Estimated reading time: 147 minute(s)
(A paper presented at the second edition of Ladi Adebutu good governance symposium )
Local Government is a generic term for the lowest tiers 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 grassroot level. In Nigeria, the local government reforms aim to accelerate development and encourage grassroot 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 the 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 grassroot 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 government, 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
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 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 grassroot 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 (eg. 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 3 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 twenty-six 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.
THE HISTORY AND STAGES OF THE 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.
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.
The modern trend of local government in Nigeria begun with the reform of local government 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 Dansuki 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% to Local Government; transfer of the primary health care program to the local government; transfer of primary school administration to local government; 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, etc.
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 professionalise 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 for 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 provides 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 Councilor who reports directly to the LGA Chairman.
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 infrastructures 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.
In addition to the functions stated above, Local Government Councils are mandated to participate in the governance of a State in respect of the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of minerals; provision and maintenance of health services; and such other functions as may be conferred on a local government council by the House of Assembly of the State. 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.
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.
THE AUTONOMY OF LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
In its simplest term, the word ‘autonomy’ means independence in one’s thoughts or actions. The word ‘autonomy’ can be defined as the ability of a person or authority to make his or her own decisions. It is the right of an organization, country, or region to be independent and govern itself. Local Government autonomy can therefore be defined as the local government’s quality or state of being self-governing, the right or condition of self-government and freedom from external control or influence. It is the extent to which local governments are free from the control of the state and federal government in the management of their local affairs” (Adeyemo, 2005). Local Government fiscal autonomy is derived from the fiscal federalism as is supposed to be practiced in the Nigerian federation.
The most fundamental rationale for creating local governments anywhere in the world is to employ it to take responsibility for the development of the area directly and also contribute indirectly to the development of the nation. National development embraces the total development of man and his environment in all ramifications in an area, under a political organization or structure (like a Local Government), on a participatory and sustainable basis. This is better done through governmental autonomy, which is, in turn, sustained by the Local Government Council’s adequate performance of its developmental responsibilities.
All the attributes of national development depend on the provisions of the CFRN, 1999. These attributes are provided for in Chapter II of the 1999 Constitution. The system of democratically elected Local Government Councils simply means that the Councillors would no longer be the candidates of State governments as was the case in the past. Rather, they are empowered to serve out their terms without fear or favour.
Section 7(1) CFRN, 1999, provides for democratically elected Local Government Councils. This system of government is not optional and has been guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution to the extent that every state is mandated to ensure its existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of these democratically elected local government councils. The Local Government Council is separate from the State government, in that derives its powers, functions and duties from the Constitution and not under or from the authority of a Governor, or through laws made by a State House of Assembly. The intermediate court held that a State government has no power to dissolve a local government council in the matter of ONUEGBU & ORS v. A G IMO STATE & ORS , wherein Justice Uwani Musa Abba Aji, J.C.A., (as she then was), held thus:
“It is sacrosanct that the tenure of elected Local Government Chairmen or any office holder guaranteed under the 1999 Constitution as amended cannot be abridged or determined at the whims and caprices of the Executive.” The [Governor] therefore lacks Constitutional powers to dissolve the 27 democratically elected Local Government Councils wherein the Appellants herein are the Chairmen. The Governor swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and not to mutilate it. Although, the House of Assembly has power to make laws, such laws must be in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The House of Assembly has no power to make any law giving the Governor power to truncate a democratically elected Local Government Councils. All what I am saying is that there is nothing that subordinates the democratic system under Section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution on Local Government System to the whims and caprices of the Executive arm of the State or the legislative powers of the State House of Assembly (emphasis mine).
See also ATTORNEY GENERAL OF PLATEAU STATE V. HON. CHIEF ANTHONY GOYOL ; ATTORNEY GENERAL OF BENUE STATE V. HON. MUSA UMAR ; ATTORNEY GENERAL OF ABIA STATE V. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION ; AKPAN V. UMAH ; EZE V. GOVERNOR OF ABIA STATE ; OLIVER V. KOGI STATE INEC & ORS . Only recently, the Supreme Court condemned the whimsical act of dissolving LGAs and held that the 2015 dissolution of the 34 Local Governments in Katsina State by Governor Aminu Masari and the 2019 sack of the Chairmen and Councilors of the 33 Local Governments and 35 Local Council Development Areas in Oyo State by Governor Seyi Makinde, were in total breach of Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution.
