An appraisal of local government autonomy in Nigeria

Published: 2021-06-18 22:30:05
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Category: Government

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Local Government is one of man’s oldest institutions. The earliest form of Local governments exists in the form of clan and village meetings. In fact, democracy itself originated and developed along the lines of local governance initiatives in the ancient Greek city states. One of the major functions of LG is to bring about meaningful development in the rural areas.
As agents of rural development, LGs are to utilize the funds obtained from Federal and State Governments and their internally generated revenue to improve the lives of the people within their areas of operation such as: Initiating and attracting developmental projects to the Local Government, provision of access roads, water and rural electricity. Local government had become a regional or state subject under the 1951 Nigerian constitution (Mba, 1998). Thus, local government throughout the federation did not exercise appreciable degree of autonomy because of over concentration of power at the federal level.
One of the consequences of this was that local governments had to operate under a structure that did not enhance development of local initiative (Egomnwan, 1984). Other consequences included highly limited financial resources as well as inadequate staffing and funding for local governments (Mba, 1998). Consequently, effort was made to solve these issues in the 1976 Local Government Reform. The most important issue in the 1976 Local Government Reform is that the Federal government constitutionally recognized local governments as the third tier government below the state government (Mba, 1998).
The struggle for local government autonomy in Nigeria has been a recurring issue. It is as old as the history of Nigeria colonial state. In the 1950s various reforms such as the Northern Nigeria local government law of 1954, the Western and Eastern Nigeria local government laws of 1954 respectively aimed at democratizing local government administration were initiated by the various regional governments. It was an era of participatory local government in Nigeria. Despite these attempts, yet the regions had strong grip of the control of local governments for varying political reasons.
It has been difficult to practice an enduring autonomy in Nigerian Local Government. Even, though various institutional structures have been put in place since the 1976 Local Government reform, so as to concretize certain degree of autonomy, yet an amalgam of bottlenecks have been put on the ways of an emergent autonomous Local Government. These are constitutional provisions, political instability in the polity, financial/fiscal problems. Local government administration is widely regarded as government closest to the people of the grassroot.
It performs vital functions such as: political education, mobilization of the people for popular participation in governance, vehicle for political accountability, among others. The struggle to bring about a local government system in Nigeria has been a long drawn one. Efforts have geared towards moving the system from local administration to local government with functional political and economic autonomy. Yet, local government administration is confronted with issues and challenges such as: federal and state government’s interventions in the constitutional apportioned responsibilities of local government.
This study is of the opinion that for local government administration to realize its lofty goals, the country should return to true federalism, enthrone positive leadership, pursuit of economic self-reliance through internally generated revenue, and embrace attitudinal and behavioural changes to achieve good governance. The function of LG involves a philosophical commitment to participation in the governing process at the grassroots level. Local government is a third tier of government at the grassroots level of administration “meant for meeting peculiar grassroots need of the people (Agagu, 1997).
It can also be defined as “government by the popularly elected bodies charged with administrative and executive duties in matters concerning the inhabitants of a particular district or place (Appadorai, 1975). In these definitions, it was cleared that the term LG is used to contrast with offices at state level, which are referred to as the central government, national government, or where appropriate federal government. It can also be pointed out that Local governments generally act within the power delegated to them by legislation or directives of the higher level of government.
Throughout the history of local government administration in Nigeria, it functions had recorded low level performance to people’s expectation. The issue of Local Government autonomy has been generating a lot of interest and controversy in the Nigerian political landscape over the years. Many political observers, analysts and scholars have also posited that the real dividends of Federalism in Nigeria could be realized by enhancing Local Government autonomy, not by impeding it.

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