Local Government is a generic term for the lowest tier of public administration within a particular sovereign state, with the authority to determine and execute policy. It is a regional or sub-national level of government.
It is “the government of a specific local area constituting a subdivision of a major political unit (such as a nation or state)” and “the body of persons constituting such a government.”
The institutions of local government vary greatly between countries, and even where similar arrangements exist, the terminology often varies. Common designated names for local government entities include state, province, region, canton, department, county, prefecture, district, city, township, town, borough, parish, municipality, shire, village, ward, local service district and local government area.
Local governments generally act only within powers specifically delegated to them by law and/ or directives of a higher level of government. Local governments are created with the ultimate goal of bringing government closer to the people at the grassroots level.
In Nigeria, the local government reforms aim to accelerate development and encourage grassroots participation in holding those in power accountable for their governance roles.
However, a true third tier has never taken off in the governance structure of Nigeria, due to challenges such as poor funding, paucity of human capital, corruption, poor service delivery etc. Undoubtedly, Nigeria is one of the world’s prominent federal states.
Nigeria, just like many other federations, has evolved over time with considerable political restructuring to realising true federalism. However, unlike other federations, Nigeria’s federalism has generated considerable debate and controversy.
A huge part of this controversy revolves around the three-tier structure of the federation, with the Federal Government at the centre; the Federal Capital Territory and 36 state governments at the middle; and 774 local governments and the grassroots level.
The constitutional status of the local government as a third-tier organ is still unclear. Although the 1976 reform attempted to clarify this, the absence of a legal framework to underpin any fundamental restructuring negated its attempt. Similarly, the 1979 Constitution and the current 1999 constitution have also failed to clarify on this position.
It is upon this lacuna that Federal and State governments have seized the opportunity to manipulate local governments.
Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution provides that: “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the government of every state shall, subject to section 8 of this constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils” (emphasis supplied).
Already, the Constitution assumes a law regulating local government creation is to be made by the State Houses of Assembly. In doing so, the Constitution disregards local governments as a third tier of government and places them as an appendage of state governments, with the latter enjoying absolute discretion over the former.
Furthermore, Chapter V, Part I (Sections 47–89) of the 1999 Constitution makes extensive provision for the legislative arm of government at the federal level, while Part II (sections 90–129) makes provisions for legislative arms of government at the state level.
The Constitution goes ahead to pronounce executive powers and functions to the Federal and State governments, which accord both governments the constitutional autonomy and legal framework required for their operations. All this is provided to the exclusion of local governments.
Types of local governments Municipalities
In the USA, cities, towns and villages are known as municipalities and are represented by a council, elected by residents. Council is in place to ensure the delivery of services that meet the interests and needs of residents, businesses, and organizations, at a cost these groups are willing and able to fund.
Council is also the vehicle through which residents express their thoughts and concerns in an effort to create local opportunities or to find solutions to community concerns.
At minimum, a municipality is responsible to provide administration, land use planning, emergency measures, policing, road, and garbage collection services to residents.
In May 2013, the regional municipality was introduced as a new restructuring option for New Brunswick communities in the United States. A population greater than 15,000 and a community grouping that includes at least one municipality are required to become a regional municipality. Like a municipality, a regional municipality is governed by a council, elected by residents. Unlike a municipality, a regional municipality must only take on community administration, planning and emergency measures services, with the option to take on more services as it chooses.
The regional municipality is responsible; however, to provide all services that were previously provided by a former municipality that is now part of the regional municipality. Responsibility for police protection and road services in an area(s) of the regional municipality that used to be a local service district would continue to be delivered by the Province of New Brunswick, unless the regional municipality chooses to take on the service.
Rural Communities (RC)
A rural community in the USA is an incorporated community that has a locally elected council to oversee the delivery of local services in a manner that reflects the community’s needs, wants, and ability to pay.
This local government option is open to a Local Service District (LSD), a group of LSDs, or a grouping of an LSD(s) and a town or village so long as the target feasibility requirement of 3,000 population or $200 million tax base is met. Rural Communities (RC) are responsible for administrative services, community planning and emergency measures services only.
The province ensures the delivery of other services (e.g. solid waste collection, recreation services, etc.) until the RC chooses to take them on.
This allows communities to transition to a new governance structure with flexibility. However, a rural community that includes a former village or town is responsible for the provision of all services that were previously provided by in the former municipality.
Local Service Districts (LSD)
Unincorporated communities are known as Local Service Districts and are not local governments. They are administered by the Minister of Environment and Local Government. Department staff coordinates service delivery to LSDs, such as fire protection and garbage collection services, among others.
To assist staff in providing local services, and to ensure residents have an opportunity to be heard, unincorporated communities may elect a Local Service District Advisory Committee. These committees do not have decision making powers but help advise the minister on local matters.
Practices of local government across the world No matter the form of local governments adopted, they are an integral part of governance. This is why the numerous types of local governments are adopted and practised by different countries across the world.
This is proof that the grassroots government is a key essence of government and necessary for the smooth running of government.
The United Kingdom
The practice of local government is different in each of the four home nations of the UK. In total, there are 426 local authorities in the UK. 346 of these are in England, 11 in Northern Ireland, 32 in Scotland and 22 are in Wales. The most complex system is in England, having been subjected to numerous reforms and reorganization over the centuries. In most areas there is a lower tier of government, civil parishes, with limited functions.
The Local Government in Northern Ireland does not carry out the same range of functions as those in the rest of the United Kingdom. In Scotland, the Local Government is arranged on the lines of unitary authorities, with the nation divided into 32 council areas. Wales has a uniform system of 22 unitary authorities, variously styled as county, county borough, city or city and county local authorities.
There are also communities, equivalent to parishes.
Local Government in Brazil
Brazil is a federation with a government existing at three levels of federal, state, and municipal government.
The states are subdivided into 5,570 municipalities, while the Federal District has no municipalities (divided into administrative regions instead) and has powers of both a State and a municipality. Municipalities are enshrined in the 1988 Brazil Constitution as entities of the federation.
Their responsibilities are distinct from the other two levels in theory but overlap in practice (e.g. education, health, transportation). With their broad powers, municipalities may create their own constitutions, termed organic law, and cannot be overruled by state governments.
Local Government in France
According to the French Constitution of 1958, France has three levels of local government: – 13 Régions and 5 Régions d’outre-mer – 96 départements and 5 départements d’outre-mer – 36,679 municipalities
Local Government in Egypt
Local government traditionally had limited power in Egypt’s highly centralized state. Under the central government are 26 governorates (muhafazah or muhafazat).
These were subdivided into districts (markaz or marakaz) and villages (qaryah or qura) or towns. Power was decentralized to the provinces and towns. Governors acquired more authority under Law Number 43 of 1979, which reduced the administrative and budgetary controls of the central government over the provinces.
Local government in Mali
In recent years, Mali has undertaken an ambitious decentralization program, which involves the Capital District of Bamako, seven regions subdivided into 46 Cercles, and 682 Rural Community Districts (Communes).
The state retains an advisory role in administrative and fiscal matters, and it provides technical support, coordination, and legal recourse to these levels.
Opportunities for direct political participation and increased local responsibility for development have been improved. With mayors, councils, and boards in place at the local level, newly elected officials, civil society organizations, decentralized technical services, private sector interests, other communes, and donor groups began partnering to further development.
Eventually, the Cercles will be reinstituted (formerly grouping arrondissements) with a legal and financial basis of their own. Their councils will be chosen by and from members of the communal councils.
The regions, at the highest decentralized level, will have a similar legal and financial autonomy, and will comprise a number of cercles within their geographical boundaries.