LGs NOT CONSTITUTIONALLY RECOGNISED AS A TIER OF GOVERNMENT
However, irrespective of these authorities to the effect that a Local Government was created to be autonomous and neither the State Government nor a State House of Assembly can make laws affecting or limiting the powers of the Local Government, the Constitution ‘assumes’ otherwise. The legal framework of the Constitution does not see Local Governments as a third tier of government, but merely recognizes Local Government as an appendage of State Government, where the latter enjoys absolute discretion over the former.
This is because the constitutional status of the Federal and State governments is clear and unmistakable. Chapter V, Part I (Sections 47–89) of the 1999 Constitution makes extensive provision for the legislative arm of government at the Federal level. Similarly, Part II (Sections 90–129) of the same Chapter makes provisions for legislative arms of government at the State level. Provisions are equally made in respect of the executive powers and functions of the Federal and State governments. These provisions automatically accord the Federal and State governments the constitutional autonomy and legal framework required for their operations.
Unfortunately, no such provisions exist for Local Governments. The Constitution provides no legislative powers for the Local Government, inherently subjecting the Local Governments to laws made by the State Houses of Assembly. It is noteworthy that the cases cited above are to the effect that the Governor and the State Houses of Assembly cannot dissolve a Local Government Council. However, none are to the effect that the Local Government is not subject to laws made by a State House of Assembly, or that Local Governments can make their own laws. Indeed, LGs are subject to laws made by Houses of Assembly.
Moreover, in the Second Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, two types of legislative powers are categorized, namely the Exclusive Legislative List and the Concurrent Legislative List. The Exclusive Legislative List contains matters that can only be legislated upon by the National Assembly while the Concurrent Legislative List contains matters that can be delegated on by both the Federal and State governments. However, no mention is made of Local Governments; a situation that further undermines the assumed third-tier status of Local Governments in Nigeria.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTONOMY: THEORY VS. PRACTICE
Article 7 of the 1999 Constitution empowers State governments to enact legislations with regard to “the establishment, structure, composition and functions” of democratically elected local government councils while the Fourth Schedule also assigns some critical functions to local government. However, these provisions only exist on paper. In practice, state governments have taken over most local government functions in order to justify spending funds earmarked for councils in the Joint Revenue Account.
Similarly, Section 106 of the 1999 constitution provides that the minimum qualification for election as Chairperson or Councilor in a local government shall be the post-primary school certificate. This low threshold has made a career in local politics unattractive. A poorly educated political officeholder who is also inexperienced in the art of governance can hardly offer meaningful leadership. However, States have capitalized on this lacuna to put persons of poor educational background in power, as long as they’ll be ‘yes-men’ or loyalists. An additional problem is that states often determine the tenure of elected members of local government councils . In many instances in Nigeria, State governments have decided not to conduct elections for the [local] councils, as evidenced in Anambra State, wherein a caretaker system was maintained for over six years. This practice is an assault on the principle of popular participation in grassroots democracy.
The 1976 local government reform, which was largely incorporated in the 1979 constitution, recommended direct funding from the Federation Account, with local government receiving a defined percentage of funds in the revenue allocation formula. This provision for financial autonomy has however been eroded . Allocations channeled through state governments are often not remitted to local governments but are instead used by state governments to reimburse themselves for expenditure made on behalf of local governments . Until 2000, allocations from the Federation Account were collected directly by local governments from the Federal Pay Offices in their respective states. However, this changed when the 1999 Constitution introduced the State Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA) . These SJLGAs have become infamous, with allocations regularly being misappropriated. Many state governors were accused of misappropriating local government funds during the first 12 years of democratic rule, with the aid of the SJLGA. For example, in 2010, 27 local governments in Borno State threatened mass action in protest at alleged indiscriminate deductions from their monthly allocations. Each local government lost 20% of its allocations .
Although the State is entitled to 26 percent of the Federation Account and the Local Government 20 percent, the practice is that States actually appropriates 48 percent, with the portion accrued to local governments at the discretion of State Governments. This is enabled by the SJLGA, which has become a crucial enabler for corruption. This is further worsened by the fact that findings from quarterly audits done by the Local Council Auditor are not communicated to anyone except the Chairman and the Head of Finance. This secrecy and opaqueness prevent effective monitoring of implementation of recommendations or ensuring that Local Government funds are appropriately utilized, thereby rendering accountability impossible.
Consequent to the misuse and misappropriation of SJLGA funds, local governments have become ineffective. Post-budget control imposes further restrictions on their operations, while local government Chairs also siphon off funds using all manners of strategies. The consequent negative impacts of such financial strangulation of local government councils are expected, as such a local government administration will become ineffectual and unable to bring the government closer to the people.
