Local Government and Local Development: An Overview

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The Evolution of Local Government in Nigeria

Local Government is, by definition and ascription, the level of government closes to the people and most intimately concerned with their day to day affairs. Their performance and non-performance critically affect the pattern and pace of local development. Over time each country has evolved and sought to improve its own system of local government best suited to its circumstances, perceptions, goals and capabilities. The local government system in Nigeria has evolved from the beginning of colonial rule to the present, with particularly rapid and fundamental changes in the last thirty years

In colonial times the political system was essentially unitary. Administrative authority flowed down the hierarchy from the Governor-General to the Governors (in charge of regions) to the Residents (in charge of provinces) and the District Officers in charge of administrative divisions) The colonial administration was primarily concerned with .the maintenance of law and order and the promotion of trade. Under the principle of Indirect Rulethe primary responsibility for the social and economic development of the people was left with the "Native Authorities" formally recognised by Government. These may be considered the first Nigerian modern local governments. They were designed to correspond as much as practicable to the basic units of traditional organisation in each area.

They were therefore very varied in size, power and resources. Correspondingly their performance varied, intensifying patterns of inequality across regions and local government areas. In general, under colonial rule local governments played a more autonomous and larger role in the local economy than they have since Independence. Thus in the period 1935 to 1949, when the colonial system was at full maturity and before the transition to Independence, the share of local governments in total public expenditure averaged over 30 percent. At the peak of the colonial period, when the in the period when much larger and much more autonomous With the transition to Independence, much of the responsibility for the social and economic development of the people was taken over by the Regional Governments. The scope for local government was diminished and their establishment depleted in favour of the expanding federal and regional services.

The advent of military rule further eroded the status of local governments as the federal and state governments took over some of their remaining functions, including police and prisons. The state governments began to reorganise them on the more prefectural, French style, 'development administration' in which new administrative units were created and used more as field units of state administration than as autonomous centres of local initiative. It also became common to establish parastatals and task forces for specific functions, like rural electrification and environmental sanitation, cutting across the jurisdiction of local government units. Thus the role of local government was increasingly marginalised. By 1976 the total expenditure of local government amounted to a mere 2 percent of total government expenditure.

In 1976 the military regime of General Obasanjo began a fundamental reform process aimed at standardising, restructuring and re-invigorating the local government system. For the first time the local government was recognised as the third tier of the federal system rather than as a creature and ward of the state government. The local governments were rationalised and harmonised into 301o standardised units within a narrow permissible size range, given a uniform structure and endowed with identical status and functions. Most significantly, the Federal Government assumed the primary responsibility for funding local government, establishing the principle of local Government entitlement to an ascribed share of Federation Account Revenue. Following the recommendations of a Revenue Allocation Commission Report Local Governments were granted 10 percent of Federation Account Revenue in 1980. Since the Local Government share has been progressively increased to a present 24 percent. Today federation account allocation accounts for an average of over 80 percent of Local Government revenue.