Strengthening local government administration in Nigeria
“I suggest that election to local councils should no longer be on political party basis but strictly on zero party. Elections on a zero party system will ensure that candidates will be drawn from the locality in which they seek election. This will bring into office persons who have a higher incentive to serve in an area in which they are known as opposed to the current system.”
– Aare Afe Babalola, SAN
Of the three tiers of administration in the scheme of governance in Nigeria, certainly, the local government is the most deprived in terms of financial and administrative liberty to bring governance to the people at the grassroots.Although, the roots of local government administration can be traced to pre-colonial administration of Nigeria by Great Britain, grassroots governance gathered momentum in 1976 with the Guidelines for Local Government Reforms, Federal Republic of Nigeria spearheaded by the military administration of generals Murtala Muhammed/Olusegun Obasanjo. The strategic drive rejuvenated governance and set the tone for quality representation at the grassroots level.
42 years after, the situation of local government administration has gone from good to bad, and now worse. It is quite displeasing that local governments have metamorphosed into appendages of state governments. Observations and findings point to the deployment of local government administration to score political goals. This is evident in the determination of election dates for local government (LG) polls and imposition of candidates by state governors to serve as reward for ‘good deeds’ performed by loyalists. One cannot but ponder how such individuals can deepen strategic leadership and development at the grassroots. When these play out, people at the grassroots are always at the receiving end of such insensitive decisions with cases of economic corruption, disregard of positions of responsibility springing every now and then.
Suspicion continues to grow in leaps and bounds, particularly when governors conduct elections into local governments with tendencies to influence the electoral process becoming a recurring decimal. After such electoral processes, we are treated to news of ‘total sweeps’ of elective positions by ruling parties.
The resultant effects are protestations by opposition parties. Cues from what was obtainable in the past and adoption of a zero party system offered by legal guru, Aare Afe Babalola, in a two-part piece on the recurring problems in local government administration pass well as means of making local government a truly representative tier.
To that extent, 1976 and1977 are notable in the history of local government administration in the country. During this period, people at the grassroots benefited immensely from dividends of good governance. Through the adoption of zero party system, individuals with rich grasp of the needs of the people emerged as representatives, thus making it difficult for individuals who have lived most of their lives in other areas to point the way forward. Perhaps, we have to revisit the zero party system to elect representatives that will bring development to the grassroots.
Another twist to the ineffectiveness of local government is the disconnect affecting the relationship between traditional rulers and local government administrators. In the pre-colonial times, traditional rulers worked closely with representatives of the British colonial government to effect development in the Hausa-Fulani, Igbo, Yoruba and Benin societies. Advisory roles that ought to be played by traditional rulers have been disregarded with local administrators operating a non-inclusive government.
Crucial functions of local governments- resource mobilisation, project execution are constantly been eroded by state governments with no clear-cut delineation of powers and functions of the state and local governments. Equally, conflicts arise in terms of taxes, rates and commercial activities required to offer financial strength for developmental projects and programmes.
The Joint State-Local Government Administration (JSLGA) is another concern making the local government less effective. Statutory allocations end up in the coffers of state governments even as they hold on to funds meant for developmental activities. Reports abound of how some state governors divert local government funds to push selfish interests and play political games. Electoral processes are at the mercy of state governors who decide when it is right to conduct local council polls.
The resultant effects of such processes are imposition of candidates and manipulation of election results. When polls are held, it is easy to predict which political party will emerge victorious. No thanks to governors who influence the election process to their advantage! As a result, available chairmanship and councilor positions are ‘swept’ by ruling parties with the assistance of electoral bodies.
From political to economic, financial and environmental problems, local governments have been adversely hit by interferences and maladministration on the part of representatives. Calls have been made for autonomy and inclusive development and governance at the grassroots. However, the parties involved- federal and state governments need to display political savvy and make things work at the grassroots.
Traditional rulers should be engaged in the business of governance at the grassroots. Through their input, local government administrators will identify the needs of the people and design projects and programmes that will improve quality of lives. With synergy between local government and traditional leaders, effective governance can be propelled on the local scene.
States independent electoral commissions should desist from engaging in partisan politics in the process of conducting local government polls. Transparent democratic processes are hallmarks of good governance.
Inter-government relations will enable the local governments to complement the efforts of both federal and state governments. The different tiers of government should share thoughts and ideas on the way forward. Local government administration should transcend from being a weak tier to becoming a truly effective and representative tier working for the good of people at the grassroots.
Afeez wrote this piece from Lagos.