Given the recent noise about the #30PercentOrNothing movement, it’s a good time to revive one of the ideas I have been talking about for a number of years now.
Aside from the fact that we know how the 30 Percent movement will end (it will be co-opted by the PDP, money will change hands ending the whole thing in recriminations and name calling), there is a bigger danger in allowing it be the dominant movement for young people. Without mincing words, it’s a pretty stupid idea but if it becomes the youth organising movement du jour then almost automatically, all young people get to be thought of as stupid people unable to articulate anything that requires any kind of complexity.
So just in case the day comes and they say no one else said anything, I want to outline an idea to reform our local government system in a way that benefits, not just young people, but Nigeria as a whole.
The first thing to note is that Nigeria’s executive system of governance is almost exactly replicated at the LG level per the 1999 Constitution. So each LG has a Chairman, Vice Chairman and Supervisory Council made of elected Councillors. This is the hardest part of the plan I’m proposing as it involves changing the constitution, which is never the easiest thing to do in Nigeria.
There is no particular reason why the LG structure has to mimic the Federal one. We already have a system where our Senators are referred to as ‘Distinguished’ (American) while the Speaker of the House is referred to as ‘Right Honourable’ (British). There’s no better place to experiment with improvements in our democratic structure than at the LG level.
Here’s the big idea – scrap the role of the Chairman and Vice Chairman. That’s at least 1,548 politicians we can get rid of in one fell swoop. If each one currently costs us say, N30m a year in salaries and security votes, we can save N186bn over four years. Add the savings from corruption to that and the number is easily N1trillion (ok, I exaggerate).
So if we no longer have Chairmen and Vice Chairmen running the councils, how are the councils supposed to function? The answer is to simply move to a parliamentary system at LG level. We simply continue to elect Councilors as we currently do. But this time, once a full complement of Councillors have been elected, they will then elect a Chairman and Deputy among themselves by a simple majority. All spending and revenue raising decisions will be decided this way with the Chairman having the final word as normal in an executive system.
In effect, the Supervisory Council becomes the governing council of each LG and Council Leaders can be changed at any time by the Councillors using a vote of no confidence or anything similar.
Winner Takes Some
Part of the problem today is the binary system we have in place when it comes to elections in Nigeria. It just doesn’t make any sense to support any party other than the 2 main parties if you are serious about getting into power especially at the federal level. This then makes it very difficult to dislodge incumbents given that the winner takes all system increases the incentives to decamp. Our politicians, who were never men and women of principle or conviction to begin with, will happily sign up anywhere that guarantees them some kind of relevance for 4 years not to talk of proximity to the treasury.
Further, our First Past The Post (FPTP) system further entrenches the binary system which makes smaller parties that might be driven by ideology or issues completely unviable. Which means that if we reform the LG system as stated above and continue with FPTP, the benefits will be negligible at best. We need a ‘winner takes some’ kind of system. The issue is how to go about it.
New Zealand uses a system called Mixed-Member Proportional system. The name is complicated enough, to say nothing of the actual voting system. Nevertheless, the sample ballot paper below gives an idea of how it works
I think we could use something simpler that eliminates the need for 2 votes. The key is that the outcome will be determined by proportionality. Each party will have candidates contesting councillor-ships as normal. But the parties will have a list of candidates maintained internally or however else i.e. the people who actually get to be councillors after the vote will be determined by the party based on the votes they get in the election.
Let’s say in Ondo West LGA there are 100 voters. At the end of the elections, the results were as follows:
Labour Party – 40
PDP – 28
APC – 16
UPN – 12
NPN – 4
Also imagine Ondo West LGA has 10 Councillors and the Labour Party won the vote in every Ward in the LGA. Under the current system, the Labour Party will have all the Councillors even though 60% of the voters in Ondo West LGA technically voted against it. In most other countries, there is a threshold a party must reach before it can win a share of the seats available. In New Zealand you have to get 5% of the vote while in Sweden, you need 4% of the vote to get into the Riksdag. We already have a threshold requirement in Nigeria – a candidate must score 25% of the votes in 2/3rds (24) of the states of the country to be elected as president or 2/3rds of LGAs to be elected as governor.
