In recent times, there have been lots of debates on whether or not local governments – the third tier of government in Nigeria — should be abolished.
Some hold the opinion that the local governments have not been effective and should be scrapped, while others insist that local governments, which are closer to people at the grassroots, should rather be restructured and strengthened.
The number of local governments in the country increased from 299 in 1976 to 774 in 1999 with the same structure and similar revenue sources.
Under the 1999 Constitution, some of the functions of the local governments are: “Collection of rates, and radio and television licenses; establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial grounds and homes for the destitute or infirm.
“Licensing of bicycles, trucks, canoes, wheel barrows and carts; establishment, maintenance and regulation of markets, motor parks and public conveniences;
“Construction and maintenance of roads, streets, drains and other public highways, parks, open spaces, or such public facilities as may be prescribed from time to time by the House of Assembly of a State;
“Naming of roads and streets and numbering of houses; provision and maintenance of public conveniences and refuse disposal; registration of births, deaths and marriages;
“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 Stale.’’
Just recently, the Committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government in the ongoing National Conference recommended the removal of local governments as the third tier of government from the nation’s constitution.
The committee insisted that local government affairs should be a residual function of the state governments, in a tacit way to introduce two tiers of government in the country.
Naturally, the committee’s recommendation elicited some reactions, as the Nigerian Union of Local Government Employees (NULGE) staged a demonstration at the venue of the conference to protest against the decision.
Mr Lucky Ewa, the National Deputy President of NULGE, who led the protest, argued that the constitution, and in fact most Nigerians, recognised the local government as the third tier of government.
`”Between May 1999 and May 2003, N750 billion was said to have been released to the local governments but in actual fact, only N69.9 billion got to the local government councils. Through the State/Local Government Joint Allocation Account Committee (JAAC), state governors hijacked the remaining balance”.
“At this point of our national life, Nigeria needs local councils that will act as a catalyst for the development and strengthening of our democracy,’’ he added.
Ewa stressed that instead of mulling over the idea of abolishing local governments, the local government system should be strengthened as a way of addressing the problems of poverty, unemployment and insecurity at the grassroots level.
Sharing similar sentiments, Malam Ibrahim Khaleel, the National President of NULGE, frowned at the notion that local governments should be abolished, while their functions were transferred to state governments.
He reiterated that the local government system in the country had contributed immensely to grassroots development, insisting that any plan to transfer the roles of local government councils to state governments would be counterproductive.
Khaleel said that the national confab’s committee which proposed the abolition of local government should rather be concerned with how to facilitate full local government autonomy.
“The recommendation of the National Conference Committee on Devolution of Power to expunge local government system from the 1999 Constitution cannot stand.
“We have decided at the National Executive Council meeting of the union that we would resist plans that are against the people.
“The issue of local government autonomy is what we should be talking about, as it has been concluded by Nigerians who made decisions on it.
“It is a unanimous decision of all Nigerians and l don’t think the conference can change the decision of the people,’’ he added.
Nevertheless, Khaleel bemoaned the inability of NULGE’s umbrella bodies, the Nigeria Labour Congress and Trade Union Congress, to react to the committee’s proposal appropriately. “There is a need for the two labour unions to remain focused and look into the needs of the Nigerian people in particular.
“The issue of relegating local governments to an appendage in administrative units under the states should not be accepted by the labour movement in Nigeria because it is anti-people.
“It is an exclusive policy that will exclude many Nigerians from participating in the democratic activities of our nation.
“So, it should be at the front burner of the struggle of the labour movement.
“We, in the NEC of NULGE, have observed with dismay the attitude of our labour centre, the NLC, towards the issue of local government autonomy.
“We are not too happy with the way and manner they are handling the issue,’’ he added.
Besides, Khaleel frowned at the committee’s recommendation that labour matters should be removed from the Exclusive Legislative List and placed on the Concurrent List.
He said that such decision could spell doom for local government administration in the country.
Moreover, the NULGE boss noted that in spite of the fact that Nigeria had 774 local governments; only six local government delegates were participating in the national conference, which meant the union was grossly under-represented.
On his part, Mr Leo Nkah, the President of the Ebonyi chapter of NULGE, said that the major expectation of the union and most Nigerians was that the national conference would propose full autonomy for local governments so as to enhance their service delivery.
He underscored the need to make local governments autonomous, saying that this would strengthen local government administration in a more pragmatic way.
He stressed that the emphasis should be on how to restructure and strengthen local governments, instead of scrapping them, as they were closer to the people.
Besides, Nkah said that tangible efforts should also be made to initiate structured human capacity building programmes for local governments in order to enhance the workers’ output.
“True autonomy for the local government will go a long way in restructuring the already distorted landscape of the local government system.
“Training and retraining of the workforce via seminars and workshops, though trickling in, still need to be ushered properly to enhance workers’ productivity,’’ he said.
Nkah pledged that NULGE would always advocate good governance with features such as equity, justice, rule of law as well as transparency and commitment.
Sharing similar sentiments, Mr Anayo Arinze, the National Publicity Secretary of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), appealed to the national confab delegates to drum up support for local government autonomy.
He argued that local government autonomy would bring governance and development closer to the people.
According to him, the local government administration is a people-oriented form of government which should be strengthened and not scrapped.
“Everybody cannot come to the federal capital to air their views; so, they should be able to ventilate their views through their chairmen or councillors in local government councils.
“What the government should do is to give the councils autonomy; the national conference should also ensure the achievement of local government autonomy,’’ he said.
Arinze said that the current practice where state governments controlled the local governments had somewhat frustrated efforts to promote grassroots development in the country.
He stressed that local governments should be responsible for the provision of infrastructure and other amenities at the grassroots level since they were conversant with the people’s needs in the neighbourhoods.
In a nutshell, the general consensus of opinion is that the country’s local governments should be restructured, revitalised and strengthened so as to engender grassroots development.