The modus operandi of Local Governments in Nigeria has over the years evolved as determined by provisions given within the Nigerian constitution in operation at the time.
Although, local government administration had existed in one form or the other in Nigeria right from pre-colonial times, it was not until 1976 that a uniform structure for local government administration was introduced throughout the whole federation and it emerged as a third-tier of government.
However, despite several reforms to the local government acts, the autonomy of this third-tier of government is still largely non-existent in Nigeria as its operations can still largely be inhibited directly by either the National Assembly or State House of Assembly.
The original purpose of creating local governments is to bring government as close as possible to the grassroots. As identified in the fourth schedule of the 1999 Constitution, Local Governments are to carry out some of the following functions,
- The consideration and the making of recommendations to a State Commission on Economic Planning or any similar body on: The economic development of the State, particularly in so far as the areas of authority of the Council of the State are affected, and Proposal made by the said Commission;
- Collection of rates, radio and television licenses;
- Establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm;
- Licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically-propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts;
- Establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences;
- Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, streets 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;
- Naming of roads and streets, and numbering of houses;
- Provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal;
- registration of all birth, death and marriages;
- 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 State; and
- Control and regulation of movement and keeping of pets of all descriptions, out-door advertising and hoarding, shops kiosks, restaurants, bakeries and other places for the sale of food to the public, laundries and licensing for the sale liquor.
A critical look at some of these functions, show that if dutifully carried out, the Local Governments in all states in Nigeria ought to be able to form the bedrock for the creation and maintenance of a functional and up-to-date database of all Nigeria citizens.
Data from such a system would be extremely useful especially in a time such as this when COVID-19 has necessitated a lockdown in some states in Nigeria. With such data, it would be far easier to make projections on welfare packages for indigent households and provision of other emergency services in general.
However, rather than being the closest and most visible government to the people, many local government administrations in Nigeria are characterized by lack of proper organizational structures, non-accountability and nonchalance to the plight and welfare of the citizens.
While, it is worth celebrating that the Federal Government has decided to follow the constitution by releasing funds directly to the local governments for their operations, it is imperative that a strict accounting structure is put in place to check financial malpractices and corruption plaguing the third tier of government.
It is also of utmost importance that local governments be given further autonomy from the State governments to prevent an abuse of the powers and undue influence over local government activities by the State governments.
Some State Governments have unilaterally created Local Council Development Areas (LCDAs) in addition to pre-existing Local Government Areas (LGAs). This ought to be discouraged and a way to do that is to ensure that the state governments who create these LCDAs should be left to be solely responsible to fund and operate such LCDAs without any support from the Federal purse.
In addition, the arbitrary act of State governments appointing “heads” for the local governments should be seriously frowned upon. As a third tier of government, it is important for those who would head the local governments to go through the proper electoral processes, so that the citizens can vote their preferred candidates into office.
The importance of local governments to the society at large cannot be overemphasized thus the current rot within the local government structure needs to be fixed urgently.
Our cities are filthy because the local governments are not properly carrying out their role of keeping our environments clean. While COVID-19 has brought about a temporary fervor for hygiene, we must face up to the fact that community hygiene within Nigeria is at an all-time low, the heaps of rubbish and gutters filled with stagnant dirty waters which pervade our society are harbingers of diseases which already kill people every day.
As nations all over the world battle COVID-19, Nigeria should also ensure that its own fight against the scourge includes a critical look and re-evaluation of the Local Government structures in the country.
The Local Governments should enjoy more budgetary allocation to help them effectively carry out their roles as enshrined in the Nigerian Constitution.
A proper system of checks, management and monitoring should also be put in place to ensure the judicious uses of resources and also to combat corruption at the local government level.
The third tier of government should also be given a high degree of autonomy so that it can explore other avenues of generating additional revenue which will empower it do more for the citizens at the grassroots level.
We can start to get governance right in Nigeria, if we fix the rot within the local governments and make it as relevant to the citizens and society as it ought to be.
Written by: Engr. Bola Babarinde, National Chairman, All Progressives Congress, South Africa Chapter