Local government creation in Nigeria has been through numerous experiences that we tend to ask at some points in time: “who creates local government?” Numerous attempts have been geared towards bringing government nearer to the people at the most basic level. The importance of bringing government nearer to the people cannot be overemphasized. This translates to bringing services of great importance to the welfare and livelihood of the community. Such services have high positive implication on the standard of living of the people at this primary level of administration.
The Nigerian experience has brought another dimension to discourse of local government being a residual affair of the state government as it is obtainable in classic federal states like United States, Canada amongst others. In other words, creation of local government is the prerogative of state, provincial or regional government. The Nigerian case through the local government creation tussle between the federal government and Lagos State government has left many wondering which level of government wields the power to create local government.
This paper seeks to answer the shrouding question of ‘who creates Local Government?’ and highlight the criteria for creating local government in Nigeria. It does this through its various parts.
Local Government Conceptualized
According to the United Nations Division of Public Administration, ‘local government is a political division of a nation (or in a federal system, a state) which is constituted by law and has substantial control of local affairs, including the powers to impose taxes or exact labour for prescribed purposes. The governing body of such an entity is elected or otherwise locally selected (Ola&Tonwe, 2003). It was also described by Whalen (1970) as the local unit of government in any system assumed to possess a given territory and population, an institutional structure, a separate legal identity, a range of powers and functions authorized by delegation from the appropriate central or intermediate legislature and lastly within the ambit of such delegation, autonomy subject always to the test of reasonableness. The Federal Government of Nigeria through the 1976 Local Government Reform Guidelines defined Local Government as: "Government at local levels exercised through representative councils established by law to exercise specific powers within defined areas. These powers should give the council substantial control over local affairs (including staffing) and institutional and financial powers to initiate and to determine and implement projects so as to compliment the activities of the state and federal government in their areas, and ensure through devolution of functions to those councils and through the active participation of the people and their traditional institutions, that local initiative and response to local needs and conditions are maximized” (FGN, 1976). To Maddick (1963), local governments can be viewed as sub-units of government controlled by a local council which is authorized by the central government to pass ordinances having local application, levy taxes or exact labour and within limit specified by the central government, vary centrally decided policies in local application.
Generally, despite not having an agreement on the term, some features that resonate are:
(i) it is made up of democratically constituted representative council;
(ii) it must exercise financial autonomy in taxable jurisdiction of local significance;
(iii) it possesses functional autonomy in delivery of legally recognized services;
(v) it has autonomy in the recruitment of its staff;
(vi) it must possess definite geographical territory; and
(vii) should have local population, among others.
However, while these features are the habitual characteristics of local government in developed nations like Great Britain, France, United States of America, amongst others, it becomes a concern but sad reality that these features are near absent in the system of local government practiced in Nigeria.
CRITERIA FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT CREATION
The unceasing demand for creation of local government is not far-fetched and cannot be dissociated from the need to engender and stimulate grassroots development, improve the civic consciousness and local participation in local governance which serves as the foundation upon which democracy itself is built. Moreover, the need to decongest the national government and relieve national leaders of onerous details about grassroots governance is another call.
In view of this, certain criteria are pertinent to be considered in local government creation. These criteria are:
ii. Historical background
iii. Social and cultural affinity
iv. Economic viability
v. Predilection of the central/state government.
i. Population: local government being the closest level of government must have a reasonably small population. The population must not be too small nor too large. The central idea herein is to foster closer relationship between the local populace with their government. In Nigeria, the 1976 Local Government Reforms identified the benchmark figure as between 150,000 and 800,000. Some local governments in France and other developed countries have as low as twenty thousand as population.
ii. Historical background: the communities willing to form a local government area must necessarily possess a common historical background. This is to harness homogeneity of interest and preferences avoid certain conflicts which preeminent in heterogeneous communities.
iii. Social and cultural affinity: the communities in question must also have social and cultural affinity with each other to ease governance among members and interest aggregation. The heterogeneity of identity and cultures of the locals should be as minimal as possible to avoid conflict of interest and sabotage governance.
iv. Economic viability: the central idea of viability lies in sustainability. That is, how realistically sustainable is the local government to be created going to be. In essence, the economic implication entails the issue of finance needed to run governance and its continuous availability. Finance is at the heart of governance and the ability of the local government to be created to raise a substantial part of its revenue is crucial therein.
v. Predilection of the central or state government: members of the council to be constituted are to be either directly elected by local populace or appointed by the federal or state government.In the contemporary context, Section 7 (1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (2011 as amended) states that ‘the system of local government by democratically elected local government councils is under this Constitution guaranteed; and accordingly, the Government of every State shall, subject to section 8 of this Constitution, ensure their existence under a Law which provides for the establishment, structure, composition, finance and functions of such councils’. This provision, contrary to the unceasing caretaker committee system practiced in many states across the country, suggests that local council leaders are to be elected.
WHO CREATES LOCAL GOVERNMENT?
The question of who creates local government in Nigeria is perhaps one of the controversies in the Nigerian federalism yet to be resolved. The 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the provisions of Section 8(3) details the process of local government creation in Nigeria and the stakeholders involved.
According to Section 8(3) which goes thus:
8 (3) A bill for a law of a House of Assembly for the purpose of creating a new local government area shall only be passed if:
a. A request supported by at least two–thirds majority of members (representing the area demanding the creation of new local government area) in each of the following, namely-
i. The House of Assembly in respect of the area, and
ii. The local government councils in respect of the area, is received by the House of Assembly;
b. A proposal for the creation of the Local government area is thereafter approved in a referendum by at least two-thirds majority of the people of the local government area where the demand for the proposed local government area originated.
c. The result of the referendum is then approved by a simple majority of the members in each local government council in a majority of all the local government councils in the state, and
d. The result of the referendum is approved by a resolution passed by two-thirds majority of members of the House of Assembly.