DEVELOPMENT AND STRUCTURE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENTS FROM THE COLONIAL ERA TO THE PRESENT DEMOCRATIC DISPENSATION
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.
THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT REFORMS
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.
EXTENSION OF PRESIDENTIAL SYSTEM TO THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT
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.
LOCAT GOVERNMENT IN THE 4TH REPUBLIC 1999 CONTITUTION
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.