Local Government Administration and the Challenges of Rural Development in Nigeria


Rural development of the grassroots has been the concern of every responsible and responsive political system. This is because development and participation have continued to elude people of the grassroots. Development remains insignificant if it does not positively affect the lives of those in the periphery of decision making arrangement. The Nigerian state therefore created local government as the third tier of government whose objective is to ensure effective, measurable and efficient service delivery to the people. Local government is faced with various difficulties. The major concern of this paper is to dwell on these difficulties and illuminates the factors that are responsible for them. In achieving this, the paper relies on descriptive approach and unstructured interview. It concludes that problems of local government are multifarious in nature and the solutions for them should be adequate and practical in order to evolve viable and development-oriented third tier of government.

Key words: grassroots, political system, autonomy, third tier, participation, development, uniformity, unity, culture, diversity, interference, national integration, performance, consciousness, concept, commitment, democracy, inefficiency, corruption, decentralisation.


The expediency for the creation of local government anywhere in the world stems from the need to facilitate development at the grassroots. The importance of local government is a function of its ability to generate sense of belongingness, safety and satisfaction among its populace. All forms of government, regimes or political systems have so far ensured the attainment of this goal. Such strategy for ensuring national administrative development and political efficacy is found in the concept and practice of local government. Whatever is the mode of government, local government has been essentially regarded as the path to, and guarantor of, national integration, administration and development.

In Nigeria’s socio-political context, with multiplicity of culture, diversity of languages and differentiated needs and means, the importance of such an organisation in fostering the needed national consciousness, unity and relative uniformity as well as preservation of peculiar diversities cannot be over-emphasised. Central to the creation of local government, however, is its ability to facilitate an avenue through which government and the people intermix, relate and more quickly than any other means resolve or dissolve issues that may have heated the system. Local government has been perceived as a panacea for the diverse problems of the diverse people with diverse culture.

As important as this tier of government has been, there seems to be some impediments that have been infringing on its performance and functions in recent times. These impediments range from political but undue interference of the higher levels of government i. e. federal and state governments, bribery and corruption to embezzlement and gross inadequacy of well-trained and qualified personnel to mention a few.

The Concept of Local Government

The concept of local government involves a philosophical commitment to democratic participation in the governing process at the grassroots level. This implies legal and administrative decentralisation of authority, power and personnel by a higher level of government to a community with a will of its own, performing specific functions as within the wider national framework. A local government is a government at the grassroots level of administration “meant for meeting peculiar grassroots need of the people (Agagu, 1997:18). It is defined as “government by the popularly elected bodies charged with administrative and executive duties in matters concerning the inhabitants of a particular district or place (Appadorai, 1975:287).

Looking at the existence, performance and relevance of local government, Laski (1982:411) opines that:

we cannot realise the full benefit of democratic government

unless we begin by the admission that all problems are not

central problems, and that the result of problems not central

in their incidence requires decision at the place, and by the

person, where and whom the incidence is most deeply felt

Local government can also be defined as that tier of government closest to the people, “which is vested with certain powers to exercise control over the affairs of people in its domain” (Lawal,2000:60). A local government is expected to play the role of promoting the democratic ideals of a society and co-ordinating development programme at the local level. It is also expected to serve as the basis of socio-economic development in the locality.

Observations have shown that local government in Nigeria has not performed to expectation. Keen observers have since adduced various propositions for explaining the reasons why the system has recorded abysmal level of inefficiency and ineffectiveness vis-à-vis justification for its establishment. But before reading into the problems of local government, we shall first attempt to illuminate the historical background of local government in order to have adequate grasp of its future and achieve deeper understanding of salient issues raised in this paper.

Brief Historical Background of Local government System in Nigeria

Regardless of nomenclature, local government is a creation of British colonial rule in Nigeria. It has overtime experienced change in name, structure and composition. Between 1930s and 1940s, for instance, local government was known as chief-in-council and chief-and-council, where traditional rulers were given pride of place in the scheme of things. In the 1950s, election was introduced according to the British model in the western and eastern parts of the country with some measure of autonomy in personnel, financial and general administration (Nwabueze, 1982:20-21). It was on this premise that the rising tide of progress, growth and development experienced in the local governments in these areas was based. The pace of this development was more noticeable in the south than in the north.

During this period, heterogeneity was the hallmark of local government as there was no uniformity in the system and the level of development was also remarkably different. The introduction of 1976 reforms by military administration of General Obasanjo brought about uniformity in the administrative structure of the system. The reforms introduced a multi-purpose single-tier local government system (Ajayi, 2000:70)

The reforms also introduced population criterion under which a local government could be created. Consequently, a population of within 150,000 to 800,000 was considered feasible for a local government. This was done to avoid the creation of non-viable local council and for easy accessibility. There was provision for elective positions having the chairmen as executive head of local government with supervisory councillors constituting the cabinet. This was complemented by the bureaucrats and professionals, such as Doctors, Engineers, etc. , who were charged with the responsibility of implementing policies (1976 Guidelines).

