Today, we shall conclude our discourse on the above issue. 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. 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 May 6, 2021. With a total land mass of approximately 923,768 square kilometres, 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), and 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 over concentrated 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 –
• The Federal Government – 56.00 per cent;
• The State Governments – 24.00 per cent;
• 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
• There shall be more and adequate funding for LGs. 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
• 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
• 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.
LGs shall ensure accountability and fiscal discipline
• 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
• 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
• The Local Government Service Commission shall be strengthened and accorded constitutional recognition.
Upgrade minimum qualification for officials of lgs
• 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 lgs
• 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 LGs. 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.
There shall be no interference by state governments in LGs’ allocations and revenues
• State governments shall totally eliminate all forms of interference with LGCs’ revenue from the Federation Account. Also, LGs must work hard to shore up their autonomy themselves through more internal revenue generation. 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.
LGs shall elect leaders imbued with intergrity and patriotism
• There shall be a shifted approach in the operational leadership level in the LGs, 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 LGs.
LGs must eschew corruption
• A great deal of corruption in Nigeria occurs within LGs. 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.
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.
“The lie said to the truth.. let’s take a bath together, the well water is nice, so they got naked and bathed. Suddenly, the lie leapt out of the water and fled, wearing the clothes of the truth. The truth, furious climbed out of the well to get her clothes back. But the world, upon seeing the naked truth, looked away, with anger and contempt. Poor truth returned to the well and disappeared forever hiding in shame. Since then, the lie runs around the world, dressed as the truth and the society is very happy. Because the world has no desire to know the naked truth.
– Jean-Leon Gerome (1896)
Thought for the week
“The real cost of corruption in government, whether it is local, state, or federal, is a loss of the public trust.” (Mike Quigley)