The most fundamental rationale for creating local governments anywhere in the world is to employ them to take responsibility for the development of the areas directly and also contribute indirectly to the development of the nation. However, this fundamental rationale has been neglected over the years. On this note, we shall continue our above discourse.
Local government autonomy: Theory vs. Practice (Continues)
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.
• The 1999 Constitution is fundamentally flawed in its provision for interventionist policies of the federal and state governments on local government administration.
• So far, the perceived “third tier” government has not materialized in Nigeria.
• 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.
• The creation of local council development areas or centres aims to enhance state control over local governments, rather than aiding democracy and independence.
• The appointment of caretaker committees to run local governments is manifestly unconstitutional and goes against the autonomy of local governments.
• There is the urgent need for constitutional protection of local governments from the dictatorial 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 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 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 form 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 LG autonomy is crucial
Local government autonomy is advocated due to several reasons, some of which are:
• Autonomy develops the system and helps in educating the people in the rural areas to acquire knowledge of the political system.
• Strengthens democratic decentralization of power and puts power in the hands of citizens at the grassroots level governance, in addition to delivering development
• 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 channelled into the economic system of the communities concerned.
• 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.
• 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.
• Minorities, no matter the size of their population, are, with autonomy, involved in the political equation and process of electing or making the councillor or chairman of their Local Government.
• 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, repair of bridges and culverts, building of primary schools, as well as provision of improved seedlings, aquatic and agricultural enlightenment services to farmers
• Enables LGs make decisions that enhance and enrich the cultural base of the communities. Under this, internal communal conflicts could be amicably resolved by LGs through ADR mechanisms, 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.
(To be continued)
Sounds and bites
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.
“I told my son, you will marry the girl I choose.
He said no
I told him she is Bill Gates’ daughter
He said ok.
I called Bill Gates, I want your daughter to marry my son.
Bill Gates said no.
I told Bill Gates, my son is the CEO of World Bank
Bill Gates said yes.
I called president of World Bank and asked him to make my son CEO.
He said no.
I told him my son is Bill Gates’ son-in-law
He said ok.
This is exactly how politics works”