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Grassroots Development and the Planned Delisting of Local Governments from the Constitution

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently reflected the fears in the minds of most development analysts, that the survival of local government administration in Nigeria rests on divine intervention.

The ex-Nigerian leader, who recently received the new National Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) president, Comrade Akeem Olatunji Ambali at his Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library Penthouse home, regretted that the 1976 reform had been massively abused by some state governors:

“I am of the view that the situation needs prayers. A situation whereby a local government cannot even afford a grader to make local roads motorable, a situation where they cannot build a hospital or provide for the educational needs of their people is not what we want the local government to be when we were creating the 1976 Reform.”

When Olatunji Ambali intimated the former president on the planned delisting of local government from the Constitution by the current National Assembly, Olusegun Obasanjo described the bill as an attempt to kill local government administration in the country:

“Delisting the local government from the constitution is grievous. Even with it still functional, they capitalise on the lacuna in Section 7 (6 A&B), which permits the Houses of Assembly to legislate and appropriate funds for local governments, to mismanage local government funds.

“If they can perpetuate this illegality despite the constitutional provisions, it will be worse when local government is delisted. This is because money meant for development at the grassroots will be credited to the state government and governors. Then, nobody will be responsible for the growth and development of the local government.”

Meanwhile, the Deputy Speaker, Nigerian House of Representatives, Ahmed Idris Wase called for an effective and efficient local government system on 9 April 2021. He revealed that security and infrastructure challenges facing the country can only be solved through the installation of a functional local government system.

He was speaking at the Leadership Capacity Building Conference for Local Government’s elected Officials from Delta State.

The Deputy Speaker who doubles as the Chairman, Special Ad-hoc Committee on Constitution Amendment, expressed hope that “before the end of this administration, we should deliver on our constitution amendment to provide a workable local government system that will be the true third tier of government. His words:

“I come from one of the remotest parts of this country. I know how local government administration was, then in the past, not the one we are having today and I believe collectively all of us can make it work again. We can change the narration, we can make it better.

“Not the third tier that when you do Federation Account Allocation some few persons will go and sit somewhere in small rooms, do all the cuttings and send out the peanuts. Meanwhile, the bulk of the problems, being infrastructure, insecurity is there at the grassroots.”

It is quite germane that Ahmed Wase’s call is coming at a time the senate is set to commence a review of constitution alteration.

Federal and State governments over the years have maintained a great level of influence and control over local authorities. States have themselves been the main culprit. As a result, the effectiveness and performances of the local governments are largely hindered.

Local government is the third level of government deliberately created to bring government to the grass-roots population and engender a sense of involvement in the political processes that control their daily lives.

Successive governments have made persistent efforts to bring true autonomy for local governments and make them more efficient. In the forward of the guidelines for the 1979 local government reforms, it stated that state governments have continued to encroach on what would ordinarily pass as the exclusive reserve of the local governments.

In a bid to bolster and make the local governments more effective, the statutory nature of local government was guaranteed and embodied in the 1979 constitution. The military rule of Ibrahim Babaginda had equally taken bold steps to make the local government more effective given that by 1988, state ministries of local government throughout the country were scrapped, thereby removing the political control and bureaucratic bottleneck of the state ministries.

The history and place of local government in Western Europe, Great Britain, the United States, and Russia exhibit the growing awareness of its significance. Globally, local governments are acknowledged as instrumental in bringing about rural transformation. According to analysts, it is strategically placed to not only fulfill the highlighted functions but also act as a physical and psychological nexus between the government and the people. In spite of the strategic importance of local governments to the national development process, its contribution has been grossly minimal.

Pundits agree that the ineffectiveness of local governments stems from excessive government control. More often than not, states have undermined the fiscal viability of the third tier of government by diverting statutorily allocated grants for local governments, as well as impinging on their revenue yielding functions.

The roles assigned to local governments by the Constitution are comparable to those carried out by municipalities in developed countries such as the United States. In Nigeria however, the majority of these functions are executed on the state level, which results in disparity in treatment of local governments, depending on the tax bracket of its residents.

Problems facing local governments are quite inundating. One of such is in the area of professionalism. Nigeria’s local governments are bereft of a skilled workforce and professionals that possess the knowledge and experience to propose and implement transformative ideas. In most developed countries, one would often find an educated local government workforce that includes engineers, attorneys, town planners, procurement experts, accountants, and other professionals, that enable the government-run efficiently. This educated workforce is supplemented by private entities who work for the local government on a contractual basis.

A good number of the elected officials are also either unlearned or less educated. This is a major bane to an efficient local government system in the country. It is the norm in Nigeria that only less educated people run for local offices. More educated candidates with transformative ideas run for state or federal offices instead.

Lack of funds is another setback. Funds are allocated by the Federal Government to the State and Local government. These funds have reduced in recent years as a result of the decline in oil revenue and national debt servicing.

Most challenges confronting Nigeria are owing to the failure of the grassroots system. This is why it is quite germane to give the government at the local level due attention through an effective local government system because the solution to Nigeria’s problems lies therein. Regrettably, the local government continues to be treated only as a small fraction of the whole pack.

The level of excessive control and encroachment on local government functions makes it harder for them to exercise their authority as derived from the Constitution. Without autonomy of some sort, the current system of local governance in Nigeria cannot be efficient. As pundits opine, to provide for Nigeria’s growing population, proper federalism must be established, and it is recommended that government functions from the bottom-up.

Read Also: Constitutional Review: A Touch of Inclusion for Traditional Institutions

The local government is an intermediary player between the federal authority and the grassroots in a given society. Adequate and effective local authority indicates that government policies and activities reached the populace. That is, the smooth running of the society needs to be cemented from the grassroots through adequate representations, policy formulations, implementations, and equitable distributions of resources and services.

Local government reform in Nigeria would involve the encouragement of educated citizens with knowledge of their locality to run for office, proper training for the current local government workforce in Nigeria, and the hiring of skilled workers.

A functional local government area would also have multiple streams of income generation and an investment portfolio that yields funds that may be used as operating costs. Various grants are also available globally that local governments in Nigeria can take advantage of to fund public, socio-collective, and economic investments. Proper funding and accountability go hand in hand; thus, corruption must be tackled to enable the funds to be expended towards the most vulnerable needs within localities.

Peters Abodunrin