Dynamics of Local Government Creation in Kwara. By Wale Oladepo

Date: 2002-08-18

Throughout the world, the issues of self-determination, self-government and political independence are approached with passion. Any opportunity to free a people from real or perceived oppression and control is usually grabbed with great urgency. The economic, social and political benefits derivable from such rights to self-determination cannot be quantified. That explains why at all times the issues of state and or local government creation are taken as matters of life and death by the people. In fact, the undying debates and demand for a national conference in Nigeria is rooted in the fact of the people's quest for more political freedom and access to the control of their natural and physical economic endowments - resource control. Anyone seen to be opposed to such move for self-determination is regarded as an agent of domination and repression.

Under the current democratic dispensation, the demand for more states has not been pressed too hard. That is not because the people do not want it but because majority of the political leaders who could champion the cause are more concerned with exercising their energy to grab power within the existing structure than looking for new enclaves to control.

But the same thing cannot be said of the demand for the creation of additional local governments. Virtually every state is at one stage or the other in the exercise. Lagos State has concluded a referendum for more local government areas. Niger and Nasarawa States have even gone to the National Assembly with their lists of newly created local government areas. Kogi State had months back, fought, lost and won the communal battles over local government creation.

Kwara State has not been left out. About a year ago, following persistent demands by the people for more local governments from the existing 16, the state governor, Alhaji Mohammed Lawal, constituted a panel to look into the demands for the creation of more local governments. The panel, headed by Engineer Aliyu O. Idris went to work and at the end of the exercise, he reported that 1,213 memoranda were received and that demands for new local governments peaked at 44. The panel submitted its report on Tuesday June 18 with the chairman stating that it toured all the 16 local government areas of the state to verify claims and inspect facilities of the proposed headquarters. He thanked Governor Lawal for the opportunity to serve, saying that the committee's report "will meet your high expectation and assist in the history-making event."

Receiving the report, Governor Lawal said the submission of the report would be followed by a referendum which would hold before the end of that month. He said as evidence of his government's commitment to local government creation, "the State Independent Electoral Commission has been strengthened and adequately empowered to conduct referendum as a constitutional requirement for the exercise." He called on the people of the state to turn out enmasse to express their wishes during the exercise. The governor noted that the creation of more local governments was a potential catalyst for accelerating the pace of development and thanked members of the panel for their thoroughness and the seriousness with which they approached the assignment.

The popularity of local government creation in the state is demonstrated by the number of memoranda received for the new councils demanded. Throughout the period of the committee's work, no group or individual came up to oppose the exercise. But no sooner was the report submitted and the governor pronounced that a referendum would be conducted before the end of June than a shadowy body called "Concerned People of Kwara State" came up with a press conference urging Kwarans not to go out for the referendum. That move is believed to have been sponsored by Dr. Olusola Saraki whose fears that the success of the councils' creation would be an election booster for Governor Lawal and one that would further nail his own political coffin in the state moved him to campaign, publicly against it and summoned meetings to stop it.

He was not alone at the attempt to stop the people from expressing their wish. The opposition parties, to wit the People Democratic Party (PDP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD), kicked against it. All these were done to frustrate the wishes of the people. They claimed it would be chaotic; they also alleged that it is unconstitutional.

The forces of opposition did not stop at that. Saraki's cronies went to the Federal High Court sitting in Ilorin to stop the referendum. Saraki's fronts in the case, Chief Oye Tinuoye and others, claimed that the referendum was illegal. But the presiding judge said he had no jurisdiction on the matter and, therefore, struck it out. He stated that local government issues were within the purview of the state, adding that his decision was in line with the Supereme Court judgement which empowered only the State High Court to have jurisdiction on local government matters.

But the critics were publicly seen as enemies of progress and assessed as such. Debunking their claim, Alhaji Abdulraheem Olesin, the secretary of the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) in the state, told the public that the so- called concerned people of Kwara are a faceless people with no clear vision. He told Kwarans that if the critics were for development, they would not condemn an exercise meant to bring development nearer to the grassroots. He urged Kwarans to see the people as saboteurs who have no other business than to cause confusion in the state. He appealed to Kwarans to go out massively and vote in the referendum saying that "if you have more local governments, you will have more wards; if you have more wards, you have more development"

The Ilorin Descendants and Progressive Union (IDPU) also came out publicly to sensitise their people to vote for the referendum. The national president of the IDPU, Alhaji Abdullahi Atanda, enumerated the importance of the referendum and the gains for Ilorin Emirate to have additional local government areas. Also condemning the opponents of the exercise, Dr. Salihu Ajia, Special Adviser on Mobilisation to Governor Lawal, described the critics as "agents of destabilisation who do not want us to enjoy the dividends of democracy."

Kwarans, in their hundreds of thousands, ignored Dr. Saraki and his cohorts and trooped out to vote "Yes" for more local government areas on Saturday June 29, 2002. Those who voted for the exercise numbered 508,171 while those opposed to it numbered 4,062. The massive turnout by the people and the peaceful and orderly manner it was conducted in all the voting centres was a clear demonstration of the people's desire for additional local government areas. It was one exercise which huge success and put Dr. Saraki and other opposition forces in a quandary. It was also an exercise that marked a clear departure from the old habit of waiting for a single individual to dictate what is good or otherwise to them; an exercise that showed that Kwarans are determined to free themselves from political slavery and bondage. From Ilorin to Lafiagi, Malete, Omupo, Erin-Ile, Shao, Elemere, Gamo, Igbaja, Ajasse-Ipo to name a few, hundreds of people queued to enlist their interest in the exercise, contrary to the wishes of its opponents.

At the end of the exercise, 18 new local government areas were slated to be created out of the existing 16 in the state. The proposed 18 new local government councils are Cekpan, Guruten, Ifedap, Ilorin Central, Ilorin North, Ilorin North West, Ilorin South Central, Ilorin, South East, Ilorin South, Ilorin West and Ilorin West Central. The others are Irewolede, Kajola, Maaro, Odo-Ogun, Offa North, Owode, Oyun, Tsaragi/Tsongo and Weru.

As a follow up to the exercise, the state governor, Alhaji Lawal, on Tuesday July 2, sent a bill to the State House of Assembly, seeking the amendment of the state's local government law of 1999 to pave way for the creation of additional local government areas in the state. The governor said the presentation of the bill to the House was in line with section 8, sub-section 3 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He urged the House to approve the result of the referendum and pass the bill for the new councils for the benefit of the people. The bill was attached to bound copies of the requests which were signed by members of the Assembly and local government councillors from the various areas demanding for new local governments.

In response, the majority leader in the House of Assembly, Hon. Ibrahim Yahya Oloriegbe, said the State Assembly would respect the wishes of Kwarans for the creation of additional local government areas. Even a Saraki loyalist, Alhaji Usman Mustapha, reputed to be the leader of Sarakites in Ilorin Emirate, expressed support for the referendum and the creation of more council areas in the state especially in Ilorin Emirate. In his own reaction to the presentation of the bill, the Speaker of the House, Hon. Ezekiel Yissa Benjamin, stressed the importance of local government creation and promised that the House would work hard and ensure speedy passage of the bill. After a series of heated debate on the issue, the House approved 17 of the proposed LGAs and ordered fresh and immediate referendum in eleven local government areas of the state.

In all, the ship of state as being steered by Governor Lawal, shows popular support for the local government creation and only a loser will stand in the way of the people's demand.

By Wale Oladepo,
Hon Commissioner for Information in Kwara State.

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