, more so now that we have so much insecurity in the land. The local government with their autonomy can play a role in stabilizing their areas of control. So, it is a good and welcome development.”

He also commended the legislators for rejecting pension for the Senate presidents and Speakers, saying it is an abuse of office. He stated that pensions should only be for civil servants and not politicians.

Reacting, National Publicity Secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Alex Ogbonnia, described autonomy for local government as the beginning of democracy.

He, however, stated that autonomy for local governments can work when there was no more local/state government joint account and when the state independent electoral commission stops conducting elections for local government.

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He also commended the parliament for turning down the provision that could have allowed pension for Senate presidents and Speaker of the House of Representatives, saying there was no need for pension for them because they are not civil servants.

“The senate can decide to churn out five senate presidents in one year. They are not civil servants; they have just been elected to serve for four years or eight years. However, there are certain facilities that should be provided for them but not pensions. Pension should only be given to the civil servants. So, I support them on that and I commend them,” he said.

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President of the Arewa Youths Consultative Forum (AYCF), Alhaji Yerima Shettima also described autonomy for LGAs as a good development because local governments play a major role in the lives of common people.

“Autonomy to local governments will make the people to be part and parcel of the governance process.

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“Again in terms of security, people will feel that they have a stake in it with autonomy to the local governments because people come from the community. I hope governors will obey the new law because they are the major problem we have in this country,” he stated.

The Sun

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