LOCAL GOVERNMENTS IN NIGERIA: AN UNDERMINED TOOL FOR DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA BY A.I. FOWOWE - IReporteronline
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LOCAL GOVERNMENTS IN NIGERIA: AN UNDERMINED TOOL FOR DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA BY A.I. FOWOWE

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LOCAL GOVERNMENTS IN NIGERIA: AN UNDERMINED TOOL FOR DEVELOPMENT IN NIGERIA

BY

A.I. FOWOWE*

INTRODUCTION

The advent and prominence of democracy in Nigeria has been evident in its extension to creating the Local government as the third tier if government. This is also coupled with the practice of federalism as a system of government in Nigeria. As a third tier of government, albeit the level, the Local government exercises most of the powers of government – executive and legislative function. Local government over the years and all over the world has become an important feature of government due to diverse reasons. The reason for the creation of Local governments in Nigeria has been accompanied by the vast population of citizens, as well as its primary objectives and functions.

According to the United Nations Division of Public Administration, Local government is a political division of a nation (or in a Federal system, a State) which is constituted by law and has substantial control of local affairs, including the powers to impose taxes or exact labour for prescribed purposes.[1] In other words, the local government can be defined as the third tier of government that is established by law and is saddled with the power, authority and responsibility to manage, govern and make laws at the local level of a country. The primal establishment of the Nigerian government evolved during her colonial era. [It] can be traced to the Native Authority Ordinance of 1916, which was passed by the British colonial government ostensibly to leverage the existing traditional administrative system in different regions.[2] However, sequel to the independence of Nigeria, the Local government system was largely birthed by the reform of the Local government in 1976.

The 1976 Local government impacted a tremendous and radical change in the Local government administration in Nigeria. This reform aimed to restructure and modernize local government administration, and to make it one of the best in Africa.[3] The good intentions of the 1976 reform included the desire to extend the principle of Federation by bringing government to the grassroots level, and to achieve uniformity of local government administration across the Federation.[4] The objective of this reform was largely met with its enactment in the 1979 constitution of Nigeria. This marked the constitutional, democratic and significant beginning of the Local government in Nigeria.

COMPOSITION AND METHOD OF OPERATION OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN NIGERIA

The creation and establishment of Local government in Nigeria has been recognized and duly entrenched in Section 7(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended) which states thus:

The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed …    

In the history of the recognition of Local governments in Nigeria in her Constitution, it is only the 1989 Constitution that made an extensive provision as to the establishment, composition and organization of Local governments. Hence, the present 1999 Constitution is not very detailed as to the qualification, election, removal and other relevance of the Local government council. However, the Constitution has provided an avenue and opportunity for State governments to be responsible for the composition and organization of their respective Local governments:

… the Government of every state shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils.[5]

It is important to note that, although each State has been conferred the power and authority to make provisions for the distinguished composition and structure of their Local governments, there is almost a general composition and structure of Local governments in Nigeria; with the exception of very few States.

With recourse to the Local Government Administration Law of Lagos State, 1999 (As amended), the composition and structure shall be examined.

The government at the Local government level consists of the executive and legislative arm that performs their functions accordingly. The executive arm of the Local government comprises of the Chairman[6], Vice Chairman[7], and the Secretary to the Council[8]. The assumption of the office of the Chairman and Vice Chairman is only possible via an election. In this election, it is impossible for an individual to contest for the office of the Chairman of a Local government without a running mate who would be the Vice-Chairman if elected.[9] However, the Secretary to the Local government is by an appointment made by the Chairman of the Local government.[10]

The executive is also accompanied by the Local government supervisors in executing executive duties in the Local government. The appointment of these supervisors must not be less than three (3) and not more than five (5).[11] The Chairman can further assign specific executive responsibilities to supervisors which include the administration of any department of the Local government. Summarily, the executive arm of a Local government is vested in the Chairman of such Local government which can be exercised directly or indirectly through the Vice-Chairman and other offices in the service of the Local government such as the supervisors and the secretary of the council. This is apposite to the government at the State level where Governors perform their executive roles directly or indirectly through the deputy governor and appointees such as commissioners.