In 1991, a major landmark reform was introduced as the system had legislative arm. In addition, the Babangida administration increased the number of local government from 301 in 1976 to 453 in 1989 and 589 in 1991. the Abacha regime also increased the number to 774 local councils that we have today and the administrative structure also underwent some changes (Ajayi, 2000:71).

In summary, it can be said that no public institution in Nigeria has been so subjected to frequent reforms than local government. Nearly every successive administration introduces one administrative change or the other. Apart from the celebrated 1976 reforms, state government officials have also introduced various manipulations. For instance, in Ekiti state, the tenure of elected local government officials was reduced to two years. While some retained it to reflect three years. In the southwest, except for Lagos, a caretaker committee was introduced in 2003 immediately after the general elections. In similar vein, in June 2007, some state governments dissolved their local councils and appointed caretaker committee to steer the affairs of the council prior the conduct of elections.

It is germane to note here that these changes were not without resultant effects. Some of these changes met with social strife. For instance in 1997, the relocation of some local government headquarters was marked with large scale destruction of lives and property in Ondo, Osun, Delta, Rivers and Cross-River States (Omotosho, 1998:94-105). Specifically in Ondo State, the relocation of the then newly created Akoko South East local government headquarters from Oba Akoko to Isua Akoko was met with destruction of lives and property. In 1998, Abubakar administration introduced sole administrator system at the grassroots level before elections were conducted in December 1998 for the posts of chairmen and councillors. Also the dissolution of local councils in Ekiti State by the new administration of Governor Segun Oni in June 2007 generated furore between the local council’s chairmen and the governor.

In essence, it has become almost fashionable in Nigeria for incumbent administration to introduce one change or the other in the institution. So far, local government system in Nigeria has not been stable and this leaves its future to remain bleak, uncertain and insecure.

Problems of Local Governments in Nigeria

Despite the justification for the establishment of local government and its inevitable importance to the people at the grassroots level, this tier of government seems not to have justified the reasons for which it was established. The questions that summarily come to one’s mind are: why has local government not lived up to its expectations? What are the causes of these seemingly conspicuous weaknesses? What are the challenges of the local government? And how can these weaknesses be corrected and the challenges met?

The problems of local government are multifarious in nature and it is the concern of this paper to explain them in details. These problems include:


Despite the increase in the total amount of funds available to local government in Nigeria since early 1990s, its economic and financial profile is still very poor, relative to the development programme it is expected to carry out. This situation is not unconnected to the mismanagement and embezzlement of these funds by the local councils.

Inadequacy of Skilled Workers

Save for some few local councils in Lagos states and, perhaps, some southern states, local government generally has experienced and is still experiencing dearth of skilled, technical and professional staff like qualified engineers (of all types), medical doctors, accountants, statisticians, economists, lawyers, town planners, to mention a few. The facilitating factors for this include:

? Low image of local government in the mind of professionals who feel and think that there is no job satisfaction sufficient to keep them at that low level of public service.

? Hopeless nature of the job attributable to, and arising from, low or no incentives for junior workers, no chances for creativity and innovation as well as perpetual delay in payment of salary.

? Recently and more importantly, threat and fear of retrenchment of junior workers has derailed their psychological balance and affected their efficiency and output. This is fashionable in Ondo and Ekiti states where series of staff audit were being carried out just for the purpose of downsizing to reduce wage bill as a result of the demand for and payment of fifteen percent increase in salary.

? Manner of recruitment is questionable as it is based on subjectivity and consideration of sentiment. Employment was based on favouritism, nepotism, ethnic and political consideration and other primordial factors that replaced and displaced competence, qualification, experience and performance.

Problems of Participation and Involvement

For the past decades, more euphemistic phrases have since been employed to justify people’s participation at the grassroots. They include: “Development from Below”, “Bottom-up Approach to Development”, “Popular Participation”, Bringing Government Closer to the People” and other catchphrase to argue for people’s involvement the affairs that directly affect them (Lawal, 2000:66). From all indications and convictions, research and physical observations have shown that there has been more hue and cry than action. Local government prepares estimates for its revenue and expenditure without proper recourse to, and due consultation with, the people for whom the exercise is being carried out to know their needs, their problems and potentials. A number of factors are responsible for non-involvement of people in their own affairs. These include:

? Loss of interests in the project that will not benefit the chairmen and their cohorts.

? The age-long belief by the officials that people are ignorant, illiterate and unenlightened.

