Wednesday, 6th December 2023

The gradual death of the local government system

By Eric Teniola
03 August 2023   |   3:00 am
On May 4 this year, the Edo Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu (54) lambasted the 18 Local Government Chairmen in the state over their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). At a meeting with the council leaders, Shaibu said it was disappointing that they generate only N3 million (combined) every month. “Between now and the end of May,…

[FILES] Godwin Obaseki and Philip Shaibu. Photo: Facebook/PhilipShaibuEDSG

On May 4 this year, the Edo Deputy Governor, Philip Shaibu (54) lambasted the 18 Local Government Chairmen in the state over their Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). At a meeting with the council leaders, Shaibu said it was disappointing that they generate only N3 million (combined) every month.

“Between now and the end of May, I will personally do a letter to the Governor (Godwin Obaseki) to sack you people. “Before sacking, we will get the EFCC to check all your books…and you’ll be fired. We cannot continue like this. “How can 18 local governments (generate) N3million in a month as revenue.18 local governments, N3million!” Shaibu fumed.

I don’t know whether or not any of the Chairmen of the local government in Edo State has been prosecuted, if we are to go by the threat of Comrade Shaibu. I think Comrade Shaibu is just being pharisaical or rather hypocritical. He knows why the local governments are not performing. He cannot claim ignorance.

Being the son of late Pastor Francis Osikpomobo Shaibu, Comrade Shaibu grew up in a family where issues are discussed at breakfasts, devoid of emotions and sentiments. And as a former President of the National Association of Nigerians Students between 2000 and 2001, he is well enlightened on the provisions of the Constitution.

He even represented Etsako in the Edo State House of Assembly in 2010 and in the House of Representatives later. He knows that governors have abused the provisions of the Constitution as regards the Local Government. That is not to say that I am blaming Comrade Shaibu, an ex Senior officer of the Nigerian Prison Service for the defect in the constitution.

The third tier of government is dying in Nigeria. That is not the way it is supposed to be. And what is happening in Edo state, is happening in the remaining 35 states in the country.

Each of us who grew up in the fifties and the sixties saw the smooth running of the local government system; it was perfect at that time.

According to Mr. U.D. Anyanwu in a book titled “Foundations of Nigerian Federalism—1900-1960, edited by J. Isawa Elaigwu and G.N. Uzoigwe, Local government administration in colonial Nigeria contributed to the evolution of federalism in Nigeria largely because of two sets of actors: the internal and the external. The internal had to do with the plurality of cultures, people and even geography which made it necessary for the colonial authorities to adopt the indirect rule system which to some degree preserved the respective identities of Nigerian peoples.

That is, it was the local government system which was used to make each Nigerian group feel that despite colonial rule as well as the evolving colonial state of Nigeria, their respective aspirations and values were to be preserved.

This internal aspect affected not only the British political officers and officials who were in charge of the component units that made Nigeria but also the emerging nationalist and political leaders whose activities contributed to the successful decolonisation of Nigeria. In fact, throughout the colonial period, the dominant opinion among the leaders and people was that the local government system should keep to the principle of separate development espoused by the colonial authorities.

By the time of independence, this internal consideration had also involved the aspect of the value the local government system had to serve in the power struggle among the regional political parties.

The external dimension had first to do with the way Nigerian was acquired separately (in parts), phases and instalmentally by different units of the colonising power. Thus, though the invaders and colonisers belonged to the same country, Britain, yet they initially settled in different geographical and cultural areas as independent rulers. Some vested interest developed in the process and so even when amalgamation came up, there were significant variations in their views on how local government and indeed the entire colonial administration should be organised.

Largely, because of this, the respective colonial administrative regimes of the British in Nigerian found it plausible to insist on a local government system whose cardinal common feature was the achievement of separate development for a colonial state of divergent cultures.

Since these positions espoused by both the internal and external agents were also translated to arrangements at the higher tiers of government (namely the central and the regional), the result was that local government administration became essentially the concern of regional governments. The other related result was that the regional governments gave their respective local governments the character considered appropriate to the region. This was how local government administration played crucial roles in the forging of federalism in Nigeria.

A number of conclusions are derivable from all these. Local government administration in colonial Nigeria in theory and practice was designed to promote federalism. In the process it also became a promoter of regional thinking often at the expense of the country. In fact, it was not organized to promote the sense or thought of one country among the component citizenry. Therefore as at independence in 1960, local government administration was a sort of mixed blessing for Nigerian federalism. At one level it enabled the policy of separate development to prosper and thus fostered federalist impulses.

At another, it became the captive of regional governments and forces, championing essentially regional aspirations and interest with little or no care for federal ones. It can also be seen that the “accidental foundations of federalism and its corollary, local government (native administration) in Nigeria under Lugard had become consciously pursued foundation by the end of colonial rule, leaving the country with the dilemma posed by the legacy of this mixed blessing since then.

The unwavered dimensions of this dilemma include intergovernmental relations, the status of local government, and its role in the federal set-up.

Of all the tragedies that have struck governance in Nigeria, the gradual death of the local government system is the worst. Either we like it or not, the local government system is dying.

Today, if I may ask, which of the local governments is functioning? The central government must save the local government from total collapse. And the best way is to reform the system. I quite agree with the Clement Ebri’s committee report that the preponderant position of all the Local Government Councils in the Federation is that Local Governments should merge as creations of the Constitution in order to give them full-fledged autonomy.

The provision in Section 7 (1) of the Constitution which guarantees a system of democratically elected councils is seen as achieving that objective.

But a continuation of the same subsection (1) went further to empower the State Houses of Assembly to make laws to ensure their existence by providing for their establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils. This is seen as detracting from the desired constitutionally guaranteed autonomy. By the existing provision, it is argued; Local Governments have been reduced to mere administrative appendages of State Governments with unpleasant consequences as current experience has shown even as they are funded from the Federation Account.

There certainly are inherent contradictions in the demand for the restructuring of Nigeria into a true Federation as the accepted political structure. In one view, there is an overwhelming demand for the adoption of true federalism with all its trappings, namely and essentially—the recognition of the integrity of the federating states within the union with local government remaining an internal affair of the states; the centre (Federal Government) derives its donated powers and authority from the people constituted in the States; accordingly the centre cannot takeover or interfere in the internal management of the affairs of the federating states such as dealing directly with local governments.

By implication therefore, the federating states in an undiluted Federal System reserve the power to create or establish a system of Local Government which takes account of their internal diversity or recognizes the plural character of the nation. In that case, it was strongly canvassed that local governments should be relatively autonomous as provided in the Constitution but subject to direct funding and minimal supervision by the State Governments in specific matters.

Viewed in this context, the demand for a Local Government System with a Constitutional leeway to deal directly with the Federal Government invariably amounts to a violation of the Constitutional sovereignty of states and in the extreme situation renders the states completely irrelevant as federating units.

There is need to be cautious in considering the issues canvassed for an acceptable Local Government system to take account of the development needs of the vast majority of Nigerians to whom Local Government is closest.

In dealing with this matter, it has explored a reconciliation or resolution of the inherent contradictions to ensure that the advancement of one institutional interest today does not, in future, render completely worthless the essence of the present Constitution Review Exercise which is the search for a restructured Nigerian Federation founded on internal cohesion.
To be continued tomorrow.