The legislature of a Local government is called the council[12] which consists of councilors elected from every ward in the Local government area. In this council, there is the leader and the deputy leader of the council who are elected by the councilors of a Local government council among themselves. The leader presides over the council during their sittings. The council may also appoint a standing committee of the council which shall comprise of its members for any special or general purpose as in its opinion. The law also vests upon the council to exercise legislative powers by making bye-laws. The council, after passing a bye-law, shall present such to the Chairman of the Local government for assent.[13] However, in a case where the Chairman withholds his assent within thirty (30) days, such law would be again passed by the council by two-third majority of the council.[14] After which, the bye-law would become law and the assent of the Chairman will not be required.[15]

Notably, the above established structure of a Local government, while using the Local Government Administration Law of Lagos State, 1999 (as amended), is the general structure of all 774 Local governments that exist in Nigeria. However, while the widely accepted and legal tenure of a Local government is three (3) year tenure, the Local governments in Lagos State practice four year tenure.

FUNCTIONS OF A LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN NIGERIA

The general function of a Local government as embedded in the fourth schedule of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) include:

(1) The main functions of a local government council are as follows:

(a) the consideration and the making of recommendations to a State commission on economic planning or any similar body on –

(i) the economic development of the State, particularly in so far as the areas of authority of the council and of the State are affected, and

(ii) proposals made by the said commission or body;

(b) collection of rates, radio and television licences;

(c) establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm;

(d) licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts;

(e) establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences;

(f) construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a State;

(g) naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses;

(h) provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal;

(i) registration of all births, deaths and marriages;

(j) assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a State; and

(k) control and regulation of –

(i) out-door advertising and hoarding,

(ii) movement and keeping of pets of all description,

(iii) shops and kiosks,

(iv) restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public,

(v) laundries, and

(vi) licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor.

(2) The functions of a local government council shall include participation of such council in the Government of a State as respects the following matters –

  1. the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education;

(b) the development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of materials

(c) the provision and maintenance of health services; and

(d) such other functions as may be conferred on a local government council by the House of Assembly of the State.

 

In light of the aforementioned constitutional functions, it is evident that the Local government is designed to manifest truly as a grass-root government.

REALITY OF THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN NIGERIA

The local has sadly been treated with levity and has not been given its deserved attention. Perhaps, this could be channeled to the fact that the people are ignorant of the whole ideal, constitutional function, and importance of their local governments. The whole state has come to a level in which; whenever the State government construct a residential road, it is usually praised with the mindset that they are performing their duty. The construction and maintenance of roads is an express function of the local government. Unfortunately, many Local governments have abdicated their duties while embracing redundancy. The restructuring of Nigeria starts at the Local government level. If Local governments judiciously perform their constitutional duties, the immense development Nigeria would experience would be unprecedented.

One of the major challenges faced by the Local government is the illegal dissolution of local government council, especially by a newly elected State government. This is usually done while the tenure of the local government council has not yet expired. As in all Local government administration law, except Lagos State, the law provides that the Local government council stands dissolved at the expiration of a period of three (3) years commencing from the date of the first sitting of the council. The interpretation of this means that the council becomes dissolved as soon as their three (3) year tenure elapses and, an election to fill these positions must be conducted.

As opposed to this, there has been a track record of Governors “dissolving” the local government council at their emergence. In the year 2019, Governor Seyi Makinde of Oyo State dissolved all elected thirty-three (33) local government councils and thirty-five (35) local council development areas in the State and replaced them with caretaker committees.[16] In 2010, Governor Adams Oshiomhole dissolved the Local Government Councils in the State two months before the expiration of their tenure.[17] States, where Governors have sacked elected Local Government Council [also], include Abia in 2006, Imo in 2011, Rivers in 2012, Ondo in 2008, Bayelsa in 2013, and Plateau in 2015.[18]

In the case of Governor, Ekiti State & ORS v. Prince Sanmi Olubunmo & 13 ORS[19], Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State, in 2010, dissolved the 16 local government executives in Ekiti State while the elected council still had up till December, 2011 to end their three year tenure. The Supreme Court voided the law enacted by States’ House of Assembly which allows Governors to sack democratically elected Chairmen and councilors and replace them with appointed administrators. The Supreme Court, in faulting the law purportedly relied on by Fayemi, held that Section 23(b) of the Ekiti State Local Government Administration (Amendment) Law, 2001, which empowered the governor to dissolve Local government councils, whose tenure was yet to expire, violated section 7(1) of the Constitution from which the State House of Assembly derived the power to enact the Local government law.

