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The term local Government is an integral part of the social Sciences with a number of not- too unrelated definitions or meanings. This suggests that there is little divergence in the opinions of writers, local government executives and even the people in the academics as to the definition

The United Nations office for public Administration sees local Government “as a political sub –division of a nation (in a federal system) or state which is constituted by law and has substantial influence or control over affairs. These areas include powers to impose and collect taxes and rates. In most, the governing body of a local government is either elected or selected.

“Local government is infra- Sovereign geographic unit contained within a sovereign nation or quasi – sovereign entity.

In essence Local Government must possess the following characteristics, amongst others,

(a)   A Defined area with a specified Population.

(b)   An institutional framework for legislative, Executive or

administrative purpose.

(c)    A separate legal entity.

(d)    Sub – division of a sovereign nation or quasi – nation.

(e)    It can impose taxes and rates and can incur expenses.

(f)    It comprises of elected members and or selected members for its

smooth administration.


There may be some variations in the purpose for which local governments were set up in different countries Socialist, Communist, Theocratic, Autarky, dictatorial, et cetra, but the primary purpose of local government in a democratic government include the following among others.

  • To decongest government at the centre thereby freeing national leaders from

unnecessary details and avoidable involvement in local affairs

  • To ensure ease in coordination thereby facilitating and expediting action at the local level,
  • It is also designed to increase people’s understanding and support for social and

economic development activities at the grass roots level

  • To make programmes at local level foster social and economic betterment of the

inhabitants of local settlements and villages for a desired change in their living standards

  • Expose grassroots people to the art of self-government, which will prepare them for

leadership role at the local, state or national level.

  • To strengthen local and national unity.

Background Issues/Proposition

  1. There are two sets of opposing views or proposition concerning Local Government. The first segment justifies the existence of Local Government as being essential to a democratic administration or government. The argument here is centred on the fact that local government allows purely local issues/ politics to be administered by people concerned thereby providing civic education and political altitudes that enhances probity and accountability. In addition, local government discovers and promotes NATIVE INTELLIGENCE. Native intelligence is an essential ingredient in electoral victories the world over
  1. The other opinion concerning local government is centred around the argument that local government SUBVERTS, rather than PROMOTES democracy. According to this group

“THERE IS NOTHING LIKE LOCAL AFFAIRS WHICH IS OF ANY SIGNIFICANCE. In other words, emphasis should be placed on more global issues.

  1. Decentralisation is the foundation upon which Local Government is built. Decentralisation is defined as “the transfer of legal and political authority, to make and implement decisions, on public issues, to a body by the central authority or government.
  1. The aims and objectives of decentralization are to make government responsive to immediate local needs thereby reducing the workload and time at the headquarters. This in turn, produces tested and well – trained individuals at the local or grassroots level.


There are basically four (4) types of Decentralisation in local administrative practices and they include:

  • Deconcentration
  • Delegation
  • Devolution, and
  • Privatisation

The first three systems are commonly found in capitalists and non-capitalists countries alike, but privatization seems to be in the extreme as it involves total transfer of responsibility for the provision of certain community services from the public sector or voluntary agencies.


This administrative practice involves Handing over some amount administrative responsibility and authority to lower level offices or officers within the government, Ministries, Parastatal, and Agencies. It involves shedding of workloads and official duties to staff or officers outside the national or state headquarters.


This process entails transfer of managerial responsibility for specifically defined functions to establishment/organizations that are outside the regular bureaucratic structure but are being controlled indirectly by the central authority or central government. Under this system, the ultimate responsibility / accountability rest with the central authority, a kind of agencies relationship is created allowing the agent or delegate to exercise some degree of authority at the local level. The key issue here is that the transfer of specific duties/functions must be to a body that is TECHNICALLY and ADMINISTRATIVELY capable of carrying out the stead assignments.


This entails creation or strengthening (financially or legally,) of sub-division of the central government the activities, which are substantially outside the direct control of the central government. However, this allows the central authority to frequently exercise indirect supervision and control over such sub-division or units. Devolution implies divestment of functions by the central government and creation of new units of governance outside the control of central authority.

Peculiar Characteristics

According to Rondineli, et al (1984), the characteristics include

(a) Autonomy and independence to the units

(b) Clearly and legally recognized geographical boundaries

(c)  Corporate status, power to raise funds and expend such funds

(d) The sub- division is regarded as an institution on its own

(e) Reciprocity, mutual respect and benefits in all dealings.


