there is no gainsaying that there is a gross abuse of the local government system in Nigeria. Theoretically and constitutionally, there are supposed to be three tiers of government in the country. However, in practice, there seems to be only two functioning tiers at the federal and state levels. The 774 Local Government Areas listed in the constitution and the Local Council Development Areas established by many state governments are comatose. They are virtually dysfunctional because of the stranglehold on them by the state governors.
Section 7 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria says, “The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed”. Unfortunately, many governors have been acting in breach of this provision by dissolving democratically elected councils and inaugurating their cronies as either sole administrators or caretaker committees in charge of the local councils.
Oftentimes, when elections fall due, the state governments claim not to have funds to conduct such polls. In fact, many state governments have blatantly refused to constitute the State Independent Electoral Commissions meant to conduct the LGA elections. Even when inaugurated, they are poorly funded to enable them perform their constitutional duties. Furthermore, I can say that many state Houses of Assembly have refused to grant four-year tenures to their LGAs. The most common are two years and in a few cases three years or even a year as was the case in Nasarawa State before the 2018 amendment. Why is there no synchronisation of a four-year tenure and a maximum of two terms for chairmen of local councils as obtained with the position of the president and governors?
It is an open secret that many local governments do not have annual budgets. In fact, the council assemblies which are supposed to be made up of elected councilors are oftentimes never inaugurated nor meet to approve budget or programme of the council chairman. Yet, constitutionally, the local government is supposed to be made up of three arms of government viz. Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. The local councils are to elect their Speaker and other council leaders. The chairman ought to have supervisors for different aspects of their departments. Even the customary courts are supposed to be under local governments.
The Fourth Schedule of the Nigerian Constitution lists the main functions of a local government council as follows:
“(b) collection of rates, radio and television licences; (c) establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm; (d) licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheelbarrows and carts; (e) establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences; (f) construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drains and other public highways, parks, gardens, open spaces, or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a state”.
Others include: “(g) naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses; (h) provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal; (i) registration of all births, deaths and marriages; (j) 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; and (k) control and regulation of – (i) out-door advertising and hoarding, (ii) movement and keeping of pets of all description, (iii) shops and kiosks, (iv) restaurants, bakeries and other places for sale of food to the public, (v) laundries, and (vi) licensing, regulation and control of the sale of liquor.”
“2 (a) the provision and maintenance of primary, adult and vocational education; (b) the development of agriculture and natural resources, other than the exploitation of materials (c) the provision and maintenance of health services.”
Strikingly, many of the above listed functions have been usurped by the state governments. In doing so, the local governments have been financially emasculated as the Internally Generated Revenues they should have had from these multiple sources are being collected by State Boards of Internal Revenue or Joint Tax Boards.
The major threat to financial autonomy of local government in Nigeria lies in some of the sub-sections of Section 162 of the Nigerian Constitution. Here are some of the relevant provisions in that section. Sub-section (5) says, “The amount standing to the credit of Local Government Councils in the Federation Account shall also be allocated to the State for the benefit of their Local Government Councils on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.”
Subsection (6) says, “Each State shall maintain a special account to be called “State Joint Local Government Account” into which shall be paid all allocations to the Local Government Councils of the State from the Federation Account and from the Government of the State.” Sub (7) reads, “Each State shall pay to Local Government Councils in its area of jurisdiction such proportion of its total revenue on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the National Assembly.” And finally sub-section (8) says, “The amount standing to the credit of the Local Government Councils of a state shall be distributed among the Local Government Councils of that state on such terms and in such manner as may be prescribed by the House of Assembly of the state.”
Unless and until the “State Joint Local Government Account” is abolished and council funds from the federation account are directly paid to these 774 LGAs, they will continue to be dependent on the state governments for their existence. Quite unfortunately, the 2018 constitution amendment on Local Government autonomy did not scale through.
Early this year, Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit tried to salvage local government administration by issuing guidelines with effect from June 1, 2019 that all funds due to the LGAs should be paid directly into their respective accounts and that all Money Deposit Banks should not honour any cash withdrawal request from the LGs beyond N500,000 daily while all other financial transactions are to be made via cheques or electronic money transfers.
State governors rose stoutly against this and lodged complaints with President Muhammadu Buhari that the NFIU went beyond its brief by issuing such a guideline. The Nigerian Governors’ Forum has even sued the NFIU on this matter. On July 25, 2019, the National President of the National Union of Local Government Employees, Ibrahim Khaleel, said the state governments had come up with another means of taking money from the local governments’ accounts despite the financial guidelines issued by the NFIU to them not to tamper with local government funds. He said local governments were being asked to contribute to the running of some projects in states which ordinarily were the responsibility of state governments. I had said that governors would not give up on LG funds as many of them who had created local council development areas depended on the funds in the joint accounts to fund these LCDAs
Apart from all the aforementioned, local governments face huge corruption challenges both from the political leadership and even the bureaucracy. There is virtually lack of financial accountability at the local government level. As earlier pointed out, there is no budget, no legislative council, no sufficient civil society engagement at the grassroots level. The little IGRs being collected by the administrative staff of local governments are not properly accounted for. This is antithetical to good governance practice and should be addressed via legislation and enforcement of legal provisions and policy guidelines. It is either we reform the local government system for efficiency or simply scrap it if we can’t let them function properly!
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