By Afe Babalola
Most Nigerians are now familiar with the sight of road blocks set up by Local Governments to collect one form of tax, levy or rate as the case may be. These road blocks can be found within most cities and on inter-state highways. The Local Government officials assigned to these road blocks in most cases menacingly demand payment of all manner of fees from drivers of commercial and private vehicles. Some Nigerians who have been bold enough to challenge their authority have often come away with one sordid tale or the other. Most Local Governments justify these road blocks – which they conveniently label as revenue generation drives- with the excuse that they need to shore up their dwindling allocations from the Federal and State governments in order to perform their constitutional functions. Yet it is generally agreed that most Local governments have despite their ubiquitous revenue generation drive, failed to make meaningful positive impacts on the lives of Nigerians. Designed to bring the positive effects of governance to the populace, they have on the contrary brought more hardship owing to their failure to attend to the most basic of their functions and duties. Many reasons have been adduced for this failure. There however appears to be little consensus as to the way forward to get Local Governments to function in the manner required of them.
Functions of Local Governments
For the avoidance of doubt, the functions of Local Governments are as contained in the Fourth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (As Amended). Some of these include,
- establishment and maintenance of cemeteries, burial ground and homes for the destitute or infirm; (item 1c)
- establishment, maintenance and regulation of slaughter houses, slaughter slabs, markets, motor parks and public conveniences; (item 1e)
- construction and maintenance of roads, streets, street lightings, drain 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; (item 1f)
- provision and maintenance of public conveniences, sewage and refuse disposal; (item 1h)
It is clear that the performance or non-performance of the above functions will generally have the greatest effect on the populace. Therefore those who posit that Local Governments play the most important role in the day to day administration of a country cannot be faulted. However, evidence abound across the country that most Local Governments have failed to perform the functions stated above. They have been mostly interested in other aspect of their functions listed in the Fourth Schedule of the constitution such as;
1.Collection of rate, radio and television licenses; (item 1b)
2.Licensing of bicycles, trucks (other than mechanically propelled trucks), canoes, wheel barrows and carts; (item 1d)
3.Control and regulation of out-door advertising and hoarding, shops and kiosks, restaurants, bakery and other places for sale of food to the public. (item 1k)
In other words, most Local Governments are only interested in the aspect of their functions which will attract revenue to them while they conveniently ignore the responsibilities stipulated under the Fourth Schedule.
A lot of reasons have been given for the failure of Local Governments to perform their Constitutional duties, the notable of which are
1.Control of Local Government
Most States Governments deliberately starve Local Governments of the funds needed for their survival. They often achieve this through joint state-local government account. The stranglehold which States governments exercise over the Local Governments is traceable to the provisions of the Section 7 of the Constitution which provides as follows:
The system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government, of every state shall subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils
The above provisions essentially provide State governors and their governments the opportunity to deny most Local Governments of the much needed autonomy to function optimally. Knowing fully well that he may be removed by a Governor, a Local Government chairman will do virtually anything including permitting the state to take a large percentage of revenue due to his local government in a bid to keep his job.
2.Absence of Skilled Personnel
Most Local Governments are manned by unskilled or semi-skilled personnel. Regrettably, the same thing applies to most Chairmen of the Local Governments who often possess only the most basic of qualifications. This is made possible by virtue of Section 7(4) of the Constitution which requires a government of a state to ensure that any person who is entitled to vote or be voted for at a House of Assembly Election should have the right to be voted for at an election to a local government council. A person desirous of contesting election as a Local Government Chairman needs only the qualification required for contesting election into a House of Assembly which by virtue of Section 106 of the Constitution is amongst others, “education up to at least the School Certificate level or its equivalent”. In fact he needs not have passed the Certificate examination itself.
Most of them go about with state of the art vehicles and retinue of aides and personal assistants. They love the display of power but do not appreciate the responsibility that go along with power.
Recommendation for for scrapping of local governments
It was as a result of the perceived failure of the system that the Committee on Political Restructuring and Forms of Government of the last National Conference recommended the scrapping of the Local Government tier of government and the removal of the 774 existing local government councils from the Constitution. By the recommendation, the Committee proposed that the state should enact laws to determine the number of local governments required in each state. In effect, there would only be two tiers of governments recognized by the Constitution to wit: the Federal Government and State Governments. Furthermore, the Local governments which will then exist under the authority of the State governments will not receive statutory allocations directly from the federation account.
Whether or not the committee was right in recommending the scrapping of Local Government will be considered in the next edition.