Three National Conferences have so far been convened to discuss the political and constitutional future of Nigeria, with the local government system being discussed in all conferences. The most protracted debates on the system of local government were at the 2014 National Conference, where participants were provided the ample opportunity of discussing varying political and constitutional issues. The conference recommended scrapping the SJLGA and replacing this with a state Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) with representatives from local government and a chair nominated by the State Governor. However, it also recommended a two-tier government structure – federal and state – with states able to create as many local governments as they wish . While the abolition of the SJLGA would restore financial autonomy of LGs and improve their viability, the two-tier government surrenders the autonomy of local governments. This two-tier government recommendation cannot survive, as local governments remain a fundamental aspect of democracy, serving as the most potent instrument to encourage and bring about local participation and to spread democratic values.
ROLE OF NULGE IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING
The Nigeria Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) has played a major role in the fight for restructuring the local government system of Nigeria. In its supervisory role, NULGE has observed the following defects threatening the continued existence of local governments in Nigeria :
1. The 1999 Constitution is fundamentally flawed in its provision for interventionist policies of the Federal and State governments on local government administration.
2. So far, the perceived “third tier” government has not materialized in Nigeria.
3. The ineffectiveness of local governments is caused by the factors of inadequate resources, including inappropriate fiscal base, the usurpation of the right to raise internal revenue, and the manipulation of the state joint local government account.
4. The creation of Local Council Development Areas or Centers aims to enhance State control over local governments, rather than aiding democracy and independence.
5. The appointment of Caretaker Committees to run local governments is manifestly unconstitutional and goes against the autonomy of local governments.
6. There is the urgent need for constitutional protection of local governments from the dictatorship control of Federal and State governments.
LGs ARE MERE ADMINISTRATIVE UNITS
A close perusal of the functions of Local Governments as listed in the Fourth Schedule to the CFRN, 1999, reveals that Local Government Councils are more or less administrative units of a State Government. For instance, item 2(d), which refers to the functions of Local Councils, provides that:
“The functions of a local government council in the government of a state as respects the following matters…and such other functions as may be conferred on local government councils by the House of Assembly of the State” (emphasis supplied).
THE 1976 LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORMS
This provision grants State governments unfettered discretion to decide on what local governments within their States can or should do, or to usurp some of the specific Local Government functions set out in item 1(a)–(k). The reform of 1976 attempted to accord financial autonomy to local governments. Financial autonomy is the ability to generate revenue, allocate financial and material resources, impose local taxation, determine and authorize its annual budgets without external interference etc. In the 1976 reform, it was envisaged that democratic federalism would start by extending popular participation to the unit of government closest to the people, i.e. Local Government. This would require a workable degree of financial autonomy recognized by the Constitution. However, section 162(3)-(8) CFRN, 1999, denies financial autonomy of Local Governments. It states:
“(5) The amount standing to the credit of local government councils in the Federation Account shall also be allocated to the States for the benefit of their local government councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
(6) Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the local government councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.
(7) Each State shall pay to local government councils in its area of jurisdiction such proportion of its total revenue on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.
(8) 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.”
By making States act as trustees and intermediaries or “middlemen” for the revenue of their Local Government Councils, these sections subject Local Governments’ funding to the discretion, whims and caprices of their respective State Governments and State Houses of Assembly. The creation of the contentious State Joint Local Government Account (SJLGA) under section 162(6) CFRN, 1999, has frustrated attempts to establish the third tier and autonomous status of local governments. Expectedly, State governments continue hide under the cloak of SJLGA to waylay at source, funds meant for LGs under section 163 of the CFRN, 1999. They thus control the affairs of their Local Government Councils, thereby undermining and reducing their impact, functions and contributions to national development, especially their immediate Constituencies and environment.
STATE GOVERNORS’ SKEWED SYSTEM OF ELECTION OF LG PERSONNEL
Another serious challenge faced by local government is the process of election. The Constitution empowers the State Governors to conduct Local Government elections. This is a significant challenge as the Governors can and have easily turned this into a process of selection and favouritism, backing and putting in power perceived loyalists, ‘yes-persons’ and bootlickers who are in favour of their government. In several States, a Governor’s political party usually wins virtually all the Chairmanship and Councillorship positions during election. This is to demonstrate the popularity of the Governor and his political party in the State, even if the governed are dying of starvation and destitution. This brings about a situation where unqualified candidates are elected to run the affairs of Local Governments, making it a near impossible task to achieve local development of the grassroots, let alone national development.
