Beyond Local Government Autonomy; The Need For Capacity And Creative Government At The Local Government Level

By Emmanuel Etim
By Emmanuel Etim
The Nigerian Government operates a federal system of government that consists of three tiers – the federal, state and local governments. The Local Government is the third tier of the administrative structure in Nigeria. There are 774 local government areas (LGAs) in Nigeria. Each local government area is administered by a Local Government Council consisting of a chairman who is the Chief Executive of the LGA, and other elected members who are referred to as Councilors. The Chairman is normally elected, but can, under special circumstances, also be appointed. He/she supervises the activities of the local government and presides over all meetings of the Council. Each of the areas is further subdivided into wards with a minimum of ten and a maximum of fifteen for each area.

The functions of Local Governments Areas in the Nigerian constitution include but are not limited to economic recommendations to the State, collection of taxes and fees, establishment, maintenance and regulation of markets, motor parks and public conveniences, construction and maintenance of roads, streets, drains and other public highways, parks, and open spaces, provision and maintenance of public transportation and refuse disposal, control and regulation of out-door advertising etc. The local government councils also work hand- in-hand with State governments on issues such as the provision and maintenance of primary education, the development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of minerals, and the provision and maintenance of health services. The 1999 constitution gives the states the responsibility to handle issues of organization and structure of Local Government Areas.

A Local Government Area is the pivot of socio-economic planning and development in its area of authority. Being also the tier of government closest to the people, it is considered a most important facilitator of economic and social development at the grassroots. The Local Government Areas are established to deliver the services which the Federal and State Governments cannot easily delivered due to their remoteness from the rural communities. Local government Councils also serves as a channel through which policies and programmes from the state and federal government are communicated and implemented. It has been postulated that over 72% of the Nigerian population live in the Local Government regions. The very important question however is, have the Local Government Councils been able to deliver this all important services?

I believe your answer would not be different from mine. Many Local Government Councils have failed to failed to improve on the lives of the people within their areas of operations. The failure of local government in the area of service delivery over the years has made the citizens to lose faith and trust in local government administration as an institution in Nigeria. They have tied their inability to deliver dividends of democracy to the citizens to lack of autonomy from the states where they are located. Because many Local Government Areas depend on allocations from the Federal Government and these allocation when they do come are taken by the state government with little or nothing reaching the Local Government Council. This has led to clamour by this tier of government for autonomy from the states in terms of finances.

While this is still a subject of constitutional deliberation, my opinion is that far more than autonomy, what we need at this level of government is capacity and creativity in governance. It has become evident that the third-tier of government lacks the human capacity to deliver on the statutory and shared responsibilities between it and the other tiers of government. Another issue militating against local governments’ performance has to do with corruption. As in all levels and institutions of government in Nigeria, corruption is predominantly wide spread, undiluted and unambiguous in the local government. This perhaps explains the inefficiency and ineffectiveness in local government administration in Nigeria.

At a time like this when the global oil prices are falling and the federal allocated revenue is falling with it, it is clear that it is time for the states and local governments to look inward to improve on internally generated revenue and other sources of income. This will require creativity and capacity on the part of the chief executives and their team. The situation where Local Government Area administration just fold their hands and wait for federal allocations and share same only to wait for the end of the next month is not only unacceptable but must also not be allowed to continue. Cross River State being a leading state in Nigeria and a pace setter must lead the way in the revolution at this tier of governance more so at a time like this when our newly elected governor Sen. Prof. Benedict Ayade is redefining governance in Nigeria with his pragmatism and result oriented leadership.

Globally, local government is widely recognized as a viable mechanism for rural development and for active delivery of social economic facilities to the people. Nigeria must thus not be an exemption. With intelligent, creative and visionary leader at the helm of affairs at this tier of government, it is possible to achieve unparalleled development and deliver services to the citizenry. There is no reason why a local government council cannot attract investors and partner in a public private partnership to develop in the area of Agriculture and natural resources, provide jobs for the youths and women and develop low cost houses and infrastructure and earn income that will help it achieve set goals and objectives.

As 2016 approaches and the tenure of the present crop of local government chairmen and their councils draw to a close, it is time to begin to evaluate their performance in office and how they have been able to deliver on their mandate to bring development to the people at this level. It is time for us to decide if for the next set of leaders it will be business as usual or we will chose persons like our governor with vision and track record of capacity to impact the citizens and develop our rural communities to reduce rural urban drift and provide amenities for quality living at the local government areas.

Emmanuel Etim is a development consultant based in Nigeria (emmanuel.etim22@gmail.com)

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