Home » OPINION » LG Autonomy: Plausible panacea to grassroots challenges

Nigeria's Coat of ArmBy Emmanuel Ajibulu

It is no longer news that there is huge blue-murder to expunge Local Government administration in Nigeria’s Presidential system of government as presently constituted. Many critics have argued that the 774 Local Governments areas that currently exist are not alive to their responsibilities in terms of development. No doubt the expediency for the creation of local government anywhere in the world stems from the need to facilitate development at the grassroots and the importance of local government is a function of its ability to generate sense of belongingness, safety and satisfaction among its populace. Whatever is the mode of government, local government is expected to foster national integration, administration and development.

Sadly, local government which is statutorily established to be the closest tier of government to the people is not doing its bidding coupled with the fact that resident population in it is denied the benefits of its existence. The failure of the local governments in the area of service delivery has made the citizens to lose trust in government as an institution. In some areas, council officials are better known for the harassment of citizens than service delivery. Many Nigerians crave for change in the local government system as presently constituted in order to not only bring it in  conformity with present day realities but also to make it live up to the expectations of the people who have been yearning for grassroots development. But this will however require a lot of processes like constitutional amendments and inputs from the civil society.

Over the years there are indications that the hard-earned and limited resources accrued to and raised by local government are always mismanaged. Priorities are misplaced; projects are done not according to or as demanded by the people but regrettably in tune with the selfish end and  of the political leadership in collaboration with the senior bureaucrats at the local government level of administration. To buttress this facts, reports of probe panels at the three tiers of government often reveal the culpability of civil servants. Corruption in low and high places, corruption has been rampant among the senior civil bureaucrats to whom the public funds meant for developmental purposes are entrusted. Generally, wide-scale embezzlement by officials of the grassroots has made the needed development of the grassroots a tall dream and has rendered them financially incapable to discharge their constitutionally assigned responsibilities.

Indiscipline is rampantly perceived and well pronounced among the workers in third tier of government. The senior officers who travel to visit their families away from their offices on Friday return very late the following Monday or may decide to stay back till Tuesday; and the junior members of staff who directly or indirectly observe this more often than not are in the habit of playing truant with their jobs as well. Little or no commitment to duty has become a rule rather than an exception. Offices have been turned to marketplaces where officers hawk their goods freely. The rules that guide moral conduct and professional ethics seem to have, at worse, become cobweb that is so weak to tame the monstrous activities of the workers. Indiscriminate lustful desires are noticeable among the workers. The official’s relationship between super ordinates and subordinates has been stained. Strict instructions handed down from top echelon to the bottom are either not followed or treated with levity as a result of the immoral relationship between the boss and subordinates. Official duties are seen as an extension of private leisure. Laissez-faire attitude to work has arrested the efficiency of local government and has drastically affected its performance.

More worrisome is the degree of external influence and intrusion in local government affairs by the higher levels of government is appalling and needs re-evaluation. Situation where the state governor unconstitutionally dissolves the entire elected council’s officers without proper investigations on spurious allegations is not good for the future of local government administration in the country. Such external interference indeed subverts democratic process and undermines constitutional authority at the grassroots level. The crux of the matter is the ‘almighty’ power and misuse of it enjoyed by the state governments over local governments. Practically, and in true sense, local government in Nigeria lacks autonomous financial power. Local government is now considered as an extension of state’s ministry. The inherent nature of this problem has caused subservience, a situation where local government waits for the next directives from state government before the former could think of, let alone embarking on developmental projects. This has made local government an object of control and directives.

The major challenge that local government faces is the political control the respective state governor has on the local government chairpersons. This is as a result of the fact that state governor sponsors election of most, if not all, of the chairpersons. They are handpicked by the state governor rather than being elected. It is a clear case of who pays the piper dictates the tune. This again creates a problem of diversion of local government funds for personal use of some state governors. Records show that some of the ‘unholy’ alliance between state government and local councils in some states presents a situation where the state government constitutes Joint Action Committee, tagged ‘JAC’. Federal allocations to local government are first deposited into a particular ad hoc account before calling for the committee meeting. This in a way paves the way for the state government to plan for the local government and release the money in installments. The motive behind this is to divert the money to another thing entirely which does not have impact on the lives of the rural dwellers but that will be beneficial to the state governor. Another thing is the interest that the money will generate in the bank. The implication of this is that few of the local government chairpersons who have genuine intentions and are ready to perform are being discouraged. This again assigns more power and control to the state governor. The overall effect of this is the negative impact it has on the people of the grassroots as they are getting more and more alienated from developments. This undue interference has incapacitated local government from effective functioning on the one hand, and
alienated grassroots people from enjoying social services delivery expected of local government.

