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Rural development of the grassroots has been the concern of every responsible and responsive political system. This is because development and participation have continued to elude people of the grassroots. Development remains insignificant if it does not positively affect the lives of those in the periphery of decision making arrangement. The Nigerian state therefore created local government as the third tier of government whose objective is to ensure effective, measurable and efficient service delivery to the people.
Local government is faced with various difficulties.
The major concern of this paper is to dwell on these difficulties and illuminates the factors that are responsible for them. In achieving this, the paper relies on descriptive approach and unstructured interview. It concludes that problems of local government are multifarious in nature and the solutions for them should be adequate and practical in order to evolve viable and development-oriented third tier of government.
Key words: grassroots, political system, autonomy, third tier, participation, development, uniformity, unity, culture, diversity, interference, national integration, performance, consciousness, concept, commitment, democracy, inefficiency, corruption, decentralisation.
Introduction The expediency for the creation of local government anywhere in the world stems from the need to facilitate development at the grassroots.
The importance of local government is a function of its ability to generate sense of belongingness, safety and satisfaction among its populace. All forms of government, regimes or political systems have so far ensured the attainment of this goal. Such strategy for ensuring national administrative development and political efficacy is found in the concept and practice of local government.
Whatever is the mode of government, local government has been essentially regarded as the path to, and guarantor of, national integration, administration and development.
In Nigeria’s socio-political context, with multiplicity of culture, diversity of languages and differentiated needs and means, the importance of such an organisation in fostering the needed national consciousness, unity and relative uniformity as well as preservation of peculiar diversities cannot be over-emphasised. Central to the creation of local government, however, is its ability to facilitate an avenue through which government and the people intermix, relate and more quickly than any other means resolve or dissolve issues that may have heated the system.
Local government has been perceived as a panacea for the diverse problems of the diverse people with diverse culture. As important as this tier of government has been, there seems to be some impediments that have been infringing on its performance and functions in recent times. These impediments range from political but undue interference of the higher levels of government i. e. federal and state governments, bribery and corruption to embezzlement and gross inadequacy of well-trained and qualified personnel to mention a few.
The Concept of Local Government The concept of local government involves a philosophical commitment to democratic participation in the governing process at the grassroots level. This implies legal and administrative decentralisation of authority, power and personnel by a higher level of government to a community with a will of its own, performing specific functions as within the wider national framework. A local government is a government at the grassroots level of administration “meant for meeting peculiar grassroots need of the people (Agagu, 1997:18).
It is defined as “government by the popularly elected bodies charged with administrative and executive duties in matters concerning the inhabitants of a particular district or place (Appadorai, 1975:287). Looking at the existence, performance and relevance of local government, Laski (1982:411) opines that: we cannot realise the full benefit of democratic government unless we begin by the admission that all problems are not central problems, and that the result of problems not central in their incidence requires decision at the place, and by the person, where and whom the incidence is most deeply felt
Local government can also be defined as that tier of government closest to the people, “which is vested with certain powers to exercise control over the affairs of people in its domain” (Lawal,2000:60). A local government is expected to play the role of promoting the democratic ideals of a society and co-ordinating development programme at the local level. It is also expected to serve as the basis of socio-economic development in the locality. Observations have shown that local government in Nigeria has not performed to expectation.
Keen observers have since adduced various propositions for explaining the reasons why the system has recorded abysmal level of inefficiency and ineffectiveness vis-a-vis justification for its establishment. But before reading into the problems of local government, we shall first attempt to illuminate the historical background of local government in order to have adequate grasp of its future and achieve deeper understanding of salient issues raised in this paper. Brief Historical Background of Local government System in Nigeria Regardless of nomenclature, local government is a creation of British colonial rule in Nigeria.
It has overtime experienced change in name, structure and composition. Between 1930s and 1940s, for instance, local government was known as chief-in-council and chief-and-council, where traditional rulers were given pride of place in the scheme of things. In the 1950s, election was introduced according to the British model in the western and eastern parts of the country with some measure of autonomy in personnel, financial and general administration (Nwabueze, 1982:20-21). It was on this premise that the rising tide of progress, growth and development experienced in the local governments in these areas was based.
The pace of this development was more noticeable in the south than in the north. During this period, heterogeneity was the hallmark of local government as there was no uniformity in the system and the level of development was also remarkably different. The introduction of 1976 reforms by military administration of General Obasanjo brought about uniformity in the administrative structure of the system. The reforms introduced a multi-purpose single-tier local government system (Ajayi, 2000:70) The reforms also introduced population criterion under which a local government could be created.
