Nigeria’s Sub-National Entities: The Hydra-Headed Monster of Ungoverned Spaces

Nigeria’s Sub-National Entities

A critical aspect in Nigeria’s fight against crimes and insecurity are the thousands of localities and spaces without government presence. Can Nigeria truly exit her security issues without fixing this critical vacuum?


The federal, state and local governments comprise the tiers of government in Nigeria, with 774 local government areas that are described as the closest to the grassroots.

Over the years, there have been arguments that local government authorities have not been making much impact on the rural communities that should benefit from the dividends of democracy and opportunities that will transform them.

Some people also believe that the reason why local government authorities’ impact is not felt on local communities is largely because of the usurping of the financial autonomy of the council areas by the state governments.

Experts are also of the opinion that the local governments’ resources cannot pay teachers’ salaries which are deducted from source thereby leaving some local government areas with little or nothing to run their councils. But the Federal Government’s policy grants local governments the financial autonomy as well as access to their funds, which would have made it possible for local governments to function effectively. Surprisingly, too, local government areas are not even responsible for the employment, transfer or discipline of teachers.

Others are also of the view that the uncoordinated manner local governments handle the problems of ruler communities, has to a larger extent been hampering their development.

There seems to be duplication of efforts between the authorities and development partners that deploy their aid to provide rural electrification, stand-alone water hand pumps, among others, in rural communities. These agencies have huge budgetary allocations but the outcomes point to the fact that governance has broken down in the rural communities.

Worthy of note in the breakdown in governance is the emergence of ungoverned spaces which are found in various communities, and which gave birth to the infamous activities of bandits, terrorists, kidnappers, among others.

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The ungoverned spaces have been existing alongside engagement in meaningful and profitable activities by people in such areas, but the reality is that lawbreakers have converted those communities to their abodes thus making them unsafe.

The delinquent elements reside mostly in the bushes and thick forest reserves from where they map out their criminal acts, and this has been a major security challenge. In the northern part of the country, for instance, criminals hide in ungoverned spaces to carry out heinous crimes, and this is further exacerbated by the lack of successive state government’s commitment to tackling the nagging security matters faced by ruler areas.

All of these issues arising from ungoverned spaces are traceable to poor governance, growth of informal settlements or shanties, among others, which have given rise to rural-urban drift. And the local councils that should accommodate the majority of the people have virtually been left bare, creating a vacuum which raises the question of prioritisation that has been the bane of our governance system. Truth is, when people do not believe that there is an existing authority that can check them or one they can rely upon, then there is the tendency they will create their own system.

Theoretically, the local government chairman should have administrative control over his location, but this is not so. For instance, in 2019 an attack on a location in Zamfara State that lasted from 9:00a.m to 1:00p.m claimed 30 people. The fact that the bandits came in broad daylight on a market day to perpetrate the bizarre act without timely action by security agencies, apparently affirms lack of governance at the local government level.

Security is on the exclusive list and this is supported by historical reasons. However, the reality, or demands of today, make it almost untenable as security has constantly been put to the test in many instances.

Clearly, there has been a failure by past administrations, especially the Federal Government, to effectively implement meaningful policies that will see to the evolution of a vibrant rural Nigeria. Powers and functions of the traditional institutions to play fundamental roles in governance have been severely eroded. This has delegitimised their activities, as their functions have been placed in the hands of civil political authorities otherwise referred to as local government councils.

Functionally, the local government councils are not autonomous. And it is not about financial autonomy that has always been seen as the agitation by the elite to democratise corruption,  in the sense that since the federal and state governments enjoy relative autonomy as far as resource allocations are concerned, the local governments should also not be left out.

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It is impossible to have peace and security in any environment without effective social order. When unwanted persons are put in positions of authority, it is difficult to cultivate the goodwill or inputs of the people in addressing insecurity. This borders on leadership recruitment system or deficient human capital planning. We have stopped planning to capture adequate manpower that can govern and develop the local communities. And this would have paved the way for a bottom-top approach where people are involved in what is needed to improve their communities.

The provisions in the 1999 Constitution as amended are sufficiently defined in terms of realising the federal nature of the Nigerian state, and the foundation of any nation is the local government; the people at the grassroots. In order to have a sustainable development in Nigeria, we need strong local governments.

There is also the need to strengthen governance at the state and local government levels by developing a framework of administration in the communities to suit their peculiarities and characteristics. Local government administrative system should be restructured in a way that traditional institutions can play their roles effectively. This was one of the focal points of the 1976 Local Government Reforms.

Collaboration between the various levels of government is also a way forward. The current focus on the Federal Government should be reduced significantly for improvement of humanity at the local government level which has been described as the nucleus of our existence in Nigeria.

Categories: Features