Local governments are essentially created to deliver services at the grassroots and bring governance closer to the people. This division of power simplifies the activities of government and serves as a viable incentive for good governance and development. It has also been observed that the local government system serves as the most effective avenue for delivering basic goods and services to local communities.
Nigeria is a federation, with three tiers of government; hence power is shared among its constituent units, which are empowered to make policies and take decisions on certain matters, as well as share common areas of interest with other institutions of government. To this end, certain services are expected to be more efficiently provided by certain levels of government.
The country’s constitution usually specifies the powers of each level of government so that there would be harmony and mutual cooperation in the administration of the system, such that no level of government would be jeopardised.
But despite constitutional provisions that specify the powers of each level of government in Nigeria, local governments are suffering from lack of autonomy. This is despite the fact that autonomy is one of the prerequisites for a smooth running of the local government system. Without autonomy, the third tier of government cannot perform their functions effectively.
It is against this background that several efforts were made by successive governments towards ensuring that local governments enjoy autonomy. One of such efforts was the 1976 reform, which made local governments the third tier of administration. Reform measures were also included in the 1979, 1989 and 1999 constitutions. Such constitutions, as amended, recognise local authorities as the third tier of government and categorically spelt out areas of jurisdiction for each level of government.
To strengthen their financial autonomy for optimum performance, funds were set aside for local governments from the Federation Account. Again, to make them financially independent, the funding increased from 10per cent in 1989 to 15per cent in 1992 and 20.60per cent in 2008.
Unfortunately, in spite of all these constitutional and financial provisions, local governments are still unduly controlled by various state governments, an action that has rendered them mere departments in the states.
Curiously, the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which accorded local governments a third tier status, also made provision for the state-local government joint account system. This has made them mere appendages of various state governments. It is important to note that the joint account system does not give local governments the opportunity to execute developmental projects in their areas of jurisdiction. The interests of state governments are usually considered before embarking on any project. This is definitely not good for the people.
To address the issue of local government autonomy, three bills were sponsored during the previous administration. The bills sought to amend Section 7, sub- section 162, of the 1999 Constitution, which borders on political and financial independence for local government administration in the country. The bills also sought to amend Section 7, subsection 313 and Section 162 of the 1999 Constitution so as to ensure an effective operation of the local government system for social, economic and political development. The bills basically aimed at correcting the ambiguity in certain sections of the constitution, as well as establish a four-year tenure for local government chairmen.
It is on record that public views on the amendment of the 1999 Constitution were majorly in favour of local government autonomy. However, despite this public verdict, those in positions of authority in the country have, for selfish reasons, continued to frustrate attempts to grant autonomy to local governments.
Reacting to issues on local government autonomy, President Muhammadu Buhari said, “Apparently, it is corruption that led to the relegation of local governments to the grip of state governments over the years, thereby distorting and demeaning the real status of our federalism, with regards to devolving governance. A once vibrant tier of government, which occasioned development at the grassroots, has gone into oblivion, due to obvious reasons.
“I and my team are waiting patiently to receive reports from state Houses of Assembly so as to do the needful in the event that the current proposal for the review of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) comes to us for consideration and assent.”
It therefore means that the success of this struggle depends on the commitment of various state Houses of Assembly in the country. It is expected that they would do the right thing. May God help us in this country!
Jamo wrote from the Department of Public Administration, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.