FURTHER CHALLENGES FACED BY LGs
The reality is that in Nigeria, there is little or no evidence of the impact of the local government system at the grassroots. Corruption, inefficiency, incompetence, lack of funds, poor and inadequate working equipment and undue interference by the state governments in the affairs of the local government councils have characterized the operation of the local government system in Nigeria. Arugu and Eke described the Nigerian situation more graphically thus:
“… The local governments in Nigeria have not been very effective due to the fact that they are very much dependent on the state government. This dependence on the states continues renovated and culminates in whittling down activities of the local government system thus rendering them ineffective, shadows of government and ghost environments. Thus, the major challenge bedeviling the operations of local government areas in Nigeria remains local government Autonomy – a system of governance that can make them truly autonomous…”
The local units of governance which formed the nucleus of present Nigeria have not only been undermined but are now undergoing major constitutional assault. With the exception of the 1976 local government reforms, which attempted to restore the sanctity of local governance, political restructuring has tended to further downgrade the importance and place of local government administration. However, despite these many assaults, the principles of democratic inclusiveness and grassroots participation have so ensured that the Local Government system still survives. Local Government is fundamental to the democratization process, as it remains the most potent instrument to mobilize people for local participation and to spread democratic values.
WHY LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTONOMY IS CRUCIAL
Local government autonomy is advocated for due to several reasons, some of which are:
1. Autonomy develops the system and helps in educating the people in the rural areas to acquire knowledge of the political system.
2. Strengthens democratic decentralization of power and puts power in the hands of citizens at the grassroots level governance, in addition to delivering development
3. Enables capacity building of people in rural areas in the form of economic empowerment through job creation and payment of salary and emoluments; freedom from external control of allocation whose excess can be channeled into the economic system of the communities concerned.
4. Makes the working environment functional and less threatening to the survival of the system. Local government employees in most of the states of the federation are today being owed salaries and retirement benefits. Creating a functional working environment will give the workers a sense of job security and motivation which will encourage them to put in their best.
5. Guarantees more money in the hands of local governments to deliver services to citizens since autonomy weakens the over-concentration of power in the state. Local contractors can thus rely on this tier of government for payment of contract sums, instead of the State and Federal governments. This also develops their capacity to handle bigger and more complex projects in the future.
6. Minorities, no matter the size of their population, are, with autonomy, involved in the political equation and process of electing or making the Councilor or Chairman of their Local Government.
7. Gives greater capacity to engage in and execute projects that are dear to the hearts of the people, such as construction, grading, maintenance of federal roads in the rural communities, primary health centres, repairs of bridges and culverts, building of primary schools, as well as provision of improved seedlings, aquatic and agricultural enlightenment services to farmers
8. Enables LGs make decisions that enhance and enrich the cultural base of the communities. Under this, internal communal conflicts could be amicably resolved by Local Government Councils through ADR mechanics, without recourse to litigation, to the states or federal governments. Chieftaincy, land and kindred matters as well as issues bordering on Community Development Unions (CDUs) can be easily tackled with powers bested in the local councils through autonomy.
The new trend is that countries all over the world are shifting attention to the local government administrative system though decentralization of responsibilities between Federal, State and LGCs.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AUTONOMY AS A PANACEA FOR NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
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 infrastructures which contribute positively to socio-economic development of the people living in a nation. It is difficult for a single arm of government to run a country, especially one with a very vast expanse of land and large population such as Nigeria. The United Nations’ projected Nigeria’s population is 211,040,308, as at 6th of May, 2021. With a total land mass of approximately 923,768 square kilometers, Nigeria is the 32nd largest country in the world, following Russia (1st), Canada (2nd), China (3rd), USA (4th), Brazil (5th), Australia (6th), India (7th), DR Congo (11th), Niger (22nd), Angola (23rd), Mali (24th), South Africa (25th), Ethiopia (27th), Mauritania (29th), Egypt (30th), Tanzania (31st). Such a heavily populated country with such vast expanse of land ought to seize the autonomy of LGs to the grassroots people.
It is thus perplexing that rather than encourage local governments to engage more in the governance and development of Nigeria, State governments stultify them and arrogate the powers of local governments to themselves. They seize funds meant for LGs at source and leave them barely enough to pay salary. Meanwhile, the Federal Government simply watches like an innocent bystander. A panacea to remedy the insignificant contributions of local governments to national development is therefore urgently needed. Devolving power to local governments under a deliberate policy of devolution and decentralization is key to ensuring that citizens feel the impact of this tier of government more easily as compared to a situation where only a central government exists in name.
