The local government system in Nigeria is not working. The reason being that, some states government overwhelming control the third tier of government through the operation of the unpopular joint accounts, in addition to massive bribery, extortion, embezzlement, graft, nepotism and political patronage prevalent in the system.
The founders of the Nigerian local government system and the crafters of the Nigerian constitution envisaged a local government system that will bring development along the local people’s culture
and expectations. But sadly, the system is today a true reflection of the decay in the Nigeria state. It has been forgotten in Nigeria’s development equation- Nigerians put more expectation and emphasises on the President and the Governors, rather than the local authorities.
There is a school of thought that suggests that more constitutional reforms are needed to strengthen the local government system. However, the fourth schedule of the 1999 Nigerian constitution coupled with some important judgements made by the Supreme Court on issues affecting the local government system are good enough to strengthen the system.
The fourth schedule of the Nigerian constitution has clearly spelt out the functions of a local government council, but they have been abused and neglected. Imagine the local councils performing some of their functions as stated in the Nigerian constitution, for example: construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities; provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal; establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets and motor parks; assessment of privately owned houses or tenements for the purpose of levying such rates as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of a state, collection of rates, radio and television licences, establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm,naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses; registration of all births, deaths and marriages; control and regulation of out-door advertising and hoarding, movement and keeping of pets of all description, shops and kiosks, restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public, laundries, and licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor. Regrettably, most state governments have systematically taken over some of these functions , especially as it relates to tax collection. For instance, the power to control and regulate out-door advertising and hoarding and other tax sources which are under the prerogative of local governments have been cleverly usurped by most states government, who make huge revenues from it.
As earlier mentioned, the operation of the joint account between states and local government councils, corruption and the poor attention the public and civil society organisations pay toward the situation in the local governments are major factors that are contributing to the inefficiency of the system. A saying goes thus: The less involved we are in our local community politics, the less aware we are of corruption in the system. Instead of serving as channels through which development and government's policies impact on the local people, as well as serve as a political training centre to afford future leaders opportunity to learn the art of good governance, the system has been transformed into breeding ground for bad leaders.
Time has come for the reinvigoration of the local government system through the elimination of the operation of the joint account. The elimination of the joint accounts will bring relief to the councils and enhance their capacity, as well as reduce the burden of public expectation on governors. It will also make local councils to be responsive to their constitutional duties. Due to the operation of joint account, most local councils in Nigeria are only able to pay salaries.And when they are able to, what is left is always too small to spend on development and it ends up in officials’ personal pockets. Though, the idea behind the joint account was to eliminate corruption in the local governments, it has eventually turned out to be the worst thing that has ever happened to the local government system.
Local council should prioritise their needs and the general public should pay more attention to the operations of the local government. People should also be more involved in who occupies executive and legislative positions in the local councils. More public attention should be geared toward, not only investigating where public funds are spent, but assessing whether projects or programmes executed benefit local people. That is, if projects are relevant to a community or are executed in order to enrich someone’s pocket?
Local councils should start implementing joint projects so as accelerate development and make funds easily available- two or three local councils should come together and contribute funds monthly, bi-monthly or tri-monthly to fund development projects. This should go round each of the contributing council within a chosen period. Another way by which local councils would boost their internally generated revenues (IGR) is through taxation. For instance, the advertising industry is today a viable source of revenue for government, and advertising taxes are under the purview of local governments. Commercial motorcycles and tricycles, which have become parts of the Nigerian system, are employing thousands of youth. Local councils collect taxes from the operators, thus it has become a good source of IGR, which need to be fully and judiciously utilized.
Monies meant for local governments should directly go to them. However, each council should be accountable for every kobo spent. The election of local officials is very skewed; once one belongs to the ruling party in the state; his or her election into any office in the local government is assured. The considerable electoral reform Nigeria witnessed recently, should also get to the local level. This will bring legitimacy and accountability to the councils, as well as enhance democratic decision-making at the local level and the social and economic wellbeing of local people.
The local councils are very important agents for economic development. This is because, 26% of national revenue goes to them, and being a well-defined entity, i.e. each has a ward with a councillor, the needs of communities within a ward are easily identified. Responsible people should vie for local councils positions; states government especially Governors and State Houses of Assembly should relax their tight grip on the councils; the public, NGO’s and activists should equally start paying attention to the local council’s activities. With these, the local government system will start working.
Zayyad I. Muhammad writes from Jimeta, Adamawa State, firstname.lastname@example.org, 08036070980.