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On the collapse of local governments

The collapse of the local government system in Nigeria is something of grave concern that must, as a matter of urgency, be looked at and…

The collapse of the local government system in Nigeria is something of grave concern that must, as a matter of urgency, be looked at and addressed by the federal, state and local governments.

The local government system is fundamental to good governance, the delivery of democratic dividends and essential government services like health and education. It is the closest government to the people, yet has suffered the greatest neglect. We note that the steady collapse of the local government structure has been ongoing since the return to democracy in 1999.

This decline began when state governors were empowered to determine the tenure of elected council chairmen in their states at the same time as stripping the local governments of fiscal autonomy and investing this in the state governments. The creation of state electoral commissions that are funded by the state government to oversee council elections has also contributed to this decline by ensuring that council elections reflect the will of the governor.

When caretaker committees, often comprising of loyalists, rather than competent personalities are appointed by the governors to oversee the affairs of the LGs, a charade that we can barely call election is designed and staged to deliver 100 per cent of the LGs to whatever party the governor belongs to. This arrangement has rendered the LGs mere puppets to be strung about at the whims of the state executives, whose main purpose is not to develop the LGAs, but to secure elections and political relevance for the state governor.

The consequence has meant increasing deterioration of services that LGs should be providing. For instance, the Local Education Area (LEA) schools can often be found in deplorable states with underpaid and hardly qualified teachers, gaping windows and doors, pockmarked chalkboards and walls, broken or completely lacking in desks and teaching materials, oftentimes with roofs completely blown off. This has earned these schools the nickname ‘sha kura’ in Hausa because both the students and the school are constantly bathed in dust.

The failure of the councils to maintain schools under their care and also see to the administration of education in the council areas is only one of many consequences of the collapse of local councils. This degradation also manifests with fatal consequences in the failure of basic health care provision. Where primary healthcare facilities exist, they are often inadequate, poorly equipped and understaffed. This results in high maternal and infant mortality rates in many of the councils.

We note that the lack of leadership and goals in the local government has rendered the council headquarters as mere gathering places for sheep, goats and lizards. In the past, at least, at the end of every month, LG staffers turn up at the headquarters for their monthly pay. Now, with e-payment, most of the secretariats have been deserted and staffers who often turn up to work do so because they stand to profit either through collecting payment to issue indigene certificates or other such services.

The failure of the council to provide basic amenities and maintain the ones already on the ground has contributed to the insecurity being experienced in many parts of the country today. The lack of amenities, good roads and usable communication facilities translate to the lack of government presence which has helped fuel insecurity. It has also created fertile recruitment grounds for criminals and other dangerous groups.

The direct consequence of this is the stream of rural-urban migration that continues to boost unemployment in the cities because residents of the local government areas who could run and operate small and medium-scale businesses in the fields of agriculture and service provision, are being forced to migrate due to maladministration and lack of basic infrastructures. They are being drawn to the glitter of city life where they find themselves out of work.

We note that this has resulted in the over-reliance on the federal government to provide service that is not within its purview and its failure to do so results in increased frustration and angst against it. This inadvertently makes it easier for criminal gangs to recruit from the hordes of frustrated youth with the simple argument that the government has failed them.

To address this, we call on the federal government to take conscious steps to revive the local governments through policy changes that will increase their autonomy and fiscal independence.

State governments must create the necessary stability for the local government to be self-reliant and one way to do that is to move for the abolishment of joint accounts. Council elections must be free and fair and importantly, must have a regular and well-documented timetable. It is important for states to note that they cannot develop by stunting local councils.

The local councils themselves must sit up and take the bull by the horns by improving their IGR, through diligent accounting of their taxation of businesses such as markets and SMEs in the councils and the ploughing back of these taxes into the development of the LGAs.

The failure of the LGs is not sustainable and therefore, all hands must be on deck to reverse the tide. The LGAs are the first lines of administration, the government that is closest to the people. They simply cannot afford to not be there for the people.

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