The local governments’ total dependence on their State counterparts contributes to the ineffectiveness of this system of government. They thus become only shadows of government and mere ghost environments. It can thus be safely stated that the major challenge bedeviling the operation of local governments and which hinders their significance in making contributions to national development is their lack of autonomy.
Decongesting a behemoth Federal Government of its overconcentrated powers would free national leaders from onerous duties and unnecessary involvement in local affairs. It will increase the people’s awareness, understanding and enable them give support to social and economic development activities in their areas. It will also contribute largely to the betterment of the social and economic development of the local population. People at the grassroots will thereby have full knowledge of the art and science of government, governance and matters concerning the autonomy of Local Government, all of which strengthen national unity.
For local governments to play a significant role in national development, they need to be completely autonomous in terms of revenue allocation and funding, which they presently lack. Section 162(3) of the CFRN, 1999, provides for the distribution of revenue in Nigeria, thus:
“Any amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account shall be distributed among the Federal and State Governments and the Local Government Councils in each State on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”
In compliance thereto, section 1 of the Allocation of Revenue (Federation Account, etc) Act, LFN, 2004, provides:
“The amount standing to the credit of the Federation Account…in accordance with the Constitution shall, be distributed…on the following basis, that is to say –
(a) The Federal Government – 56.00 per cent;
(b) The State Governments – 24.00 per cent;
(c) The Local Government Councils – 20.00 per cent”.
Evidently, the division of the revenue in the Federation account is however shared in such a bizarre manner that the entire 774 LGCs in Nigeria are allocated a miserly ratio in the share of the country’s revenue. A single Federal Government receives a whopping 56%; the 36 State and the FCT Governments receive 24%; and the entire 774 local governments share a mere 20%. This is made even lower as some State Governments still deduct at source and retain the allocation meant for local governments. This is also irrespective of the fact that the functions of the local governments are numerous and that they are actually in charge of most sources of revenue generation in the country. No State generates any revenue except through LGCs.
For a local government to have true autonomy, financial autonomy must be accorded it. There is the need for better policies for tax and distribution of public funds for the good of the people. The sharing formula of the Federation Account should be amended immediately during the ongoing constitutional review exercise to give Local Governments greater funding to perform their functions and promote local and national development. Local governments should also be given direct access to their allocated revenue and be put in direct charge of local government funds, rather than through the State. This will go a long way to ensure their autonomy and also bring about grassroots development.
There is no doubt that the existence and autonomy of the Local Government system are a necessary pre-condition for national development. Local Governments, by the in-built limitations in the Constitution, remain ignored entities, necessitating their compelled interaction with and submission to other tiers of government within the federal system. Their lack of autonomy has exposed the duplicity and lack of sincerity of the decentralization theory of Nigerian federalism. The country is currently operated more as a unitary system of Government, rather than a federal one. The following recommendations are therefore proposed with a view to remedying the above observed anomalities.
MORE FUNDING FOR LGCs
1. There shall be more and adequate funding for Local Governments. This is a necessary step to ensuring the contribution of local governments in grassroots and national development. The improvement in statutory allocation to Local Government Councils will enable them have strong economic base, which will in turn promote even development and stability of the nation. Equally, State governments must abide by their limitations under the CFRN, 1999, by paying 10% of internally generated revenue to their respective local governments, as this will foster socio-economic development of the local population in a more realistic and lasting approach. Neither the States, nor the Federal Government can generate revenue except from resources found within the LGCs in States. The Federal Government shall set up a public fact-finding panel or Commission of Enquiry to investigate states’ use Local Governments’ funds in the past 10 years, with a view to forestalling misappropriation. State Governments who are in default shall be sanctioned.
RECOGNISE LGCs AS UNITS OF LOCAL ADMINISTRATION
2. There shall be a total re-organisation of the Local Government System in Nigeria through an amendment of the CFRN, 1999 (particularly sections 7, 162 and 197(1) thereof). The various State Independence Electoral Commissions shall continue to oversee elections into local government positions. There is the need to recognise local governments as local units of the federation; though not as federating units.
SCRAP THE STATE LOCAL GOVERNMENT JOINT ACCOUNT
3. The controversial and much abused State-Local Government Joint Account shall immediately be scrapped under section 162(5) (8) of the CFRN, and replaced by a new regime of fiscal federalism where LGCs have direct access to their share from the Federation Account; and thus freed from the clutches and apron strings of State Governors.