 

 

The Court posited thus:

 “[T]he system of local government by democratically-elected local government councils and conferred sacrosanctity on the elections of such officials whose electoral mandates derived from the will of the people freely exercised through the democratic process. The implication, therefore, is that section 23(b) of the Ekiti State Local Government Administration (Amendment) Law, 2001, which was not intended to ‘ensure the existence of’ such democratically-elected councils, but to snap their continued existence by their substitution with caretaker councils, was enacted in clear breach of the supreme provisions of section 7(1) of the Constitution.

To that extent, it (section 23(b) supra) cannot co-habit with section 7(1) of the Constitution (supra) and must, in consequence, be invalidated. The reason is simple. By his oath of office, the governor swore to protect and not to supplant the Constitution. Hence, any action of his which has the capacity of undermining the same Constitution (as in the instant case where the first appellant, ‘Governor of Ekiti State and others’ dissolved the tenure of the respondents and replaced them with caretaker committees) is tantamount to executive recklessness which would not be condoned.”

In another unfortunate development, the Local government has comparatively financially incapacitated in independently performing its constitutional function. The allocation of revenue to Local governments is in the control of their respective State governments as provided for in section 162(5) & (6) of the CFRN, 1999:

(5) The amount standing to the credit of Local Government Councils in the Federation Account shall also be allocated to the State for the benefit of their Local Government Councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.

(6) Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.

Simply put, the State Joint Local Government Account System provides that the revenue of local governments in a State would be sent to their respective State governments who will, in turn, disburse them to various local governments.

It is generally known that withholding the funds of a government is as equal to holding the wheels of such a government. This has also not been helpful especially with the common practice of State governments either not releasing at all the revenue for a Local government or releasing an amount that is not capable of executing their functions. This is more frustrating when the disbursement of these funds are being politicized if the dominating or ruling political party of a State is not in tandem with certain Local governments. This is because of the intentional segregation, delay, and partial releasing of money.

[T]he operation of the State Joint Local Government Account System has constrained the fiscal independence of the Local government.[20] This allocation from the Federal Account into the State Joint Local Government Account is disbursed by State governors on a master-servant basis.[21] This has weakened the development efforts of Local government councils in Nigeria.[22]

In addition, the State Independent Electoral Commission, as established under section 197(1)(b) of the CFRN 1999, is vested with the responsibility to conduct the elections of Local government. This is further supported with its function stated in the constitution:

(4) The Commission shall have power-

(a) to organise, undertake and supervise all elections to local government councils within the State.[23]

 

In other words, there is to be an election conducted for Local governments few months before the end of the incumbent; just like it is practiced at the Federal and State level. Unfortunately, this appears not to be the practice in various Local governments of the Federation. The position of the local government councils are usually left empty and at the hands of appointed caretakers. For example, from the year 2011 till 2018, there were no elections conducted at the Local government level in Oyo State.[24] Additionally, Borno State conducted its first Local government in the year 2020 after 13 years of vacancy in the Local government councils.[25]

Furthermore, whenever elections are being conducted, the ruling party in the State usually wins all the Local government in the State. In the year 2020, Kogi State Independent Electoral Commission, KOSIEC, declared the All Progressive Congress (APC) winner in all the twenty-one (21) Local government council elections; APC being the ruling party of the State government.[26] In 2021, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) wins all Local Government Chairmanship, Councillorship seats in Rivers election[27]; PDP being the ruling party in the State.

There has evidently been a successful and manifested political game played at these elections which defeats the whole purpose of a free and fair election, the democracy practiced in the country, and the independence of the State Independent Electoral Commission in charge of these elections.

These and many other issues such as; the display of ignorance by the elected officials of a Local government council of their constitutional roles, their gross inefficiency in posts, and the ignorance of the people, cripples the whole existence of a Local government in a State.

RECOMMENDATION

  1. The court judgment in the case of Governor, Ekiti State & ORS v. Prince Sanmi Olubunmo & 13 ORS[28] should be judiciously complied with by all State governments. State governments have no power whatsoever to sack or dissolve Local government councils when their tenures are yet to expire.
  2. The Lagos State amendment of the tenure of the Local government council from 3 year tenure to 4 year tenure should be emulated by every other States. This is to avoid complexity by having all elections in the State at a go and all tenures expire the same time.
  3. The source of revenue of every Local government in a State should be channeled directly from the Federal account to the Local governments’ accounts. Preferably and to ensure its efficiency, a body should be either created or vested with the responsibilities of performing this task.
  4. The public should become more conversant with the intricacies of a Local government, especially the ones close to them to ensure the accountability of these Local governments.

