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LG autonomy: Panacea for national development (2)



Last week, we started this vexed issue on the existing lingering fear of an autonomy of the local government in Nigeria. However, over time, the performances of these local governments in Nigeria have always been characterized by some serious challenges.


These include funding, lack of autonomy, infrastructural decay, political instability, constitutional problems, etc. The principle of autonomy is an important issue for local governments because they cannot function efficiently without appreciable elements of autonomy. Today, we shall continue our discourse.


The history, development of Local Government in Nigeria


The development of the local government system in Nigeria has observed four stages. The first is the traditional administrative system of the colonial era which existed from 1903 to the 1950s. The second is the more liberal and participatory approach to local governance introduced in the 1950s.


The third stage was necessitated with the advent of military rule, which replaced the model of grassroots participatory democracy with military centralisation and a ‘unity of command’ scheme, while the fourth involves the comprehensive reform of local government administration in 1976, which restored participatory democracy values.


The impact of military era and that of the 1976 reform are still felt in Nigeria; the centralisation between the Federal Government and local government under military rule is still evident in their relationship while the 1976 reform of local government continues to shape subsequent discourse and reforms.


First stage


The development of Nigeria’s local government system can be traced to the Native Authority Ordinance of 1916, passed by the British colonial government to leverage the existing traditional administrative systems in Nigeria. The Ordinance, although the first legal framework to operationalize a system of indirect rule was met with resistance from the East and West regions.


The Ordinance however survived till 1946, when the Richardson Constitution introduced the new regional assemblies. In 1949, the Eastern House of Assembly provided a platform for debates that eventually led to the Local Government Ordinance of 1950, which provided for a democratic local government.


Although introducing values of democracy in local governance, the 1950 Ordinance highlighted dominance of Federal and State governments over local government administration, which has endured through the post-colonial era to contemporary Nigeria.


Second stage


The modern trend of local governments in Nigeria begun with the reform of local governments in 1976. This reform aimed to restructure and modernize local government administration by extending the principle of federation through bringing government to the grassroots level, and to achieve uniformity of local government administration across the federation.


This was the first time a single system of local government was attained in Nigeria. To promote the independence and autonomy of these local governments, the reform operated to allow local government officers and local politicians to operate with little or no interference in their daily affairs.


State ministries only had supervisory, advisory and assistant roles, but not that of control. The 1976 reforms were argued on several platforms, including to institute an enduring viable Local Government Council System; creation of a system that could serve as a catalyst for the development of the areas involved; create a uniform local government structure through a one-tier system; insulate the exalted and respected position of traditional rulers from the vagaries of partisan politics; need to guide against the situation where, “The state governments have continued to encroach upon what would normally have been the exclusive preserve of the Local Government”.


The financial system was also restructured, introducing statutory allocations of revenue from the Federation Account, with fixed proportions of federal and each state’s revenue given to local government. It also sought to protect local government revenue from state encroachment.


The 1979 Constitution allowed for local government to receive federal allocations, and in Section 149, prescribed for States to provide funds for local governments in their areas. The 1979 Constitution provided the legal framework for the implementation of the 1976 reforms.


The primary goal was to ensure that every state government should, by law, provide for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of local councils. Once again, the autonomy of local governments was at the discretion of their state counterparts.


The Dasuki Report of 1984 added significant impact to the 1976 reforms, by corroborating the incessant reforms on local governments in Nigeria. It made for several developments, including scrapping of state Ministries of Local Government; creating a policy of direct disbursement of statutory allocations; creation of additional 149 local government areas; creating a new allocation formula, which gave 15 per cent to Local Governments; transfer of the primary health care program to the local governments; transfer of primary school administration to local governments; separation of power at the local government; appointment of political secretaries at the local government level; abolition of local government service commission and its subsequent reinstatement; presidentialization of local government as well as administration and financial autonomy granted to the local government, among others.


Third stage


The Military government reformed the local government in 1988 by introducing civil service reforms.


These created mandatory departments (personnel, finance, supply etc), officers (councilors, secretary, treasurer, auditor-general for local government) and the Local Government Service Commission in an attempt to professionalize local governments.


