By Victor Ayoo
Local governments in Nigeria are the tier of government responsible for providing basic services to the people at the grassroots. They exist to provide peculiar services particularly to rural communities. Countries world over irrespective of system of government see local governments as essential instrument of national or state government for the performance of these services which could best be administered locally by the tier. It also unites the people in a defined area. As government, it is a means by which problems and needs are properly addressed.
However, over time the performance of these councils in Nigeria is characterized by some challenges which include: funding, Autonomy, infrastructure, political instability and constitutional problems which are traced back to 1976 and 1999 constitution.
In adverse, the 2013 constitution amendment (CONFAB) by the National Assembly was to intellectualize local autonomy to a new perspective. Unfortunately, the kind of Autonomy witnessed at that level of government is largely shaped by ethnicity and prebendal considerations. Also, our leaders are more interested in the sharing of the councils allocation than in any other areas of inter-governmental relations.
This explains why members of the political elites engage each other in a tug of war over whose apron string the local government should be tied to, rather than allow it operate autonomously.
With these obstacles of constitutional imbalances and other related factors, can one say that federal government actually granted local government Autonomy? Doubtedly, the 1999 constitutional amendment provides that Nigeria is one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign state.
On the contrary, however, section (II) further provides that Nigeria shall be a federation consisting of state and federal capital territory. The import of this provision is that Nigeria is strictly a federation of two distinct entities with manor appendages. There is clear evidence that those who amended it never paid close attention to the councils’ autonomy.
Still. Section 7, I, II, III subject councils by law to only participate in economic planning and development in states. The question again is where is the Autonomy?
The unfortunate predicament of the tier is contained in section 162(VIII) which states clearly that the finances are determined by the whims and caprices of state houses of assembly. More worrisome is the validity of the existence of state joint and local government account (section 162(VII).
The impunity and recklessness at which captains of states undermine the autonomy in section 165(V) is because the statutory allocation of local governments is given to states for the benefit of councils under terms and conditions. Section 162(VI) made it obvious to be a mere administrative unit.
Arguably, the legislators in fact, did not envisaged addressing these anomalies in section 2(II) which recognises only two tiers of government and federal Capital territory.
The whole hue and cry about the autonomy must be subject to constitutional review to give it a fresh breathe into the council system. Until this act of unconstitutionalism is abrogated, these existing anomalies will continue unhindered.
Principally, the ambiguity in the system has brought financial setbacks which compromises their independence and in turn averts manpower development, human resource management, proper infrastructure and administrative setup.
The political class should note that, the local government is a unique political structure and the degree of autonomy it enjoys from the federal and state government is congruent with the politics of the state and since states have no grand theory of local government autonomy that they can adopt and make amendable to their politics, the character of the state politics must be reorganized to make it more unique.
Since this project is key, government should go for it, than allow few individuals with the power to thwart what is best for the interest of the rural people.