by Ahmed Kaita
The problem of governance, particularly at the local level has been a recurring decimal in the political history of Nigeria.
It was heart warming seeing the resolve by the lower chambers of the National Assembly to restore some sanity in local government administration in Nigeria. Interestingly, the over bearing presence/influence of governors in local government administration is something everybody acknowledged yet, nobody seem to be willing to do anything about. It is no brainer to understand that the basic objective of local government creation to bring governance closer to the people has being compromised by the ambitions, desires and unpatriotic expectations of many governors.
Remarkably, the lower House voted on the reports of its ad-hoc committee on the on-going constitution amendment with clear determination to restore the glory of local governments through the relevant laws designed to make them functional. It is not by chance that 293 members of the 339 members threw their weight behind the amendment of the relevant clauses to unhook the leech grip of state governments over local governments. Perhaps, this may be the best thing that could happen to local government administration.
The problem of governance, particularly at the local level has been a recurring decimal in the political history of Nigeria. Local government administration in Nigeria started during the colonial era when it was vested in the hands of traditional rulers, and it operated in a very undemocratic manner. Over the years, efforts have been made to democratise local government and make it more responsive to developmental needs. Similarly, the problems of local government in Nigeria have been documented and they include among other things, inadequate planning, poor implementation of policies, inadequate revenue, corruption and mismanagement, lack of adequate manpower, lack of autonomy, lack of participation by the people and inter governmental conflict.
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 democratising 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. This master-servant relationship did not change for the better until the 1976 local government reforms.
In the forward of the guidelines for 1976 local government reforms, it was remarked that “the state government have continued to encroach upon what would have been the exclusive preserve of local government.” With this reform, the federal government granted the local government the power of grassroots governance, thus became the third tier of government in the country. Undoubtedly, there has been some improvement in the degree of autonomy granted the local government since 1976, with more functions given to it. To strengthen the philosophy of the government, it went further to guarantee the statutory nature of local government by embodying it in the 1979 constitution.
Section 7(1) of the said constitution states: “the system of democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed.” In spite of this inclusion in the constitution, the civilian administration between 1979 – 83 seriously bastardized the so-called autonomy. It should be noted however that successive military regimes have tried to give local government its rightful position through the revitalisation and restructuring of local government system in the country.
The General Ibrahim Babangida administration since 1985 made conscious efforts to strengthen local government system by enhancing its autonomy. Certain measure of autonomy started coming the way of local governments in January 1988 with the scrapping of the state Ministries of Local Government throughout the country. This was to remove the political control and bureaucratic red-tapes created by the ministries in the developmental performance of local government councils.
However, a lot remain to be done to ensure compliance and support for the passage of the amended sections of the constitution by State Houses of Assembly. No one should be in doubt about the capacity or the willingness of state governors to muscle their individual Houses of Assembly to ensure the swift death of the amended sections to sustain the old order that is in conformity with their despotic and unpatriotic style of governance. At least, we cannot deny the obvious master-servant relationship between state governments and their legislative arms. Perhaps, the slavish attitude of these state legislatures may explain the lacklustre support from them to address the constitution and ensure their autonomy to enable them function according to the dictates of the law.
It now remain to be seen how the general public will wake up to this responsibility by provoking the required awareness to ensure the smooth passage of the amended constitution clauses on the floors of Houses of Assembly.