Under this arrangement certain duties of government are transferred to voluntary organization or private profit maximizing firms, Here some goods, services or amenities hither to provide government is shifted to private enterprises for efficiency and effectiveness.


The 21 member Nigerian Local Government review committee (The Dasuki committee’s) recommendation which was endorsed by the Political Bureau and approved by the federal Government charged the LGS with the following functions:

(a)  Basic Environment Sanitation and preventive health.

(b)  Construction and Maintenance of maternity centres, dispensaries,

leprosy clinics and health centres

(c)   Construction and maintenance of Road and Drainages

Excluding State and federal Government roads.

(d)   Maintenance of inland water-ways

(e)  Rural water supply schemes

(f)  Community development projects

(g)  Agricultural and Veterinary extension service

(h)  Construction and maintenance of primary parks

(i)  Town and lay- out planning

(j)  Markets, motor parks, Gardens and Public Park

(k) Maintenance of law and Order

(l)  Afforestation

(m) Maintenance of Mortuaries and Morgues

Sources of Revenue

One of the reasons for poor performance of local government in the past was inadequate revenues base. Traditionally, sources of local government revenues can be categorized internal or independent as well as external sources.

 Internal sources include:

(a)  Local rates and community taxes.

(b)  Rents on market stalls, rates on motor parks.

(c)  Fees from bicycle licenses, radio, television, etc

(d) Tenement rates payable on building annually by landlords

(e)  Pool tax

(f)   Development levies, court fines, and fees (customary courts)

(g)  Invested surplus funds and other commercial undertakings.

External Sources Include:-

(a) Monthly statutory allocation from the federation account/VAT.

(b) Percentage state IGR meant for Local Governments.

(c) Occasional grants from NGO’S and international bodies.

Local Government Under Military Regimes

  1. During the first republic, local governments were grossly mis – used by the politicians, they were used to intimidate, harass and destroy political opponents.
  2. After the January 1966 coup, the military government re-organized the judicial system and removed criminal jurisdiction from customary courts.
  3. Military governors of west and Eastern state dissolved the elected council offices and replaced them with sole Administrators who were carrier officers in the civil and public service.
  4. While Politicians in the west and East were treated with disdain, the politicians in the North found their ways in to the local government councils.
  5. The Local government reform of 1976 represented a landmark in the history of local government administration in Nigeria.
  6. The reform was designed to confer autonomy over local affairs on local representative to decentralize powers, bring efficiency, accountability and probity into the system.
  7. The reform constitution allowed local government to pertake in the sharing of revenue from the federation account.
  8. Unlike the practices in the past, the role of traditional rulers was defined as being PURELY ADVISORY.
  9. Despite all constitution provision, local government system in Nigeria between 1979and 1983 were not democratic all governors dissolved the elected local government councils and replaced them with nominated management committee who were mainly politicians.
  10. Proliferation of local government was the order of the during 1979and 1983 without due regards to constitutional provisions thereby making state government to default in their financial obligations to these local councils. The military reversed this in 1984.
  11. The Babangida administration introduced number of progressive innovations in to the local government system: One of such innovation was that local government were allowed to receive their monthly financial allocation directly from the federation account. Secondly the regime abolished the ministries of local government and created and/ or re-invigorated the local government service commissions.
  12. Responsibility for managing primary Education was transferred to the local Governments.
  13. Presidential system of government was introduced into the system – the executive and the legislative arms.
  14. Financial inadequacies have always been identified as the bane of local government system prompting people to call for a revenue allocation system that would reduce federal government’s “lion share” favour of other tiers of government.

Concluding Comments:

A study of local government is universally justified on two main grounds: in the first instance, it is believed (rightly too) that modern government began at that level, secondly, it is seen as the modern vehicle for accelerated economic, social and political development. Some nations operate on purely local government arrangement. E .g. Switzerland.

The system has increased the pace of development in Nigeria since the colonial times and it is still assisting in the overall development of the nation except certain lapses that have been identified such as the inability of the system to account for all funds allocated to them from their various revenue sources.

The sanda ndayako committee (now shehu Musa committee) is carrying out a new reform and restricting of the system. No one knows exactly what the federal government intends to achieve through this channel. However, we sincerely hope that the system will not be worse than the present arrangement after the exercise.

Thank you

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