If we set the bar at 5% of the vote for this system, then every party will get at least a seat except NPN, based on the results above. Thus we simply need to divide 10 seats among the first 4 parties based on their share of the vote. The Supervisory Council of Ondo West LGA will then look like this:
Labour Party – 4 seats (40/96*10)
PDP – 3 seats
APC – 2 seats
UPN – 1 seat
The calculations can be done in different ways but the results should be the same as above mainly. The question of which actual Councillor gets to sit on the council will be left to the party to decide but it must be someone whose name was previously submitted to INEC as a candidate. Or it could be decided by INEC based on which wards the candidates scored the highest number of votes from – either way, it’s just details. Voters will continue to vote how they vote now and parties will campaign as they currently do. The Labour Party will also have control of the council and will almost certainly produce the Council Leader from one of its 4 Councillors.
And This Concerns Young People How?
So how does this change in system concern young people? Well, for one it makes it much easier to get into the business of governance – the threshold is only 5%. More importantly, there will be less pressure to join one of the big parties as a matter of course. Parties can be organised around as narrow issues as possible – you can have a party of only young people or whatever. As long as you can sell your organising principles to a threshold of voters, you will get into governance.
For me personally, as someone who is sympathetic to the APC as things stand, I will certainly not bother with them anymore if we had such a system. I will instead be minded to form my own party with people who believe broadly in the things I believe in – Free enterprise (making doing business as simple as possible), simple, clear and low taxes and fiscal conservatism (no borrowing to pay salaries and never running a budget deficit for more than 2 years). You will also not be obliged to have a ‘national presence’ as is currently required. For example, given that I am happily an elitist as defined in Nigeria today (anti-stomach infrastructure), I will start my party in Eti-Osa LG in Lagos specifically in Lekki area where all the people who talk as if they have hot food in their mouth live.
The whole point of this is that it allows young people (who are interested) to take what’s possible without waiting for them to given ‘something’ based on no more than the benevolence of the current politician in office or a viral hashtag.
Taste The Power
An LG isn’t that useless, believe it or not. There are useful constitutional powers that can be used to improve people’s lives as opposed to the current system where the Chairman turns up to share money once every month and then disappears again. Here’s what the 4th Schedule of the 1999 Constitution says:
The main functions of a local government council are as follows:
(a) the consideration and the making of recommendations to a State commission on economic planning or any similar body on -
(i) the economic development of the State, particularly in so far as the areas of authority of the council and of the State are affected, and
(ii) proposals made by the said commission or body;
(b) collection of rates, radio and television licences;
(c) establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm;
(d) licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts;
(e) establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences;
(f) construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a State;
(g) naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses;
(h) provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal;
(i) registration of all births, deaths and marriages;
(j) assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State; and
(k) control and regulation of -
(i) out-door advertising and hoarding,
(ii) movement and keeping of pets of all description,
(iii) shops and kiosks,
(iv) restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public,
(v) laundries, and
(vi) licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor.
The functions of a local government council shall include participation of such council in the Government of a State as respects the following matters -
- the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education;
(b) the development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of materials
(c) the provision and maintenance of health services; and
(d) such other functions as may be conferred on a local government council by the House of Assembly of the State.
How una check am? Not too bad I think. Devil is of course always in the implementation but the fact remains that under a current system where LG Chairmen are appointed on the whim of the governor, we will never really know what an LG can do in terms of national development in Nigeria.
If this works, we can even move the voting system upwards to the State Houses of Assembly…but please don’t mention this part yet because you need the HOAs to agree to the constitutional change to make this happen. If they feel this threatens them, they wont pass it.
I don’t think young people are a special class of people who need special treatment like you would disabled people (or maybe they are). What is most important is that whatever changes we make to Nigeria must generally benefit the country as a whole and move us forward.
No one is going to make these changes of course but like I said, I am putting my thoughts out there so that, come the revolution, when they are rounding up people to be shot for starting a silly hashtag, I can honestly say I tried to make them see reason.