Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution, read jointly with Section 8, provides that there shall be “the system of local government by democratically elected councils (which) is by 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”.
Over the years, however, the local government administration has been hijacked by state governments. Governors now handpick their cronies as sole administrators or caretaker/transition committees rather than allow for election of chairmen and councillors. Also, taking undue advantage of the joint account with the local governments, state governors now determine how much should go to the councils, contrary to the actual amount allocated to them.
Local government, in the words of the United Nations Office of Public Administration, is “a political subdivision of a nation or (in a federal system) state, which is constituted by the law and has substantial control of local affairs, including the powers to impose taxes or to exact labour for prescribed purposes. The governing body of such an entity is elected or otherwise locally selected”.
Also, according to the Guideline for A Reform of Local Government in Nigeria (1976:1), it is defined as the government at local level exercised through representative councils established by law to exercise specific powers with defined areas. “These powers should give the council substantial control over affairs as well as the staff and institutional and financial powers to initiate and direct the provision of services and to determine and implement projects so as to complement the activities of the state and federal governments in their areas and to ensure, through devolution of functions to these councils and through the active participation of the peoples, that local initiative and response to local needs and condition are maximised.”
Local government administrations are intended to take development to the local people, but we are bothered that whereas we have had a proliferation of local government areas, there appears to be a heightening failure of local administration, resulting in gross underdevelopment of the grassroots. For this reason, over 70 percent of the population cannot make ends meet and so are consigned to pain, lack, ignorance, degradation, neglect, squalor, diseases, and possibly slow death.
We condemn in strong terms the illegal and sundry deductions by state governments from local government funds through the state/local government joint account. We also note that the imposition of undemocratic structures by state governments to run the affairs of local governments is contrary to Section 7 of the 1999 Constitution. These are the anti-development instruments used to frustrate local governments.
We commend a few state governors who have had the courage to conduct local council elections in their states – even if these elections were largely selections – and we urge others who have not done so to organise local government elections with immediate effect. Local governments must be allowed a breath of fresh air.