Currently and constitutionally, there are 774 local government areas in Nigeria and they are operating a uniform system of administration.
Provisions of the 1976 reform document were incorporated into the 1979 Constitution. Section 7(1) of the constitution provides that “the government of every state shall ensure their existence under a law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils”.
This showed that local authorities were creatures of the state and their relevance, strength and degree of autonomy were subject to the state government’s control. The power of the state government over local authorities has been wrongly applied to undermine elected and participatory governance and responsibility at the grassroots and this has made operation of the constitution questionable.
The situation of local government administration under the 1999 constitution is very confusing and complex. Although, the 1999 constitution also guarantees the existence of a democratically elected local government system, it however, like the 1979 constitution, gives states the responsibility to handle issues of organisation and structure.
The constitutional confusion and complexity led to a prolonged disagreement between the federal government and Lagos State Government over the creation of Local Council Development Areas, LCDAs. This and other similar issues are negatively affecting the development principle of local government administration.
Local government, which is the third tier of government after the federal and state in Nigeria, has continued to suffer at the detriment of the masses. Not only do they lack financial autonomy, there is no democracy at that tier of government. The problem being faced by local governments was not caused by the constitution or president, but various governors across the country.
It is the closest tier of government to the people, yet residents are denied the benefit of its existence. The failure of local government in the area of service delivery over the years has made citizens to lose faith and trust in its administration as an institution.
However, the Senate in one of its recent resolutions mandated its Committee on States and Local Government to conduct a public hearing on the reforms meant to strengthen its administration in Nigeria within the context of the 1999 constitution (as amended) and other extant laws.
The upper legislative chamber of the National Assembly said it was “deeply worried by the flood of petitions from Nigerians and stakeholders in particular on the current situation of state-local government relations, especially in the light of the rampant dissolutions of elected council officials and enthronement of unelected caretaker committees, and the long standing issue of funding for the councils in line with their constitutional responsibilities”.
It blamed governors for the rot in local government councils due to their indiscriminate dissolution and frequent replacement with caretaker committees. The Senate also carpeted them for the low morale and poor performance of councils to the detriment of the people at the grassroots as a result of lack of financial autonomy by the third tier of government.
The verdict came after an exhaustive debate on a motion, “Senate intervention on the reforms and strengthening of local government administration in Nigeria” by Senator Abdullahi Gumel (APC Jigawa North-East) and co-sponsored by seven other senators.
In his lead debate, Senator Gumel noted that “various attempts to resolve the state-local government relations impasse via alteration of the 1999 Constitution have failed and the matter has not been addressed”. According to him, this negates and hurts the attainment of the lofty goals of democracy and inclusiveness at the grassroots, which may indeed lead to the collapse of local government system in some states of the federation.
This, he said has already manifested in very low morale, performance and quality of governance at the local government level with its detrimental effect on the state of infrastructure, welfare, employment and empowerment opportunities in the country, especially in rural areas.
Gumel said “the call for review of local government administration has not only become more strident, but now seems to demand urgent attention which are adequately provided for in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which without need for further alteration invites legislative exploration to strengthen state-local government relations and indeed enhance their performances”.
He, however, said the Senate is determined to use its legislative mandate and commitment “to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of the federation or any part thereof with respect to any matter included in the Exclusive List”.
While he noted that governors see the attempt by the federal government to intervene in the affairs of the local government system as an aberration, another lawmaker, Senator Dino Melaye (APC Kogi West), while contributing to the motion, carpeted governors on council operations, which he said have adverse effects on their workers and teachers because of their inability to pay salaries.
He defied the instruction of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the debate, to withdraw a comment described as an unparliamentary language.
The comment did not go down well with former governors as the Minority Leader and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Senator Godswill Akpabio, who raised a point of order, demanded for the withdrawal of the language.
But despite Ekweremadu’s insistence that Melaye should withdraw the language, he refused, insisting that looting of council funds which he said had deprived innocent persons of their means of livelihood was ‘satanic’, even as he cited the trend in his state, Kogi, where he said workers were paid 30 percent of their monthly salaries after being owed a backlog of arrears as an attestation to the ‘satanic’ acts he referred to.
But dissatisfied, Akpabio again raised another point of order, saying it was wrong of Melaye to generalise the description of governors’ activities in local governments as satanic, noting that Akwa Ibom under his leadership conducted local government elections three times and also allowed councils to function effectively.
Despite the persuasion by Ekweremadu that Melaye should withdraw the language, he refused, not even another point of order by Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), compelled him to change his mind.
Aside Melaye, Senators Joshua Lidani (PDP Gombe South) and Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi (APC Niger North) among others also blamed governors for the failure of local government administration in the country. They specifically submitted that governors use state/local government joint account of their respective states to render the councils financially impotent and called for constitutional amendment to stop the bad practice.
Local government councils should be autonomous in accordance with Section 162 Sub-section 6 and Sub-section 7 of the constitution. It is a known fact that successive local government administrations had not been able to perform because of state governments’ opposition to financially-autonomous local governments.
Supreme Court, which is the apex court in Nigeria, had few years back unambiguously ruled that governors have no business in the running of local governments. The Supreme Court held that no governor in Nigeria has the right to remove democratically elected local government officials.
The Supreme Court, while delivering judgment in the case of the removal of 148 elected local government officials by the Abia State Government in 2006, held that the action was illegal and amounted to “official recklessness” by the then governor, Orji Uzor Kalu. The five-member panel of justices of the apex court also ordered the state government to pay the sacked 148 elected officials their salaries and entitlement for the 23 months.
Though it was a surprise to many Nigerians that majority of Houses of Assembly voted against local government financial autonomy during the last National Conference on Constitution Review, the seventh National Assembly granted them financial autonomy, but unfortunately, 20 of the 36 governors opposed this legislation and ensured that the law was not implemented.
The joint account system was given birth to in 1979, following the 1976 nationwide local government reforms. The system operated with some anomalies anchoring on virulent deductions and diversion of local council’s allocation from the federation account by state governments. Due to the anomalies it was abolished in 1989 by General Ibrahim Babangida who allowed direct allocation to local governments. In 1999, the joint account system found its way back into the constitution, following the restoration of civil rule in 1999.
However, there is no denying the fact that the state joint local government account system has failed to achieve its objectives. From the way the state joint local government account system has operated, it has been over manipulated, over deducted and diverted in favour of the state government and to the detriment of local councils. It is no longer useful and therefore the opinion of majority of Nigerians is that it should be abolished.
Local governments are supposed to operate at the grassroots and impact on the masses more than any other tier of government. To do this successfully, they must also look inward on how they can generate revenue and protect the peoples’ interest without overtaxing or overburdening them.

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