Consequently, a population of within 150,000 to 800,000 was considered feasible for a local government. This was done to avoid the creation of non-viable local council and for easy accessibility. There was provision for elective positions having the chairmen as executive head of local government with supervisory councillors constituting the cabinet. This was complemented by the bureaucrats and professionals, such as Doctors, Engineers, etc. , who were charged with the responsibility of implementing policies (1976 Guidelines).
In 1991, a major landmark reform was introduced as the system had legislative arm. In addition, the Babangida administration increased the number of local government from 301 in 1976 to 453 in 1989 and 589 in 1991. the Abacha regime also increased the number to 774 local councils that we have today and the administrative structure also underwent some changes (Ajayi, 2000:71). In summary, it can be said that no public institution in Nigeria has been so subjected to frequent reforms than local government. Nearly every successive administration introduces one administrative change or the other.
Apart from the celebrated 1976 reforms, state government officials have also introduced various manipulations. For instance, in Ekiti state, the tenure of elected local government officials was reduced to two years. While some retained it to reflect three years. In the southwest, except for Lagos, a caretaker committee was introduced in 2003 immediately after the general elections. In similar vein, in June 2007, some state governments dissolved their local councils and appointed caretaker committee to steer the affairs of the council prior the conduct of elections.
It is germane to note here that these changes were not without resultant effects. Some of these changes met with social strife. For instance in 1997, the relocation of some local government headquarters was marked with large scale destruction of lives and property in Ondo, Osun, Delta, Rivers and Cross-River States (Omotosho, 1998:94-105). Specifically in Ondo State, the relocation of the then newly created Akoko South East local government headquarters from Oba Akoko to Isua Akoko was met with destruction of lives and property.
In 1998, Abubakar administration introduced sole administrator system at the grassroots level before elections were conducted in December 1998 for the posts of chairmen and councillors. Also the dissolution of local councils in Ekiti State by the new administration of Governor Segun Oni in June 2007 generated furore between the local council’s chairmen and the governor. In essence, it has become almost fashionable in Nigeria for incumbent administration to introduce one change or the other in the institution.
So far, local government system in Nigeria has not been stable and this leaves its future to remain bleak, uncertain and insecure. Problems of Local Governments in Nigeria Despite the justification for the establishment of local government and its inevitable importance to the people at the grassroots level, this tier of government seems not to have justified the reasons for which it was established. The questions that summarily come to one’s mind are: why has local government not lived up to its expectations?
What are the causes of these seemingly conspicuous weaknesses? What are the challenges of the local government? And how can these weaknesses be corrected and the challenges met? The problems of local government are multifarious in nature and it is the concern of this paper to explain them in details. These problems include: Finance Despite the increase in the total amount of funds available to local government in Nigeria since early 1990s, its economic and financial profile is still very poor, relative to the development programme it is expected to carry out.
This situation is not unconnected to the mismanagement and embezzlement of these funds by the local councils. Inadequacy of Skilled Workers Save for some few local councils in Lagos states and, perhaps, some southern states, local government generally has experienced and is still experiencing dearth of skilled, technical and professional staff like qualified engineers (of all types), medical doctors, accountants, statisticians, economists, lawyers, town planners, to mention a few. The facilitating factors for this include:
Low image of local government in the mind of professionals who feel and think that there is no job satisfaction sufficient to keep them at that low level of public service. Hopeless nature of the job attributable to, and arising from, low or no incentives for junior workers, no chances for creativity and innovation as well as perpetual delay in payment of salary. Recently and more importantly, threat and fear of retrenchment of junior workers has derailed their psychological balance and affected their efficiency and output.
This is fashionable in Ondo and Ekiti states where series of staff audit were being carried out just for the purpose of downsizing to reduce wage bill as a result of the demand for and payment of fifteen percent increase in salary. Manner of recruitment is questionable as it is based on subjectivity and consideration of sentiment. Employment was based on favouritism, nepotism, ethnic and political consideration and other primordial factors that replaced and displaced competence, qualification, experience and performance.
Problems of Participation and Involvement For the past decades, more euphemistic phrases have since been employed to justify people’s participation at the grassroots. They include: “Development from Below”, “Bottom-up Approach to Development”, “Popular Participation”, Bringing Government Closer to the People” and other catchphrase to argue for people’s involvement the affairs that directly affect them (Lawal, 2000:66). From all indications and convictions, research and physical observations have shown that there has been more hue and cry than action.
