We as citizens of the United States observe politics from afar and the vast majority of us may participate in the political process only to the extent that we go to the polls once a year to vote. We may endeavor to follow the news accounts of our nation's politics as they unfold, and of the consequences those political actions yield, but we have little power to influence our "democratically" elected officials. Perhaps we write an occasional letter to our senator or representative, but we almost inevitably receive a vague and impersonal response explaining why they will vote in our opposition.

Over the decades, our representative democracy has been systematically undermined and has ultimately failed in preserving the well being of the people of this nation. The system that the founding fathers painstakingly devised in order to best serve the interests and the will of the people has been corrupted and the systems of checks and balances on power that they instituted have been stripped away. Most of us accept this reality as being beyond our control and continue to observe, comment, and complain without aspiring to achieving any real change, without any hope of instituting a new system of governance that would instead take directly into account your views, and the views of your neighbors, and would empower you to make real positive change possible in your communities.

This site will attempt to explore in depth the places in the world where people are successfully bringing about that type of change in the face of similar odds, where an alternate form of democracy, which is called participatory or direct democracy, is taking root. Initiative, referendum & recall, community councils, and grassroots organizing are but a few ways in which direct/participatory democracy is achieving great success around the world.

Our system of representative democracy does not admit the voice of the people into congressional halls, the high courts, or the oval office where our rights and our liberties are being sold out from underneath us. Our local leaders and activists in our communities, and even those local elected officials who may have the best of intentions are for the most part powerless to make real positive change happen in our neighborhoods, towns and villages when there is so much corruption from above.

In places like Venezuela, Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, South Africa, India, and the Phillipines, new experiments in grass roots community based governance are taking place. There is much to be learned from these and other examples of participatory democracy from around the world when we try to examine how this grass-roots based governance could begin to take root here in our own country in order to alter our political system so that it might better serve the American people.

In the hope that one day we can become a nation working together as a united people practicing true democracy as true equals, we open this forum…


Saturday, August 9, 2008

NIGERIA: Local Government Councils Need More Autonomy

The following examines the functionality of local council governance in Nigeria. In order to enhance the effectiveness of participatory democracy, these local councils must cease to be dominated and squelched by the higher levels of government, state and federal. The grassroots must be recognized as a meaningful and powerful third tier of government, - Editor

Local Govt As Beacon Of Sustainable Democracy


How is the local government administration fairing under the present system of governance? What are its problems and possible prospects? These and many more are analysed by our correspondent, ABU DOOSHIMA, in this piece. Her verdict is, joint account kills the local governments

The relevance of local government councils to sustainable development at the grassroots level was the inevitable conclusion during the 1976 local government reforms. It accorded the local governments a status of the third tier of government vis-a-vis the federal and state governments. This recognition is influenced by the strategic position of the local governments in the sense that it hosts a number of wards which allows mass mobilisation for national goals to be attained very fast.

The local government as a third tier has been the closest arm of government to the people. Therefore, its responsibility to address the basic needs of the people through the promotion of socio-economic programmes amplifies democratic governance via participatory democracy. For example, the electoral agency or body, delineates local governments into wards and constituencies in which the will to test power starts. This is why politicians must register first at their wards before becoming relevant at the local, state and possibly federal level. From wards, even federal legislator say a senator could be called home the moment the mandatory number of signatories recalling him or her home is achieved.

However, the current domineering influence of the state governments over the local governments has adversely affected the desired development expected at the grassroot. The performance of local councils chairmen in rendering dividends of democracy to the masses has been mellowed therefore, impairing good governance at the grassroot level.

The inter-dependence of the local government on state, can be likened to parasitism, a mode of feeding where by the organism depends on its host until it destroys it. The incessant complaints of non performance of council chairmen by the masses, is largely as a result of councils inter-dependence on state.

You would largely agree with me on the fact that there is no fair electoral process in our local governments that would guarantee a level playing ground for all actors. This has been reflected in the anomalities that surround accompanied the local governments election.

It was annoying when I realised that some policians who won the local government election as council chairmen were actually not qualified and were not the choices of the people. But were imposed on the people by the state government to enable it achieve its looting ambition.

How can there be meaninful development, when those in office, lack the charistma for leadership, the local governments have been dominated with, purposeless, visionless, and passionless leaders who got into power because of their association with the state government. How do we expect a blend man to lead the way anyway?

Most at times this position is given as gift to a ‘thug’ who has fought tooth and nail for the governor during the gubernatorial election.

In a bid to show appreciation, this local government chairmen pay total alegiance to the state governors even when it is detrimental to the growth and development of their councils. This has been succinctly captured within a time-worm proverb which says “he whou pays the piper, dictates the tune.”

It is in this regard that political scientist consistently insist that the interdependence of states and the local governments should be complementary. Therefore, the total independence of the local government should be paramount if sustainable development must be achieved in the country.

I am of the view that, the success of the state government in manipulating electiosn at the local level is largely due to its economic power. The joint account system has undully empowered the state government placing her at an advantaged position in managing the available resources of the local governments.

When projects that would guarantee development is initiated by local government chairmen, such initiative is delayed because of the process it has to undergo before execution. It is pathetic to disclose that often times bribe some state government officials for their projects to be approved. Its even worse when the chairman is from an opposition party.

It is pertinent to note that even when these projects are approved, the fund for its execution is delayed by the state government. The state governors, have now seen the local government as an outlet to enrich themselves.

This however makes the local government chairmen adamant to new initiative that would translate to the growth of the local government area.

It is worthy we know that the low sense of nationalism witnessed in our country today is largely attributed to the neglect of governments in meeting the yearnings and aspirations of the demoracy. It is this lack of sense of belonging that has made Nigerians adamant to government policies. They have developed a lackadasical attitude towards their leaders.

It is no doubt that if local governments are allowed to run their affairs as opposed the practice of joint account system it would quarant*** development at the grassroot level.

This is because each local council, knows its own peculiar problems and needs and would design measures for solutions, thereby rendering dividend of democracy to the people interms of social infrastructure.

Decentralisation to locally elected governments which should serve as a means to improving incentives of public provider for service delivery to the poor masses has declined in achieving its purpose due to state government interference.

I would sincerely advocate for council independence as it serve as only alternative to liberating the councils from its exploiters.

If the local governments is left to run its affair, I may suggest that they should be consolidated. The 774 councils we have Nigeria may pull their resources together and invest in some profitable venture such as refinaries and manufacturing plants whose dividend will help sustain them as a joint property. y and large, these business vitality could lead to political fraternity, because local governments would be existing as a formidable block.

This in turn, will encourage participatory democracy therefore boosting development at the grassroot. The dreams and aspirations can be translated into reality therefore, giving the masses a sense of belonging.

The electoral agency must guarantee the survival of these councils and the judiciary must help to consolidate the independence of the councils by holding various states government officials accountable to the people.

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