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The development of the local government administration in Nigeria has a chequered history which is a reflection of the instability that has characterised governance in the country. Although Nigeria was amalgamated in 1914, the first National Legislation on Local Government Administration was enacted in 1916, vide the Native Authority Ordinance of 1916. The ordinance empowered the Governor-General, Sir Frederick Lugard, to appoint a Native Authority for the area.

Thus, colonial legislation, replaced all pre-colonial, indigenous systems of local administration. However, because of necessity the British Authorities could not do away entirely with the traditional authorities where they existed, and incorporated them into the new system of local administration. Consequently, the Native Authorities were empowered to check or prohibit behaviour that the colonial authorities considered offensive.

One significant hallmark of the Native Authority system was the unilateral adoption of uniform system of Local government in the country which did not take into consideration, the diversities and local peculiarities which were predominant in the country.

The military take over of political power in 1966 led to radical changes in the evolution of Local Government administration in the Regions and States that later replaced them. The initial reforms focused mainly on correcting the political abuses perpetuated by Local Government officials. Consequently, the Local Constabulary, courts and prisons were taken over and integrated into the national police, judicial and prison services. In 1967, following the creation of 12 states out of the 4 Regions, all the states carried out reforms of their local government systems.

All the reforms attempted for effective local administration did not address the most fundamental problems of poverty and rural development. Each Local Government Council was the Local Authority for its area and, a majority of the members were elected. The councilors elected their chairmen subject to the approval of the State Governor. Supervisory Councilors were elected from among the councilors who served as the political heads of departments of the Local government. Together with the chairman and at least 2 elected members, they formed the finance and general purposes committee of the council.

During the second republic (1979 - 1983) however, many of the features of the 1976 reforms were violated because of the pressure of party politics. The state governments suspended the elected local governments that were already in office when they were elected. They replaced them with their nominees and created new local governments without, in many cases, following the due processes of the Law. Consequently, the number of local government areas rose dramatically from 301 to over 900.

Due largely to glaring violations of what appeared to be a national consensus on local government administration, the Military Government under General Buhari appointed a twenty man committee to review the system of Local Government Administration. In the meantime, it abolished all the new local government councils created during the second republic.

The principle of separation of powers was introduced into the Local Government system via Decree 23 of June 1991, otherwise known as Local Government (Basic Constitutional and Transition Provisions) Decree No. 3. Under this decree, the Local Government Council acquired full autonomy to approve the Local Government budget and to pass bye-laws. The decree No. 23 of June 1991, was primarily aimed at liberating the legislature from the shackles of the executive arm. It went further to strengthen the legislative arm, which is the direct representatives of the people. The decree attempted to enhance and revamp internal checks and balances inherent in the presidential system.

One important feature of the 1999 Constitution, is the constitutional recognition given to the Local Government as a third tier agency in Nigeria's Federation. Section 7 of the Constitution guarantees the existence of the Local Government system. However, the State House of Assembly were empowered to make a law for the effective operation of local governments. Consequently, the Cross River State House of Assembly promulgated the Local Government Law No. 1 of 2000 which introduced the presidential system of government at the Local Government level. As a core feature of presidentialism, the principle of separation of powers between the Executive and Legislature is provided in the Law.

Under the Local Government Law, Legislative Councils are established in the Local Governments. By the provision of section 33, the councilors of each Local Government Legislative Councils are required to elect from among themselves a Leader and Deputy Leader to preside over the proceedings of the legislative council. Section 3 subsection (2) of the Local Government Law provides that the legislative council "shall have power to make bye-laws on matters conferred on it by this Law." Essentially, under the Local Government Law, both the local government legislature and Executive derive powers from the Cross River State Local Government law. The Legislature established under the Law is not an extension of the Executive but a coordinate and complementary branch of the local government council.

It is instructive to state that changes from the colonial era to the present democratic dispensation, are reflections of the changing character of Nigeria's Federalism coupled with the continual search for a viable and stable political system.

In the years to come, surely, the system of Local Government as with other aspects of democracy in Nigeria will evolve to a more effective and people-oriented model of governance.