Local government prepares estimates for its revenue and expenditure without proper recourse to, and due consultation with, the people for whom the exercise is being carried out to know their needs, their problems and potentials. A number of factors are responsible for non-involvement of people in their own affairs. These include: Loss of interests in the project that will not benefit the chairmen and their cohorts. The age-long belief by the officials that people are ignorant, illiterate and unenlightened. Lack of political will by the leadership to run an open administration due again to selfish interest. Poverty of socio-political philosophy for change. Misplaced Priority Hard-earned and limited resources accrued to and raised by local government are always mismanaged. Priorities are misplaced; projects are done not according to or as demanded by the people but regrettably in tune with the selfish end and aggrandisement of the political leadership in collaboration with the senior bureaucrats at the local government level of administration. Coupled with this is the greatest bane of development in the Nigerian public service in general and local government in particular which corruption is.
Reports of probe panels at the three tiers of government have revealed the culpability of civil servants. Corruption in low and high places, corruption has been rampant among the senior civil bureaucrats to whom the public funds meant for developmental purposes are entrusted. Generally, wide-scale embezzlement by officials of the grassroots has made the needed development of the grassroots a tall dream and has rendered them financially incapable to discharge their constitutionally assigned responsibilities. General Indiscipline
Indiscipline is rampantly perceived and well pronounced among the workers in third tier of government. The senior officers who travel to their families away from their offices on Friday return very late the following Monday or may decide to stay back till Tuesday; and the junior members of staff who directly or indirectly observe this more often than not are in the habit of playing truant with their jobs. Little or no commitment to duty has become a rule rather than an exception. Offices have been turned to marketplaces where officers hawk their goods freely.
The rules that guide moral conduct and professional ethics seem to have, at worse, become cobweb that is so weak to tame the monstrous activities of the workers. Indiscriminate lustful desires are noticeable among the workers. The official’s relationship between super ordinates and subordinates has been stained. Strict instructions handed down from top echelon to the bottom are either not followed or treated with levity as a result of the immoral relationship between the boss and subordinates. Official duties are seen as an extension of private leisure.
Laissez-faire attitude to work has arrested the efficiency of local government and has drastically affected its performance. Undue Interference The degree of external influence and intrusion in local government affairs by the higher levels of government is worrisome and needs re-evaluation. Situation where the state governor unconstitutionally dissolves the entire elected council’s officers without proper investigations on spurious allegations is not good for the future of local government administration in the country.
Such external interference indeed subverts democratic process and undermines constitutional authority at the grassroots level. The crux of the matter is the ‘almighty’ power and misuse of it enjoyed by the state governments over local governments. Practically, and in true sense, local government in Nigeria lacks autonomous financial power. Local government is now considered as an extension of state’s ministry. The inherent nature of this problem has caused subservience, a situation where local government waits for the next directives from state government before the former could think of, let alone embarking on developmental projects.
This has made local government an object of control and directives. The major challenge that local government faces is the political control the respective state governor has on the local government chairmen. This is as a result of the fact that state governor sponsors election of most, if not all, of the chairmen. They are handpicked by the state governor rather than being elected. It is a clear case of who pays the piper dictates the tune. This again creates a problem of diversion of local government funds for personal use of state governor.
In Ondo state, for instance, there is this unholy alliance between state government and local councils in the state, where the state government constitutes Joint Action Committee, tagged ‘JAC’. Federal allocations to local government are first deposited into a particular ad hoc account before calling for the committee meeting. This in a way paves the way for the state government to plan for the local government and release the money in instalments.
The motive behind this is to divert the money to another thing entirely which does not have impact on the lives of the rural dwellers but that will be beneficial to the state governor. Another thing is the interest that the money will generate in the bank. The implication of this is that few of the local government chairmen who have genuine intentions and are ready to perform are being discouraged. This again assigns more power and control to the state governor. The overall effect of this is the negative impact it has on the people of the grassroots as they are getting more and more alienated from developments.
Also illustrative and instructive is the arrest and prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of the former Enugu State Governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, on the allegation of diverting local governments’ funds in the state. This shows the level of influence and control that state governors have over local governments in their respective states. This undue interference has incapacitated local government from effective functioning on the one hand, and alienated grassroots people from enjoying social services delivery expected of local government on the other.
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