Democratising LGs essential for growth


THE allegation by the President, Major-General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), that state governors are responsible for the stunted development in the hinterland communities by pocketing statutory funds allocated to the local governments has rekindled discussion over Nigeria’s perverted federalism and the relevance of the third tier of government in the country. Unless Nigeria is reset to operate as a proper federal polity and LGs are allowed to flourish, progress will continue to elude the country.

Buhari flayed the governors for “poor governance at the grassroots.” Earlier, the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba, had similarly accused the governors of abandoning the rural population, preferring instead to spend state resources in the capital cities.

Agba noted that while 72 per cent of the country’s poor resided in rural communities, the governors paid scant attention to the grassroots. Buhari described as “terrible”, how some state governors received money on behalf of the LGs but remitted only half to the council chairman, who he alleged, “pilfers the remnant, leaving nothing for developmental projects.”

Both were saying what Nigerians already know. What has been missing is concrete action to change the narrative.

The strangulation of the third tier of government has had predictable consequences: a local government administration that is ineffectual, unable to connect with citizens, or to discharge its statutory responsibilities, and a local population without responsive local representation.

Experts say that the LG is “the tier of public authority that citizens first look to solve their immediate social problems.” According to one handbook, LGs around the world are challenged to deliver social services, foster economic vitality by creating opportunities for jobs and prosperity, managing rural-urban migration, and fostering social peace and security.

Celebrated British author, the late Marghanita Laski, argued that “we cannot realise the full benefit of democracy unless we begin by admitting that all problems are not central problems, and that all results of problems not central in their incidence require decisions by the populace, and the persons, where and when the incidence is most deeply felt.”

But for all practical purposes, in Nigeria, LGs have become useless in driving development or providing basic amenities, or inclusion. Instead, they have been reduced to appendages of the state governors, unprofitable cost centres, conduits for graft, and instruments of oppression.

The situation is rich in irony. A series of LG reforms were undertaken during the long years of military dictatorship to bring governance closer to the people and democratise local administration. It took the unconscionable politicians of the Fourth Republic less than three years to degrade the system while supposedly operating a democracy.

The LGs are under grievous assault. They have neither political autonomy nor financial autonomy. Elections to choose chairmen and councillors are farcical to the point of perverse comedy.

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The 1976 LG reform, which was largely incorporated in the 1979 and 1999 constitutions, recommended direct funding from the Federation Account, with the LGs receiving a defined percentage of funds in the revenue allocation formula. This was to empower the councils financially and enable them to provide social services, including primary schools, primary health centres, sanitation and water supply schemes, rural roads, markets, parks and garages and markets, among others.

This purpose has been largely defeated as their allocations, channelled through state governments, are not remitted to the LGs. Thus starved of funds, autonomy and any wiggle room, the country’s 774 LGs underperform.

Back in 1988, the Federal Government removed the state government from its intermediary role in the transmission of fund to the LG. Until 2000, allocations were collected directly by the councils from the Federal Pay Offices in their respective states.

However, this changed when the 1999 Constitution introduced the State Joint Local Government Account. It provides: “The amount standing to the credit of local government councils in the Federation Account shall be allocated to the states for the benefit of their local government councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly; and that each state should maintain a special account, to be called the State Joint Local Government Account, into which shall be paid all allocations to local government councils of the state from the Federation Account and from the government of the state.”

That was all the state governors needed to pounce on the hapless third tier. Under the present revenue allocation arrangement, the Federal Government takes 52.68 per cent, states 26.72 per cent and LGs 20.60 per cent. But the state governors corner and do as they please with the LGs’ share.

The LG is fundamental to the democratisation process, as it remains the most potent instrument to mobilise people for local participation. Researchers at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, described LGs as crucial to the intensification of mass participation, adding that “no political system is considered complete and democratic” without a functional LG system. Nigeria is touted as the largest democracy in Africa and the third largest in the world, but the emasculation of the LGs makes this claim rather hollow.

Buhari should not be content with merely identifying the problem; as President and leader of his party, he should leverage his influence to rally the country to change the sordid situation. There is no easy way; the central government cannot run or legislate on the LGs in a federation.

The way out is to back the clamour for restructuring and a new constitution. LGs should be strictly state affairs. Each state would manage its LGs; under this, the LGs will not receive federal allocations directly from the Federation Account for governors to hijack and plunder. LGs would depend on their revenue-generating efforts and allocations from the state governments.

Ultimately, the people must act and demand full participation and control over their own affairs beginning at the grassroots. Complacency has created unaccountable rulers. It is left to the people in every state to agitate for grassroots democratisation, or to continue to tolerate the imperial governors riding roughshod over their lives.


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