CONCLUSION

The saddening state of the Local governments in the Federation has, in diverse ways, affected the collective development of the nation. It has further dismantled the whole purpose of a Local government being the grass root government of the people. In the search of a way out of this, the recommendations posited in this paper should be complied with. This is to ensure the goal, objective and efficiency of Local governments in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

* Fowowe Adetomiwa Isaac, Faculty of Law, Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba-Akoko, fowowe.adetomiwa@gmailcom

[1] Mujeeb Muraina, ‘Who Creates Local Government and What Are the Criteria for Local Government Creation in Nigeria’, <https://www.grin.com/document/962643> accessed 19 March 2021.

[2] Ozohu Suleiman & Paul Chima, ‘Local Government Administration in Nigeria: The Search for Relevance’  <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/295081715_Local_government_administration_in_Nigeria_the_search_for_relevance> accessed 19 March 2021.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Section 7(1), 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (As amended)

[6] Section 19, Local Government (Administration) Law of Lagos State, 1999 (As amended).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Section 30(1), Local Government (Administration) Law of Lagos State, 1999 (As amended).

[9] Section 23(1), Local Government (Administration) Law of Lagos State, 1999 (As amended).

[10] Section 30(1), note 8.

[11] Section 29(1), Local Government (Administration) Law of Lagos State, 1999 (As amended).

[12] Section 38, Local Government (Administration) Law of Lagos State, 1999 (As amended).

[13] Section 39(2), Local Government (Administration) Law of Lagos State, 1999 (As amended).

[14] Section 39(5), Local Government (Administration) Law of Lagos State, 1999 (As amended).

[15] Ibid.

[16] This Day, ‘Gov Makinde’s Unending Battle for Control of Oyo LGs’, <https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2020/03/01/gov-makindes-unending-battle-for-control-of-oyo-lgs/> accessed 20 March 2021.

[17] Vanguard NGR, ‘Sack of Edo Councils: Has Oshiomhole Breached the Constitution’, <https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.vanguardngr.com/2010/10/sack-of-edo-councilshas-oshiomhole-breached-the-constitution/amp/> accessed 20 March 2021.

[18] All Africa, ‘Local Government’, <https://allafrica.com/stories/202001030068.html> accessed 20 March 2021.

[19] (2016) LCN 14408 (SC)

[20] Ofinche S.I., ‘Fiscal Policy and Local Government Administration in Nigeria’, African Research Review Vol.8(2), Serial No. 33 <https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.ajol.info/index.php/afrrev/article/view/104271/94360&ved=2ahUKEwjG5pbGjsnvAhVT9IUKHaTXBSwQFjAJegQICRAC&usg=AOvVaw3rm-k9FnjOzv5qdgmaaSNF> accessed 24 March 2021.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Paragraph 4(a), Part II, Third Schedule, CFRN, 1999.

[24] PM News Nigeria, ‘Ajimobi Swears-in LG Caretaker Chairmen’, <https://www.pmnewsnigeria.com/2011/08/08/ajimobi-swears-in-lg-caretaker-chairmen/> accessed 24 March 2021.

[25] HumAngle, ‘After 13 Years, Borno State Conducts First Local Government Election’, <https://humangle.ng/after-13-years-borno-state-conducts-first-local-government-elections/> accessed 24 March 2021.

[26] Vanguard NG, ‘Kogi Council Poll: APC Wins all 21 LGSs, 239 Wards, Opposition Party Kicks’ <https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.vanguardngr.com/2020/12/kogi-council-poll-apc-wins-all-21-lgas-239-wards-opposition-parties-kick/amp/> accessed 24 March 2021.

[27] Premium Times NG, ‘PDP Wins all LG Chairmanship, Councillorship seats in Rivers election’,< https://www.premiumtimesng.com/regional/south-south-regional/456043-pdp-wins-all-lg-chairmanship-councillorship-seats-in-rivers-election.html> accessed 24 March 2021.

[28] Supra, note 19.

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