Since the emergence of local government as the third tier of government in Nigeria, the tire is currently at its lowest ebb as far as governance is concern. It should be noted that prior to 1976, local government in Nigeria were more or less more government units, devoid of ideal status as a third tier of government. But with the 1976 Local Government Reforms, local government administration was give full fledge recognition as a tier of government, so much so much so that the 1979 Constitution enshrined the unit of governance as the third tier of government in Nigeria.
The Local Government Reform 1976 institutionalized the local government system in Nigeria. The reform led to the creation of 301 local government areas, this number was further increased in the 1980s by the Babangida regime. The 1976 Local Government Reform led to the democratization of the third tier of government, as there were elections of local government representatives into the local government councils as well as internal revenue generation to ensure their self reliance. The local governments were entitled, statutory, to a percentage of the revenue generated into the Federation Account under the constitution.
To a reasonable extent, local governments gained a measure of autonomy to function as the tire of government. Apparently, the autonomy of local government administration was vehemently eroded during Nigeria long spell of military reign. This snag could be easily explained given the military unitary command and of governance. As such orders were always being reeled out from the top of the pyramid of command. While revenues accruing the country and meant for the tiers of government were often unquestionably manipulated by top hierarchy of military government.
This negative development had dire consequences on the nation’s Federalism. Inter Governmental Relation (IGR) was strangled, so much so that the budgets of states and local government were determine from the Federal level. In this era, local government autonomy was not even an issue. During military regimes local government administrations were mere appendage of government rather than being tier of government that is the closest to the grassroots. Nonetheless, the 1976 Local Government Reform still remain the landmark development. Whatever the chequered development Local Governments might have been going through during protracted military rule in Nigeria, everyone expected the rebirth of democracy in 1999 to mark the beginning of new era for local government development due to the democratic ambience the country now enjoyed.
Everything about their autonomy and functions were explicitly enshrined in the 1999 Constitution. Unfortunately, several state governments have been stifling local government as a tier of government, in blatant violation of the Constitution and recalcitrant towards the democratic essence of local government in Nigeria. Even in spite of the deafening hues and cries about their obnoxious practice, they have remained so obstinate over the issue. Since 1999 several governors have been siphoning local government funds. While some have been making illegal deductions from local government funds as well.
To Compound the woes of local governments, many of these governors have been terminating the tenure of local government council at will. While at the expiration of the tenure of local governments, some governors have mischievously refused to conduct local government elections, instituting and prolonging the tenure of their mushroom caretaker committees, which is a contradiction of democratic values. This development ensures that they continue to have stranglehold on local government funds.
In recent years, the issue of the management of local government councils has been contentious. The influence of the states over local government has been overbearing, so much so that they have been ineffectively as agent of development at the grassroots, despite the colossal monthly allocations from the Federation Account. Some state governors have often undermined their autonomy by withholding a large percentage of local government funds to the detriment of local government system in the Nigeria.
The 1999 Constitution created knotty issues in Local Government development in Nigeria. One of such issues was adjudicated by the apex court, where it ruled that the Federal Government cannot withhold local government funds. There is also the issue of local government tenure that has been generating numerous conflicts and legal tussles in the country. Unfortunately, the National House of Assembly that has vouched to redress these anomalies is foot dragging over the issue, while the unscrupulous governors continuously swoop and feast on local government funds. God help our local governments.
Written By Johnny Eshikena Bob