Local Government System In Nigeria As An Instrument For Rural Development 2

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1.0            INTRODUCTION

In Nigeria, the rural people, thoroughly marginalized into a vacuous existence, make up the other Nigerians-forgotten and always forgotten. The line is like a perpetually recurring bad dram, a tale of extreme want in the midst of abundance.

There has been an administration upsurge of interest in the literature on development administration and in planning circles on the positive role local government could play in national development. Usually the emphasis is in terms of using local government as a strategic instrument for fostering, promoting and implementing rural development.

In Nigeria, local government as the tie of government nearest to the grassroots, has since the colonial era been recognized as an institution capable of transforming the live of the rural inhabitants either to create new local governments or to revamp the existing ones in the country with the objectives of utilizing them as fulcrums of rural development.

The continuous emphasis on rural development is understandable for, according to guy Henter: it is there that the great mass of the people are,: it is there that most indigenous resources of men and land are underused, there that nutrition can be tackled; there that success would be don most to slow the migration to major cities … finally, it is there that some redress of gross inequality in income distribution can be started.



With the formal colonization of Nigeria in 1900. the integration of the country into the world capitalist system this completed. The imperatives of economic exploitation and political domination resulted in the establishment of institutions and organizations quite alien and in most cases in opposition to the existing indigenous ones. This becomes necessary in order to forestall any frustration of the colonial policies.

It is within this context that we can understand the origin of the “indirect rule” system which was a system of local government introduced by the British. Essentially, indirect rule was a system of government in which the British government ruled Nigeria through the native institutions and authorities which they recognized and regarded as an integrate part of the machinery of government. The colonialists transformed “constitutional” monarchs of the pre-colonial era into native tyrants known as ‘native authorities’.

Indirect, rule, therefore, minimized the physical visibility of the alien exploit substituting in his tread, the local chief or “ruler” whose hitherto precarious political power within the pre-colonials setting was enhanced in his new role as the bridgehead between the “conquered” natives and the imperial conqueror. Therefore, as a result of mounting opposition to “indirect rule”, the then secretary of state for the colonies, Arthur Creech Jones, in 1947 issued his famous dispatch tot all governors of African tenitories calling for the rapid development of an efficient and democratic system of local government. “I believe”, the secretary of state, declared, “that the key to success lies in the development of an efficient democratic system of government. The 1947 dispatch was itself very revealing. It was an admission of the fact that up to 1947, the British colonial administration had not promoted the cause of her African subjects. It has all along participation in issues that affected their daily activities contrary to what existed in the pre-colonial society. The emphasis was on maintenance of political stability necessary for economic exploitation of the rural areas. Consequently, active participation of the rural population was not vigorously persuade except of course, in so far as it related to extraction of economic resources for the coffers of the imperial authority. The reforms and democratization of the local government system in the various regions of Nigeria in the 1950s were the outcome of the 1947 dispatch. Thus, Eastern Nigeria introduced its local government law in 1950, Western Nigeria in 1952 and Northern Nigeria in 1954. The local government laws in the eastern and western regions were based mainly on the practice in England and Wales.

Unfortunately, in spite of these reforms, local government remained the instrument of crucial and exploitation of the rural inhabitants, in the eastern western regions particularly, electoral processes were introduced to ensure grassroots participation. But the “nowean riche” (new men of authority in the influence) manicured themselves into positions of authority in the new local government system. They were mostly the kind of people that were called “efulefu”, worthless, empty men. No wonder their inability to contribute to the development of their various communities. 



The inability of local government to promote rural development contributed largely to the 1976 nation wide local government reform. This reform is significant in many respects. First it culminated in the uniform single tier structure of local government through the federation. Secondly, it resulted to a clear-cut distinction between local government and traditional authority. The traditional rulers were theoretically insulted from active participation in partisan politics and involvement in local government matters. Thirdly, the functions of the local government were clearly designated.

However, as mentioned earlier in this paper the ineffectiveness of Nigerian local governments stems from the socio-economic structure of the country. Therefore, mere administrative reforms cannot make them effective. This fact, our leaders had and still refuse to accept, consequently, they have always mistaken the symptoms of a ‘disease’ as the cause.

In spite of the far reaching changes brought by the 1976 local government reform, evidence abound that it continued to serve its role as instrument of exploitation. This was a period when the oaring and bickering politicians death a shattering death blocks to local governments by creating mushroom local governments just anyhow without any regard paid to the need for viability, efficiency and effectiveness. Thus the main concern of the second republic politicians was attainment of their selfish interests and not the improvements of the lives of the rural dwellers who were simply manipulated and exploited by the politicians. The political parties that formal the government of the day in the states regarded local governments “as part of their spoils of office”. Is it any wonder, therefore that the local councils were composed of nominees who were almost exclusively politicians favorites?

The level of corruption among the cancellers and chairmen of the local governments was very alarming. “A tremendous amount of money went into project that involved award of contracts. These include construction of official quarters, traditional council chambers rest houses, lorry parts and purchases of vehicles for traditional rulers. Thus, viable social development programmes that could have benefited the lower class individuals and raise their economic and social standards were hardly implemented. What emerged from the above discussion is that local governments in Nigeria were in parlous and perilous state of existence and were hardly in need of a resource operation when the military struck in December 1983, and the second republic collapsed.




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Local Government System In Nigeria As An Instrument For Rural Development 2