Nigeria: Engendering the Local Government System

Engendering the
Local Government System
H A B U S . G A L A D I M A
Local governments in Nigeria have acquired an indelible reputation for
operating a political system that is blatantly corrupt, composed of officials
who have little concern for accountability, probity or transparency.
Although local government revenue sources have strengthened with time,
concomitant socio-economic development remains sadly lacking. Many
local governments continue to be characterized by their limited provision
of safe water, health services and facilities to a population suffering from
inadequate housing, limited income and wealth, severe material and social
deprivation, bad roads and a poor road network as well as limited access
to agricultural support facilities and utilities. The result is serious poverty.
Local governments, it seems, hardly feel the pulse and the heartbeat of
Nigerians comprising the country’s vital grassroots: people feel alienated
from government.
Nigeria is a federation of 36 states with a Federal Capital Territory
(FCT). There are 768 local governments within these states, plus six area
councils in the FCT itself, totaling 774. These local governments operate
Nigeria 31
political and administrative structures. The political structure consists of
an executive with a Chair, Supervisory Councilors and Secretary, and a
legislature or the Council. In some states, the Chair is part of the Council.
The administrative structure consists of six departments: Personnel Management;
Finance and Supplies; Works; Agriculture and Natural Resources;
Primary Health Care; and Social Services or Social Development.
The foundation for the local government system began after the British
conquest of a vast area of Africa, known today as Nigeria, under the leadership
of Lord Lugard, the first Governor General. The British system of
indirect rule depended on indigenous traditional rulers and institutions
for administration. Native authorities were established under colonial rule
to maintain law and order.
The process of decolonization, especially after 1950, engendered a number
of reforms aimed at democratizing the local government administration,
chiefly to make it more participatory. These reforms gradually transferred
local government authority from traditional rulers to elected representatives.
Councils were given a wider range of functions and a great measure of autonomy
in financial, personnel and general administrative matters. In 1954,
the Lyttleton Constitution ushered in Nigeria’s political re-organization as
a federation.
In 1976, the federal military government collaborated with state governments
to begin extensive local government reform with the aim of decentralization.
These reforms clearly articulated the idea of a three-tiered federation
in Nigeria. It ushered in a uniform, national system of local government
which defined their function, structure, and financial resources; as
well as the place of traditional institutions in the local governments; their
relationships with state government; and law enforcement. The reform,
which gave prominence to local governments, also made them functional
legal entities and insulated traditional rulers from partisan politics.
The functions of local governments were outlined in the 1976 Guidelines
for Local Government Reforms as well as the Fourth Schedules of the 1979,
1989, 1995 and 1999 Constitutions. These functions are classified into two
categories: 1) functions to be solely performed by the local governments,
and 2) functions to be performed concurrently or in “participation” with
their respective state governments.
The main provision of the 1999 Constitution dealing with local government
provides states with the authority to ensure the continued existence
of local government as democratic institutions by means of legislation that
provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions
of local governments, empowering them to employ and discipline
junior staff of the council. They may also enact bylaws which include
fixing of rates, levies and other statutory charges for the economic development
of the local government area; and for the good governance of the
local government.
32 Habu S. Galadima
The constitution further provides for local governments to receive a
share of the federation account – the shared revenue account of the Nigerian
orders of government – on terms decided by the National Assembly. The
names of existing local governments are annexed to the constitution, so
although in principle the states are empowered to create new local governments,
the process is complete only when the National Assembly amends
the schedule containing the names of local governments to include the
newly created ones.
Local governments in Nigeria face quite a number of challenges, including
intergovernmental conflicts, structural organizational problems, financial
difficulties and shortages of qualified human resources, the place of traditional
authority in local government and corruption with impunity.
According to Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perception
Index, Nigeria is rated among the top 21 countries, out of 163, in terms of
its perceived level of corruption. Without a doubt, the most serious and
recurrent problems derive from corruption: uncertainties concerning the
flow of financial resources to local governments coupled with constraints
on their tax-raising powers or fiscal jurisdictions. The inability of local
governments to raise substantial portions of their total recurrent revenue
requirements from internal sources undermines the autonomy implicit in
the idea of a three-tier government.
The overall problem is the accountability of local governments. Uncertainty
about resources actually available to local governments exists, particularly
since local government fiscal transfers are
sometimes treated as the personal property of
governors and some local politicians. Excessive
interference with the functioning of the local
governments by political elites compromises their
autonomy. This has led to calls for an amendment
of Section 162 (5) of the Constitution to
allow for direct disbursements of statutory
allocations from the federation account in order
to enhance the financial autonomy of local
There is a compelling need for a complete
review of the functions of each level of government
to take cognizance of the principle of
subsidiarity in order for local governments to
perform at peak, effectively and efficiently.
There is also need for a balanced, fair, transparent, and consensus-based
framework for intergovernmental fiscal relations to minimize corruption.
Local governments must also be given some degree of financial autonomy
through the restructuring of taxation powers.
There is a compelling
need for a
complete review of
the functions of
each level of government
to take
cognizance of the
principle of subsidiarity
in order
for local governments
to perform
at peak, effectively
and efficiently.