The advent of local government administration in Nigeria took off in an
unpopular manner when it was vested in the hands of traditional
authorities during the colonial era. Post-Independence era was followed
with the importance of bringing the local government system to the
Over the years, efforts have been geared towards
democratizing the local government and make it more responsive to
developmental needs but proved abortive.
The Federal Republic of
Nigeria has defined local government as “Government at local level
exercised through councils established by law to exercise specific
powers within defined areas”.
The 1999 Constitution of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria, in its fourth schedule, section 7 sub section 1 and
2 clearly spelt the functions of local government as follows:
(a) the consideration and the making of recommendations to a State commission on economic planning or any similar body on -
(i) the economic development of the State, particularly in so far as
the areas of authority of the council and of the State are affected, and
(ii) proposals made by the said commission or body;
(b) collection of rates, radio and television licences;
(c) establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm;
(d) licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts;
(e) establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses,
slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences;
construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains
and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public
facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of
Assembly of a State;
(g) naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses;
(h) provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal;
(i) registration of all births, deaths and marriages;
(j) assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose
of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a
(k) control and regulation of -
(i) out-door advertising and hoarding,
(ii) movement and keeping of pets of all description,
(iii) shops and kiosks,
(iv) restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public,
(v) laundries, and
(vi) licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor.
2. The functions of a local government council shall include
participation of such council in the Government of a State as respects
the following matters -
the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education;
(b) the development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of materials
(c) the provision and maintenance of health services; and
(d) such other functions as may be conferred on a local government
council by the House of Assembly of the State. (FRN Constitution of
At this juncture, one may wonder if local government as a third tier of government is a myth;
Nwabueze (1983) in Ugwu (2003), had observed that the Constitutional
power to establish local government, define its structure, composition
and functions, belong to the State governments. To them, the local
government is a mere state creature and would be erroneous to see it as
an independent third tier of government.
Adamolekun, L.(1979) stated
“what distinguishes the 1976 local government reforms from all previous
reform exercises in the country is the formal and unequivocal
recognition of local government as constituting a distinct level of
government with defined boundaries, clearly stated functions and
provisions for ensuring adequate human and financial resources”. He
further opined “All the other aspects of the reform flow from this
fundamental innovation and the success or failure of the entire reform
exercise will depend on the extent to which the new local governments
succeed in becoming an effective level of government after the federal
and state levels.
The Dillon rule which was derived from
written decision of Judge John F. Dillon of Iowa in 1868 and is the
cornerstone of American municipal law maintains that a political
subdivision of a state is connected to the state as a child is connected
to a parent. Dillon's Rule is used in interpreting state law when there
is a question of whether or not a local government has a certain power.
Dillon's Rule narrowly defines the power of local governments.
Local government is an unavoidable tier of government in Nigeria’s
federal structure as stipulated in section 7(1) and 7(6a) of the 1999
The desire for the birth of local government
anywhere in the globe stems from the need of developing the grassroots
and get governance close to the people.
Nevertheless, the global desire is being subjugated by attitude of the federal and state government.
The dereliction of local government have been attributed to lack of
financial autonomy, corruption and undue interference in local
government affairs, with regards to the areas of Joint State local
government account which gives the state government undue benefit over
Meanwhile, the 1999 Constitution of Federal Republic of Nigeria,
S162(5) states that the amount standing to the credit of local
government councils in the federation accounts shall be allocated to the
state for the benefit of their local government council on such terms
and in such manner as may be prescribed by National Assembly,
S162(6) states that each state shall maintain a special account called
‘‘State Joint local government Account’’ into which shall be paid
allocation to the local government councils of the state from Federation
Account and from the Government of the State;
b) The amount
standing and from credit of the local government of a state shall be
distributed among the local government councils of that state on such
terms as prescribed by the house of assembly of the state. Thus, what
happens to the funds in the Joint Account is not the business of the
The financial control between the local and the state
governments reduces the autonomy of the local government and this paves
way for financial manipulation of the local government.
local level, the local government chairman is charged with preparation
of budget with inputs from councilors and local bodies. It is then
approved by local legislature, which is presented to the State Governor
The bureaucracy involved will tell that getting final
approval may involve too much interest queries as state governors,
political parties and top party chieftain may believe in having their
return as regards to the efforts geared towards the enthronement in
It is appalling that state governors who decide the local
government fiscal allocation and utilization have continued to man the
local government establishment.
