Most Nigerians have over time craved for change in the local government system as presently constituted in order to bring it to conform with present day realities as well as to make the councils live up to expectations of the people who have continued to yearn for development at the grassroots.
The need for this change is occasioned by the failure of the nation’s 774 local government areas, which are supposed to be the closest tier of government to the people to make positive impact in the lives of a majority of the country’s population, who live in rural areas.
While analysts blame Nigeria’s faulty federal structure for the failure of the councils, the States/Local Governments’ Joint Accounts run by the respective 36 state government and their local governments is seen by many as the major reason for the inability of past and present administrations at the councils to meet the two primary objectives spelt out in the Local Governments’ Reform of 1976, which are: To promote participatory democracy, and ensure rapid socio-economic development at the local level.
The Nigerian Constitution, in Section 7(1), guarantees a system of local government by democratically elected government councils, but the second component of the section makes the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of the local governments dependent on state laws. Besides the guarantee, the constitution inadvertently makes it possible for state governments to cripple the local governments financially by routing funds standing to their credit in the Federation Account through the Joint Accounts rather than directly to them.
Whereas it was argued then that the operation of the Joint Accounts was meant to bring even development to all parts of the country as well as to curb corruption, the arrangement has over time, adversely affected the financial viability of the councils as some state governments have continued to make inexplicable deductions from the accounts. Section 162 (8) of the Constitution, which explains how the amount standing in the Joint Account should be distributed to the local governments in each state, states: “The amount standing to the credit of local government councils of a state shall be distributed among the local government councils of that state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the state.”
This constitutional provision, rather than ensure fiscal responsibility, has provided a window for state governments to hold them hostage and make them their appendages. In practice, the operation of the Joint Accounts has denied local governments’ of their financial autonomy.