However, with these attendant challenges faced by local government administration in Nigeria, some political stakeholders and public affairs analysts have maintained that expunging it won’t still be a way out. They advocated further that local government can still experience some form of respite in the discharge of its statutory roles if the constitution can be amended and provides for autonomy for this tier of government. To the proponents of autonomy, they believe that such intervention will help to avoid undue interference emanating from other tires of government the State especially, which has often times served as albatross to socio-economic development among other things.

Although the struggle for local government autonomy in Nigeria has been a recurring issue so to say; it is as old as the history of Nigeria colonial state. Albeit, an historic excursion should equally be considered worthwhile in this topical intellectual and political argument. Moreover, these historical facts would increasingly add weight to this fresh and laudable agitations for Local Government autonomy in our country. In the 1950s various reforms such as the Northern Nigeria local government law of 1954, the Western and Eastern Nigeria local government laws of 1954 respectively aimed at democratizing local government administration were initiated by the various regional governments.  It was an era of participatory local government in Nigeria. Despite these attempts, yet the regions had strong grip of the control of local governments for varying political reasons. This master-servant relationship did not change for the better until the 1976 local government reforms.

In recent times, the federal government changed its posture and championed the course of local government autonomy.  In the forward of the guidelines for 1976 local government reforms, it was remarked that “the state government have continued to encroach upon what would have been the exclusive preserve of local government”. With this reform, the federal government granted the local government the power of grassroots governance, thus became the third tiers of government in the Country. Undoubtedly, there has been some of atom of improvement in the degree of autonomy granted the local government since 1976, with more functions giving to it. To strengthen the philosophy of the government, it went further to guarantee the statutory nature of local government by embodying it in the 1979 constitution section 7(1) of the said constitution stated: “the system of democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed”. In spite of the inclusion of this in the constitution, the Civilian administration between 1979 - 83 seriously bastardized the so-called autonomy.

It should be noted however that successive military regimes have tried to give local government its rightful position through the revitalization and restructuring of local government system in Nigeria. The General Ibrahim Babaginda administration since 1985 made conscious efforts to strengthen local government system by enhancing its autonomy. Certain measure of autonomy started coming the way of local governments in January 1988 with the scrapping of the State Ministries of local government throughout the Country.  This was to remove the political control and bureaucratic red-tapes created by the Ministries in the developmental performance of local government councils.

Apart from the above steps, there was the local government election in December 1987.  It was an attempt to restore democracy to the grassroots since the last election to the local councils in 1976, whose life expired in December 1979. Other efforts geared towards local government autonomy were the approved scheme of service for local government employees, following the recommendation of the Oyeyipo committee report of March 1988. To enhance financial autonomy and regular sources of revenue, there was the direct disbursement of funds to local governments, thus preventing the hijacking of the funds of local governments by the state governments. In a similar direction, the federal government increased the statutory allocation to local governments; for instance it was increased from 10 – 15% in 1990 and from 15 – 20% in 1992.  To further ensure the viability of the local governments, the federal allocation to local government increased from N1.177 billion in 1986 to N8.1 billion in 1991.  The monthly allocation from the federal account moved from N675 million in 1991 to N1 billion since January 1992.

Without prejudice, local government autonomy should be considered a well thought out initiative into our system of government instead of calling for its proscription and the three arms of government (Executive, Judiciary and the Legislature) should swing into actions to making this a success. Nigerian government must not take this as a superficial or cosmetic exercise or see it as a jamboree for political and professional orators to parade their wares or for scholars to demonstrate their erudition in political theories. Local government autonomy should remain a purposeful last resort to genuinely seek answers to the simple problem of human needs, human welfare, societal cohesion, institutional arrangement that will conveniently satisfy our common pursuit for human happiness and comfort.

In addition, it would specifically and fundamentally heal the spiritual ailments in the communities and in the souls of peoples of Nigeria at the grassroots. The present ailments bedeviling us are the result and the fruit of the historical wrongs that we are yet to correct. The spiritual solution for all human transgressions is repentance. We can cover up deliberate mistakes committed in ignorance but when each of us has come into the knowledge of truth and have gained wisdom, the onus fall on us to make amends as quickly as possible. It is the only sensible step to win back divine peace into our lives as Nigerians for prosperity and economic fortunes. God bless Nigeria.

*Emmanuel Ajibulu is a social commentator,  [email protected]

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    One Response to “LG Autonomy: Plausible panacea to grassroots challenges”

    1. Fipo protocol June 6, 2013

      If the constitution did not make any provision for their(LGAs)autonomous,then it must be done away with to stoop further booty sharing without any tangible result