By Or. Joseph Aniemeka Nwachakwa
By a mere definition, Rural Development means Socio-Economic-Cultural and Infrastructural Development at the Grassroots where the largest populations of the citizens reside. This simply connotes development nearest to the people.
It is always said that charity begins at home and in line with the saying, in the actual sense and in the ideal clime, development should start from the grassroots to the Urban Areas or centres. But here the reverse is the case.
This trajectory would have minimized to the bearest minimum, the unfortunate scenario of drift from the rural areas to the urban centres in search of jobs by the youth due basically to lack of social amenities. It is in recognition of this that the Governor of Imo State Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha appointed a round peg in a round hole in the person of Hon. Richmond Osuji the Senior Special Assistant on Rural Development.
These social amenities that are lacking in the rural areas include among others, electricity, good roads, quality schools, industries, pipe-born water, quality health facilities, ICT facilities and others.
Lack of these basic social amenities in the rural areas is seriously responsible for the rural-Urban migration phenomenon in Nigeria. Imo State needs urgently the rural development to attract investment and job creation for our youths.
To fast-track, enhance and ensure development at the grassroot in Nigeria, the Dasuki Panel of 1976 set up by the Military at the end of exhaustive and robust deliberations, recommended the setting up of Local Government System in the country whose responsibility to develop the rural areas.
This development was adopted and given a legal tooth or by the 1979 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (1979) as amended as the third tier of Government. The development of rural setting is a welcome initiatives.
Unfortunately section 7 of the Constitution as amended which deals with the Local Government System seems to have left the Local Government System in appendage of the State Governments making them unautonomous financially and otherwise.
Many State Governors in the country have used and still using the loophole in the aforementioned section seven of the Constitution (as amended) to render the Local Government System Comatose and redundant under the cover of Joint Allocation of Funds from the Federal Allocation as contained in the Law.
Under this provision, these Governors are using the Local Government System to siphon and embezzle funds meant for the Local Governments hence stifling rural development in the country. No doubt, rural development effort is at the heart of the Governor of Imo State, Rt. Hon. Emeka Ihedioha. With the appointment of Hon. Richmond Osuji, a man of legacy, modest lifestyle and welfarist populism, a practical man, deep thinker and a doer, the above enumerated problems would be addressed.
For this reason, lovers of rural development have constantly called for Local Governments Autonomy in the country to enable them access their funds directly from the Federal purse which will no doubt be used to develop the rural areas.
Though, the National Assembly has given a nod to the Local Government Autonomy but some State Assemblies are blocking it, the influence of their Governors who see Local Government Autonomy reaping open this tier of Government corruption is the bane of the Nigerian society and as the so-called Nigerian factor had dictated, these Governors have vowed not to let go any attempt to block this their lucrative source of self-enrichment.
Our cankerworm, corruption, among our leaders has adversely retarded every facet of development at the grassroots resulting in the huge Rural-Urban Migration by the youths in search of greener pastures resulting to many negative sociological consequences. Hon. Richmond Osuji as the former chairman of Aboh Mbaise Local Government Council, who understands the dynamics of LGA and rural system, he will perform creditably as an impresario in political gatherings.
However, it is worthy of note that those who are opposing the idea of legalizing Local Governments as autonomy entities believe that even though autonomy is granted to them, it will not solve the problem of rural development in the country.
They anchor their argument to the fact that the endemic corruption in the system and the encroachment of political Godfathers, traditional rulers and other stakeholders of the Local Government on its finances will render the objective of granting the autonomy meaningless.
They cite example with the period 1999-2007 during the Obasanjo regime when INEC instead of ISIEC conducted Local Government elections and funds where channeled directly to the elected chairmen and yet most of these funds ended in private pockets at the detriment of rural development for which the fund was meant. They argued that most of these chairmen who were poor on assumption of office became rich at the end of their tenures with several buildings in choice areas of Owerri including hotels and other business outfits built with embezzled Local Government funds meant to develop the rural areas.
It was only few of them that did one road or stadium project or the other most of which have gone extinct today meaning that all were window dressing strategy to confuse the people that they are using the Local Government funds judiciously.
May be it is because of the obvious financial impropriety and misdemeanor by the Local Government chairmen and their top officials of that period, that hardened the position of the opponents of Local Government Autonomy.
However, to be fair to them, some State Governors, have at one time or the other made deliberate efforts to extend developments to the rural areas in form of roads, electricity, pipe-born waters among others but these efforts were not enough to tackle the problem. Written by Dr. Joseph Aniemeka Nwachukwu Public Affairs Analyst.