National Assembly Stance
The Senate recently passed a bill for an act to further alter the
provision of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria
and for other matters connected therewith, 2013.
The committee proposed a total of 31 clauses affecting 26 sections and second schedule of the 1999 constitution.
From the 31 clauses set out, 13 were passed while 10 did not scale through.
Among the ones not passed is the alteration of section 162 of the
constitution to provide for direct payment to the local government from
the federation account.
In the Senate, the debate on the local
government autonomy witnessed glowing support and people were optimistic
about granting autonomy to the local government.
As 73 Senators are
required to vote in support for any clause to be passed. 99 Senators
registered to vote and only 59 voted in favour of granting autonomy to
the local government while 38 voted in retention of the extant law. Two
Senator abstained from voting.
But the House of Representatives took
a different position by endorsing the local government autonomy with
293 lawmakers voting in support, 39 against and 7 abstained from voting.
The Representatives further blocked the unelected local government
chairman from getting funds from federal government allocation.
Autonomy and Local Democracy
The term Autonomy is frequently used in democracy and development debate in Nigeria.
Granting autonomy underline the goals of achieving;
(i) Participation of people in the governance.
(ii) Institutionalization of the process of equitable development.
(iii) Capacity building for local government to sustain power and
responsibility necessary to formulate and carryout plans and programs.
(iv) Development of local leadership capable of addressing local needs and concerns.
(v) Building partnership with civil society.
(vi) Exposing the democratic attributes of transparency and accountability.
The desire for local government autonomy is a policy instrument to
strengthen democracy and to consolidate development from the base
requires continuous assertion of people in public policy.
becomes possible if Nigeria’s developments discourse, which is now being
wholly influenced by internal and external forces looks inwards, to
reflect local needs and aspirations and if the Federal Government, Local
and International Non Governmental Organization and Donors, who have
the inclination to establish counter structures at the grassroots, are
attuned to the need for local leadership growth, capital accumulation,
entrepreneurship and increased participation of people in grassroots
The capacity of autonomy to serve as a pillar of local
government that are accountable to the electorate and capable of
promoting public goods and services equally entails a balance in macro
and micro institutions of governance.
The Paradox of Local Government Autonomy
One contemporary paradox of Nigerian politics is that the
disempowerment of the local government erosion of its stability,
autonomy and embeddedness did not provide for empowerment of the civil
society or contribute to the overall development goal set in the
The other paradox is that without a strong
democratic government, devolution of power/autonomy could not be
possible. But a strong government with weak democratic credentials will,
of necessity, hijack the local government power and authority.
Nigeria’s case is cumbersome as it is heavily dependent on the National
Assembly and it States Counterparts for its development and is facing
pressure exerted by Nigerian Union of Local Government Employee (NULGE)
and concerned citizens for faster decision.
constitutional norms and an absence of a buffer to salvage the poor and
powerless has produced growing inequality, social polarization and
Without an important component of a
democratic state, such as (Executive, Legislature, and Judiciary), rule
of law and public policy, the politics of local government autonomy seem
only to tinker with the symptoms of Nigeria’s development problem.
Local government autonomy has been held up by the National Assembly and
the various States government and therefore requires a focus on
rebuilding the country in a new way, a way that is expected to promote
an efficient state with widespread and enduring social project on local
A democratic state is expected to direct public
resources with respect and a sense of responsibility and produce a
greater amount of human welfare.
Granting full autonomy to the
grassroots helps ensure the participation of the less empowered
population in the planning, execution and monitoring of social and
Nnaemeka Kevin Umenzeakor, Political
Science graduate of Anambra State University and an NYSC Corper
currently serving in Nigerian Institute of Social and Economic Research
(NISER) sent this piece from Ibadan, Oyo State.
Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.