Fourth and current stage


The 1999 Constitution takes almost the same position on local government as the 1979 constitution, with some modifications. In its fourth schedule, Section 7(2) of the CFRN, 1999, sets out the functions of local governments in Nigeria, thereby recognizing local government as a unit of government with defined powers and authority, and relative autonomy.


The functional areas    local government included in the Constitution include provision and maintenance of health services; agricultural and national resource development; provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; and other functions as may be conferred on it by the State House of Assembly.


Section 7(1) also guarantees democratically elected governments in Nigeria. On the strength of these provisions, the 1999 Constitution acknowledges the powers of local government councils as articulated in the 1976 local government reform. Section 162 (5), (6), (7) and (8) also provide for the funding of local councils through the Federation Account.


Paragraph 6 specifically provides that “each state shall maintain a special account to be called the State Joint Local Government Account” into which should be paid all allocations made to local government councils from the Federation Account and from the government of the state.


This is, of course, a reversal of the reform introduced by the Federal Government in 1988. In addition, the 1999 constitution states that “the government of every state shall, subject to Section 8 of the Constitution, ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such (local government) council”.


These are some of the provisions that constitute the legal framework for local government administration in Nigeria.

The status of the Local Government system in Nigeria


In Nigeria, the Executive arm of government is divided into the Federal Government at the centre, the Federal Capital Territory, 36 state governments, and 774 Local Governments. Inherently, the local government is the third tier of the Executive arm of government.


It is the grass root and the lowest level of administration in a federal system of government as adopted in Nigeria. The main purpose of local government administration, amongst other things, is to mend the bridge between the government and the people, providing for the needs of the people at the grassroots, the lowest, tiniest level in the society.


Local governments generally act only within powers specifically delegated to them by law and/or directives of a higher level of government (Federal and State governments). Local governments therefore have no autonomy, making their decisions and operations subject to a higher authority.


Consequently, they offer little or nothing to the national development of our country, Nigeria. There have been varying interpretations of the constitutional status of Local Government as the third tier of the federation.


Although the 1976 reform of local government system attempted to clarify this, it did not provide the legal framework to underpin any fundamental restructuring.


In Nigeria, the local government is established under section 3(6) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (“1999 Constitution”, “CFRN, 1999”) which states that: “There shall be 768 Local Government Areas in Nigeria as shown in the second column of Part I of the First Schedule to this Constitution and six area councils as shown in Part II of that Schedule”.


Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution further 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”.


Consequently, each of the 774 Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Nigeria is being administered by a Local Government Council consisting of a Chairman, who is the Chief Executive, and other elected members referred to as Councilors. Each LGA is further subdivided into a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 20 Wards, administered by a Counselor who reports directly to the LGA Chairman.


Now this Significance of Local Governments


The major reason for the three- tiers of government, as provided by the 1999 constitution of Nigeria, is because Nigeria practises a decentralized form of government whereby power is devolved from the centre to governments at the states and local governments for effective governance and enhanced national development.


National development entails having functional infrastructure which contribute positively to the socio-economic living standard of the people living in a nation where it is very difficult for a central government to run a whole country; especially if the country covers a very large expanse of land, like Nigeria.


With the local governments situated at the lowest level of the government, they are expected to give the government ample opportunity to reach the nooks and crannies of the society and attend to the needs of the people.


In accordance with the Constitution, some of the functions of Local Governments include the economic development of the State, particularly in so far as the areas of authority of the council and of the State are affected; the construction and maintenance of roads; the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; registration of all births, deaths and marriages; provision for schools, financial powers, etc.


The functions of Local Government Councils are not necessarily limited to the functions stated above, as every State is permitted to prescribe additional functions for the Local Government Councils via legislation.

And this


Crack your ribs

There are two sides to every coin. Life itself contains not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly.


Let us now explore these.


“If you see a bricklayer drinking beer in the afternoon, just know immediately that one bag of cement is missing”. – Anonymous.


Thought for the week


“The most powerful thing we can do is get involved locally. Help our local community and become community activists in our own smaller circle” (Gavin Creel).


God bless my numerous global readers for always keeping fate with the Sunday Sermon on the Mount of the Nigerian Project, by humble me, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, OFR, FCIArb., LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D. Kindly, come with me to next week’s exciting dissertation.






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