LOCAL GOVERNMENT AS AGENT OF ECONOMIC GROWTH AND DEVELOPMENT
By Ola Animashaun
The local government system in Nigeria is presently a creation of the constitution. Section 7 of the 1999 constitution guarantees a system of local government by democratically elected local government councils. It goes further to empower states to confer functions on local governments in addition to those conferred on them by the fourth schedule of the 1999 constitution.
One would have thought that having the system of local government embedded in the organic law of the land would insulate local government from abuses by state governors who have practically turned local governments to their ministries of special duties and who now see no difference between local government allocations and their security votes.
The governors are quick to remind us that local governments, in a ‘true’ federal state cannot be federating units or tiers of government and that they as governors should have absolute control over the local government.
They are also always quick to refer to the local government system in the United States of America and that over there the federal government has no business with local government. What they forgot to tell us is that the constitution of the United States of America is not the same as the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The American constitution, unlike our own constitution made no mention of local government in any of its articles. It left the existence of local governments completely to the power of the states. The governors should be reminded that they swore to an oath to uphold the Nigerian constitution and not the American constitution.
In America today, there are about 87,000 local governments covering five types ranging from counties, cities, town and townships, special districts to school districts. The local government can also be a general purpose council or a single purpose council. Although local government in America owes its legal existence to the state government, the local government is still granted sufficient autonomy to enable it be a vehicle of good governance and development. It is realised that local government being the closest form of government to the people needs adequate capacity to solve public problems and provide services to the people.
In America today, the functions of local government include property tax assessment and collection, record keeping concerning land transactions, birth and death, road construction and maintenance, planning or zoning, land use, parks and gardens, provision of education etc.
Taking Lagos State as a case study, how has local government fared in Lagos State? The local government system in Lagos State presently reflects the abuses the system has suffered in other states of the federation. The state has taken over most of the functions of the local government especially revenue generating functions. The local government is no longer allowed to undertake property tax assessment and collection and it is also no longer allowed to control and regulate outdoor advertising and hoarding as prescribed by the fourth schedule of the 1999 constitution. These are the two major sources of substantial revenue generation for the local government.
Equally, monetary allocations coming to the local government from the federation account is released to local government at the discretion of the governor. Due to this two-pronged financial emasculation, local government in the state has not been able to realise its potentials as agent of development and the people at the grassroots are the ones bearing the brunt.
State governments should realise that it is necessary to allow local government to thrive and carry out its functions as listed in the constitution. The states should allow more powers to devolve to the local government. Where local government seems to lack capacity to carry out effectively and efficiently the functions allocated to it by the constitution, the right step is for a state government to build the capacity of the local government to carry out those functions and not for the state to take over those functions by pretending to help the local government or claiming those functions have been delegated to it by the local government.
Allowing the local government to work has enormous economic and developmental benefits for the grassroots. A local government that is empowered to perform its functions of building roads, drainage system, schools and offering services would eventually use people within its geographical area to carry out those functions and profits accruing therefrom would remain within the local government economy. The practice where infrastructure projects in a local government are given to friends of the state government from outside the local government must be stopped. It is not assisting economic growth and development of people within the local government. This practice is not allowing resources and benefits to trickle down to the base of the pyramid.
In conclusion, for there to be economic growth and development at the grassroots, state governors must allow local government to function as envisaged by the constitution. They must build the capacity of local government to solve public problems and provide services to local residents. When a state takes over the functions of a local government under whatever guise, it is indirectly scuttling growth and development at the grassroots level. It is in the light of this that local government autonomy should be supported by well meaning Nigerians.
(C) Ola Animashaun, Esq.
PS: We now have the same party controlling the government in Lagos State and the government at the centre. The same party also has majority in the National Assembly. There is no excuse now why our additional LCDAs should not become full fledged local government councils with the concomitant benefit of getting revenue allocations from the federation account.
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