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Strengthening Local Government System

04 Dec 2012

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In a bid to ensure an effective and democratic local government system in Nigeria, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), recently organised a one-day validation workshop for stakeholders in Lagos to brainstorm on issues bordering on the performance of local government administration in Nigeria. Anayo Okolie who attended the workshop, reports

Over the years, successive administrations in Nigeria have made various attempts to create a governance structure that would give room for decentralisation through different levels of government with differing degrees of success. Unfortunately, the local government system has not achieved its purpose since creation following its marginalisation by state governments.

Many believe that the non-conduct of council elections in most states is partly responsible for the inability of local governments to thrive. For instance, a state like Anambra has not conducted council election for over a decade while the local government system in over 23 other states are being run by transition chairmen appointed by state governors.

Yet, as the closest tier of government to the people, the local government is saddled with such responsibilities that directly affect the lives of the grassroots people. It is also believed that local government is fundamental to building a stable government not just at the state but also at the federal level through representative councils established by law with specific responsibilities within defined areas.

Dr. Funminiyi Abiodun Adeleke, who conducted a research about the local government system, noted that in a democracy, local governance is conceived as necessary condition to engender participatory governance as well as foster development at the local level. As the third-tier of government, he said it was to ensure effective participation of the local people in their affairs as well as bring development and good governance to local communities.

But such a change, he added, can only come through in two ways. First is to effect necessary amendment or adjustments to the existing legal framework governing local government administration in Nigeria. Second is by ensuring credible local government elections devoid of any form of manipulation which often characterise elections in the country.

Thus, at the one-day workshop by Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) for stakeholders, the organisation proposed that the National Assembly should entrench an effective and democratic local government system in Nigeria in the ongoing constitution review.

The workshop traced some of the challenges of local governance to constitutional ambiguity in responsibility for creating local government areas, clearly delineating areas of responsibilities between states and local governments in some concurrent areas; lack of clarity of roles in governing urban centres; continual encroachment of state governments on responsibilities of councils and inoperability of LGA autonomy due to inordinate state controls.

If local government must be functional, the group concluded that institutions of governance should undertake all development initiatives in a participatory manner with special consideration for women, the poor and other vulnerable groups. In this wise, budget formulation, project identification, implementation, monitoring and evaluation should be done participatory.

Formal institutions, the group also noted, must be transparent in undertaking their functions and also accountable to the citizenry. This could be through regular dialogue sessions like town hall meetings when scorecards are presented to the people. The use of publicly displayed information/bulletin boards have also been found useful.

The stakeholders, however, canvassed for the capacity building of formal government institutions to enable them perform their statutory responsibilities better and re-align with their changing roles and responsibilities, especially the use of participatory processes in LGAs that have not been practicing good local governance.

They also agreed that there is need to build the capacity of the citizenry to enable them participate in initiatives of the formal institutions, like project identification, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, contributions to budget formulation and tracking budget implementation.

Head of Democratic Governance Department, Idayat Hassan, in her contribution noted that the spirit and letter of the 1999 Constitution recognise the principle of fiscal federalism meant to guarantee effective decentralisation. As a result, the constitution implicitly acknowledges the need for fiscal, administrative and political decentralisation in the management of Nigeria.

These efforts, she said, are exemplified in the use of regional authorities or governments, native and district authorities and the introduction of a parliamentary system of governance with the independence constitution. Similarly, the creation of states, that rose from an initial 12 to the present 36 (including the Federal Capital territory), as well as the creation of 300 Local Government Areas (LGAs) in 1976, which progressively rose to the present day 774 LGAs, were also aimed at creating an administrative  environment for grassroots development through decentralisation.

Hassan explained that experience with the application of this constitutional provision has been varied over the years. For instance, decentralisation of administrative power during the military era was highly whittled down because of the command and control structure of the regimes, adding that by the time the military finally left government in 1999, the country was left with three main issues related to decentralisation which are still the objects of debate, vis-a-vis, failure of the present constitution to articulate a clear delegation of authority between the states and local government  in some areas of concurrent responsibilities, the ambiguity in the responsibility for creation of councils which remains inchoate and included in the fourth schedule of the constitution as well as the problems relating to the equitable allocation of federal revenues amongst the three tiers of government.

According to her, with the advent of the present democratic dispensation in 1999, effective decentralisation received a boost as the state governments began to enjoy high level autonomy in a number of areas. The same was not however reproduced at the local government level. Indeed, a carry-over of the military era has continued and political power at the councils remains subservient to the state government.

Consequently, Hassan said there was over dependence on federally allocated revenue. Most local governments rely on the Federation Account for more than 90% of their financial needs, adding that non-participation of stakeholders in governance over the years has made councils accountable to the state and federal governments rather than their communities.

On the kind of local government system that Nigeria deserves, she was of the view that existence of a decentralised national structure of governance should be adopted whereby certain levels of power (political and economic), authority (financial and administrative) and responsibility legally reside with the lowest tier of government.

She maintained that the local government institutions must be amenable to periodic monitoring of their activities by the civil society and the media. She said there is the need to strengthen the capacity of such monitoring groups in terms of awareness creation and enlightenment.

Tags: Politics, Nigeria, Featured, Local Government System

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