Promoting Local Governments' Autonomy in Nigeria


President Bola Tinubu

By Oluwagbenga Oyebanji

Democracy is still the best system of government to enhance people’s representation and uphold governance. Nigeria’s democratic journey has been rough and stained with corruption, nepotism and lack of transparency. There has been upward participation by Nigerians through presidential and gubernatorial elections but the grassroots has been marred with violence and dictatorial tendencies. The grassroots have suffered the most from lack of internal democracy; out of the 774 local governments most of the states have not conducted elections for leadership positions which contravene the sections 7 and 8 of the 1999 constitution.

Devolution of power and local government autonomy is the foundation of thriving democracy. It is in line of democratic posture for amendment of the constitution, considering the ambiguity of the 1999 constitution. The Nigeria’s case is complex and peculiar, the Federal Government through the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), filed  a  suit on behalf of the Federal  Government before the Supreme Court against the 36 state governors seeking autonomy for the local governments.

The growth of Nigeria’s democratic experience is fickle without institutionalizing internal democracy at the grassroots. The legislative lists of 1999 constitution give too many powers to the federal government and the states turning them into emperors without giving a space to the local government which is the closest to the people. The silver jubilee of the 4th republic uninterrupted democracy is a pyrrhic victory if local government autonomy is not in the vocabulary of constitutional amendment.  State- Local government Joint Account is a contradiction of representative government and a ploy to encourage kakistocracy in governance. The local government is the closest to the people and depriving them of autonomy is a mix breed of democracy and dictatorship.

The ambiguity in the 1999 constitution has empowered state governors to suspend local government’s elections and impose caretaker leadership. Strengthening grassroots politics through internal democracy would uphold democracy as the peoples’ government.  The problem of funds misappropriation at the local government through the parochial tendencies of the state governors should be amended in the constitution to allow the local governments to function as independent entities in the states without interference and interruption of grassroots governance.

The local governments if nurtured properly should be the linchpin of economic growth and development. Representative democracy is incomplete without the local government structure because it is the bedrock of civic participation and consultation in a growing democracy. The neglect of the local government is the main reason for underdevelopment in Africa. Empowering the grassroots through the local government would reduce policy inconsistency.  The local government system needs reform to actualize the dividends of democracy to the teeming youths yearning for growth and development. The greatest aberration in the Nigeria’s federal structure democratic journey is the relegation of local government to a parasitic tier of government. The Federal Account Allocation Committee mandated the local government to receive 20.60% from the FAAC monthly allocation. The Joint Account structure of the State/Local Government has created a master -servant relationship between the states and local governments.  Nigeria has a population 216 million with road networks of 200,000km. The federal roads are 36,000km, while states roads are 31,000km and local government has over 100,000km of road networks. The financial autonomy sought after by the local governments is to enable infrastructural development and economic integration.

The gross violation of the local governments’ autonomy by state governors is a democratic coup to the Nigeria’s nascent democracy. Section 7 of the 1999  constitution stipulates that, “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, 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.” It is pertinent for a comprehensive local government reforms that guarantees autonomy of the local governments. 323 local governments in 17 out of the 36 states are appointed by their state governors as sole administrators.

To create the local government autonomy we must create a system through constitutional amendment that empowers the local government access to their funds in a way that they function like mini states with its constitutional powers.  We must salute the doggedness of PBAT for creating the 37 Local Council Development Areas during his tenure as the governor of Lagos state between (1999-2007). The fundamentals of federalism are hidden in the autonomy of local government as the third tier of the government with independent constitutional powers to enable dividends of democracy at the grassroots.

The $1trillion GDP economic projection of PBAT is possible with local governments as partner in the actualization of this vision by 2030.

-Oluwagbenga Oyebanji, Public Analyst, [email protected]


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