Obasanjo also accused the state governments that were opposed to local government autonomy of being responsible for this financial incapacitation of the local governments.
The former President spoke on Monday while playing host to members of a Non-Governmental Organisation, Friends of Democracy, at his residence inside the Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Oke-Mosan, Abeokuta.
The group had sought the former President’s support for the Local Government Autonomy Bill which had been passed by the National Assembly but still requires the nod of not less than 24 state Houses of Assembly.
According to Obasanjo, the local government reform carried out in 1976 was meant to make the councils as third tier of government and not an appendage of either of the two tiers of government.
He expressed regret that state governments, which he said were autonomous, had been opposed to the agitation for LGs autonomy.
Obasanjo lamented that the present situation in many local governments in the country was so pathetic that “they can no longer perform their functions particularly payment of their workers’ salaries.”
He wondered why the Federal Government continue to allow the states to enjoy their autonomy except during emergency situation.
Obasanjo, however, asked the leadership of the Nigeria Labour Congress, and the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees to demand LG autonomy in the interest of the people at the grassroots.
He said, “When in 1976, we brought in Local Government Reforms, it was meant to be the third tier of the government and not meant to be subjected to the whims and caprices of any other government; just the same way that the state government is autonomous from the Federal Government. Local Government is meant to be autonomous from the state government.
“But from what we know, by design, most states have incapacitated the local government system. They have virtually stolen the local governments’ money in what they called Joint Account. They were to contribute 10 per cent but they (state governments) never contributed anything.
“So, what we have across the country are Local Government Areas that have functions, but cannot perform the functions. They have staff but most of them cannot pay the staff, and we keep getting excuses upon excuses.
“And I see no reason if the Federal Government allows the states to enjoy their autonomy except in the case of state of emergency.”
While speaking on the failed attempt to grant autonomy to the councils, Obasanjo said, “The Bill passed by the National Assembly which requires 24 state Houses of Assembly and like I am told only nine states have signed it.
“I am proud of those states because they are what you will call progressive states that really believe in democracy.
“My own state (Ogun) is one of them. I will say kudos to Ogun State. In the South-South, only Bayelsa and Cross River states have signed it; kudos to those two states. In the North-East, it’s only Bauchi; in the North-West, it’s only Sokoto; and in the North-Central, we have four states, Kwara, Niger, Plateau and Benue. I will say kudos to the executives and the legislatures of those states.
“But we must say those state executives and the legislatures that have prevented the bill from being passed, they must be taken as the enemy of the people and they should be treated as such. Because if you enjoy autonomy from the Federal Government why don’t you want local government to enjoy autonomy?
“Again, I will say the leadership of the NLC and NULGE who have always fought for the interest of the people should know that the interest of the people at the local government will be best served if the LG has autonomy..”