LGCs SHALL ENSURE ACCOUNTABILITY AND FISCAL DISCIPLINE
4. There shall be strict accountability and discipline on the part of the local governments as to how their funds and internally generated revenue are earned and spent for the total benefit of its citizens.
CREATE OFFICE OF AUDITOR-GENERAL FOR LGCs
5. The Office of the Auditor General for Local Governments shall be constitutionally guaranteed, just as the Federal and State Governments have their own Auditors-General.
ACCORD CONSTITUTIONAL RECOGNITION TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT SERVICE COMMISSION
6. The Local Government Service Commission shall be strengthened and accorded constitutional recognition.
UPGRADE MINIMUM QUALIFICATION FOR OFFICIALS OF LGCs
7. The minimum qualifications for eligibility to seek office as a local government chairperson shall be reviewed to a minimum of Bachelor’s Degree, HND or their equivalent. Qualified persons shall be screened for elections so as to prevent situations of yes-men and Governor’s bootlickers being put in power.
ACCORD FULL AUTONOMY TO LGCs
8. It is necessary for the Constitution to recognize Nigeria as a two tier system of government, but with specific provisions to compel State Governments to allocate a stated percentage of its revenue to the LGCs. They shall no longer be made appendages of State Governments. Full fiscal and administrative autonomy shall be granted to Local Governments by the Constitution, not as federating units, but as entities nearest to the people. LGs in Nigeria need adequate autonomy that facilitates their operations and the development of their localities. There shall be institutionalized democratic process of elections for representatives of LGCs as and when due. This is in line with what obtains at the State and Federal Government levels where elections are periodically and timeously conducted. Adequate autonomy shall therefore be manifestly accorded local governments in all areas, such as finance, revenue generation and expenditure, personnel administration and development matters. Given the status of Nigeria as the largest democracy in Africa and the third largest in the world, a constitutional framework that guarantees the autonomy, powers and functions of Local Governments as separate entities, different and distinct from the Federal and State governments, is essential to give voice to the far-flung parts of the nation. By this, any state that desires to create more LGCs or merge existing LGCs shall be free to do so, based on its financial capacity, provided that the percentage in funding of such created LGCs is duly recognized and guaranteed by the Constitution.
THERE SHALL BE NO INTERFERENCE BY STATE GOVERNMENTS IN LGCs ALLOCATIONS AND REVENUES
9. State governments shall totally eliminate all forms of interference with LGCs’ revenue from the federation account. Also, local governments must work hard to shore-up their autonomy themselves through more Internal Revenue Generation (IRG). This recommendation is in line with the 1987 Political Bureau Report of Nigeria. This ensures that the citizenry has a better stake in governance and be more sensitive to governmental activities and developmental efforts. This, in turn, would encourage local governments to engage in more people-oriented development of the localities through enhanced transparency.
LGCs SHALL ELECT LEADERS IMBUED WITH INTERGRITY AND PATRIOTISM
10. There shall be a shifted approach in the operational leadership level in the local governments which should be patriotic, dynamic and pragmatic, with vision and ideas, thus making the leadership imbued with quality, content, dignity, character and honour. This in turn, would promote meaningful expectations, effectiveness and efficiency in identifying and achieving goals and objectives of the local governments.
LGCs MUST ESCHEW CORRUPTION
11. A great deal of corruption in Nigeria occurs within LGCs. This shall be properly addressed by the appropriate institutions, including the ICPC and EFCC. Corruption shall be excised and exorcised from the local government system by emphasizing hard-work, discipline and transparency. These are necessary ingredients for development. Discipline and transparence in governance help to eliminate corruption as there is a symbiotic relationship between corruption, discipline, transparency and rule of law. Corruption will thereby be drastically reduced, if not completely eliminated.
THERE SHALL BE COMPLETE DEVOLUTION OF POWERS TO GIVE LGCs THEIR DUE SPACE
12. There shall be complete devolution of powers in the current Constitutional review exercise to enable LGCs take full charge of localized and peculiar matters that directly affect the security, lives, properties and welfare of the local populace.
MY LAST LINE
I believe and hope that some of the recommendations made in this paper shall be promptly acted upon by appropriate authorities to bring about a new, refreshing and re-invigorated regime of strengthened, dynamic and people-driven Local Government system in Nigeria. I thank you all for kindly listening to my lecture.