3rd August, 2011
It was at a public function in Lagos recently that I realised how much many Nigerians wrongly perceived the local government system in Nigeria and the reality on the ground.
The speaker at the event was an erudite professor who I supposed should have known better but how wrong was he? He gave several analysis on the working of the local government in the country but amazingly came to the conclusion that local governments have not performed well, describing them as total failure.
Many in Nigeria are ignorant of the workings of the local governments in the country and it seems most are not even prepared to know. The Nigerian constitution not only recognises the status of the local government as the third tier of government but also states clearly its functions. But the question we should ask ourselves is, whether the local governments have been allowed to operate in accordance with the provisions of the constitution. Well the simple answer is no.
Many factors have been responsible for making the local government become the most vilified tier of government in the country today. One of these is the inability to adhere to the provision of the constitution which has left the local governments at the mercy of the whims and caprices of their respective state governments.
Despite its status as the third tier of government, the local government system remains firmly in the control of the state governments which in turn control the councils with iron hands and all the arbitrariness they can muster. For instance, the issue of tenure of office has been left in the control of the state Houses of Assembly which legislate on the matter based on their political conscience and that has been the reason why the tenure of the local governments has not been uniform in the country.
Another salient issue that has been hampering the activities of the local governments has been the arbitrary control of their revenue by their respective state governments. The local governments operate state joint account on sharing of revenue from the federation account and the question is, how many state governments have been remitting the exact amount from the federation account to their respective local governments?
It is pertinent to note that since the last general elections, state governments have not been remitting money to their respective local governments while some have been rationing the revenue accruing to the councils. The constitution provides that 10% of internally generated revenue of each state should be distributed among their respective local governments monthly but have the state governments adhered strictly to this provision? Yet the local governments are expected to perform.
Many complain about the attitude of workers in the local government system in the country but the actual fact is that the local governments cannot hire and fire as that function rests with the Local Government Service Commission created by the state government and which remains the agency of the state. The question then is, how do you expect the local governments to control and discipline workers employed by the state governments?
Many are complaining about the seeming ineffectiveness of the local governments but many do not complain about the arbitrary takeover of revenue generating sectors by the various state governments. For instance, in Lagos State, in the past, local governments generated so much money from tenement rate, in fact it was the highest revenue generating point for the councils but now the state government has taken over that area with the land use charge which people are paying. When people are asked to pay tenement rate, they accuse the local governments of engaging in double taxation.
That is not all, because of their proximity to the people at the grassroots, the local governments have been the most visited with hostility with several cases of attack by members of the public even when the council officials are doing their legitimate duties. Many council workers have been injured and in some cases killed in the course of performing their duties.
There are many other factors militating against the effectiveness of the local governments but these are just the major ones.
Agreed that there are some bad eggs among council officials both in the political and administrative cadres but the fact remains that they should be given the enabling environment to perform. As it is now, the local governments are choking under the undue powerful control of their various state governments.
â€¢Adisa Olorunosebi, a journalist, writes in from Lagos.