? Lack of political will by the leadership to run an open administration due again to selfish interest.

? Poverty of socio-political philosophy for change.

Misplaced Priority

Hard-earned and limited resources accrued to and raised by local government are always mismanaged. Priorities are misplaced; projects are done not according to or as demanded by the people but regrettably in tune with the selfish end and aggrandisement of the political leadership in collaboration with the senior bureaucrats at the local government level of administration.

Coupled with this is the greatest bane of development in the Nigerian public service in general and local government in particular which corruption is. Reports of probe panels at the three tiers of government have revealed the culpability of civil servants. Corruption in low and high places, corruption has been rampant among the senior civil bureaucrats to whom the public funds meant for developmental purposes are entrusted.

Generally, wide-scale embezzlement by officials of the grassroots has made the needed development of the grassroots a tall dream and has rendered them financially incapable to discharge their constitutionally assigned responsibilities.

General Indiscipline

Indiscipline is rampantly perceived and well pronounced among the workers in third tier of government. The senior officers who travel to their families away from their offices on Friday return very late the following Monday or may decide to stay back till Tuesday; and the junior members of staff who directly or indirectly observe this more often than not are in the habit of playing truant with their jobs. Little or no commitment to duty has become a rule rather than an exception.

Offices have been turned to marketplaces where officers hawk their goods freely. The rules that guide moral conduct and professional ethics seem to have, at worse, become cobweb that is so weak to tame the monstrous activities of the workers.

Indiscriminate lustful desires are noticeable among the workers. The official’s relationship between super ordinates and subordinates has been stained. Strict instructions handed down from top echelon to the bottom are either not followed or treated with levity as a result of the immoral relationship between the boss and subordinates. Official duties are seen as an extension of private leisure. Laissez-faire attitude to work has arrested the efficiency of local government and has drastically affected its performance.

Undue Interference

The degree of external influence and intrusion in local government affairs by the higher levels of government is worrisome and needs re-evaluation. Situation where the state governor unconstitutionally dissolves the entire elected council’s officers without proper investigations on spurious allegations is not good for the future of local government administration in the country. Such external interference indeed subverts democratic process and undermines constitutional authority at the grassroots level.

The crux of the matter is the ‘almighty’ power and misuse of it enjoyed by the state governments over local governments. Practically, and in true sense, local government in Nigeria lacks autonomous financial power. Local government is now considered as an extension of state’s ministry. The inherent nature of this problem has caused subservience, a situation where local government waits for the next directives from state government before the former could think of, let alone embarking on developmental projects. This has made local government an object of control and directives.

The major challenge that local government faces is the political control the respective state governor has on the local government chairmen. This is as a result of the fact that state governor sponsors election of most, if not all, of the chairmen. They are handpicked by the state governor rather than being elected. It is a clear case of who pays the piper dictates the tune. This again creates a problem of diversion of local government funds for personal use of state governor.

In Ondo state, for instance, there is this unholy alliance between state government and local councils in the state, where the state government constitutes Joint Action Committee, tagged ‘JAC’. Federal allocations to local government are first deposited into a particular ad hoc account before calling for the committee meeting. This in a way paves the way for the state government to plan for the local government and release the money in instalments. The motive behind this is to divert the money to another thing entirely which does not have impact on the lives of the rural dwellers but that will be beneficial to the state governor. Another thing is the interest that the money will generate in the bank. The implication of this is that few of the local government chairmen who have genuine intentions and are ready to perform are being discouraged. This again assigns more power and control to the state governor. The overall effect of this is the negative impact it has on the people of the grassroots as they are getting more and more alienated from developments. Also illustrative and instructive is the arrest and prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of the former Enugu State Governor, Chimaroke Nnamani, on the allegation of diverting local governments’ funds in the state. This shows the level of influence and control that state governors have over local governments in their respective states.

This undue interference has incapacitated local government from effective functioning on the one hand, and alienated grassroots people from enjoying social services delivery expected of local government on the other.


This paper examines the historical background of local government as well as the challenges it faces. While evaluating the problems of local councils in Nigeria, emphasis was placed on general indiscipline among the workers and high level of corruption in this level of government among other things.

The paper argues however that the creation of local government in most cases was not based on viability and developmental purposes as required by the constitution but on administrative conveniences, connections and contracts to score cheap political goals and to achieve legitimacy and enhance regime sustenance especially by the military rulers since most, if not all, of these creations were done by the military.

The resultant effect of this is that some of the local governments end up in financial crisis and are unable to tackle the challenges of services delivery and mobilisation of both human and material resources required for the functioning and meaningful development of the local government areas. In some parts of the country, local governments are considered as avenues for sharing their proportion of ‘national cake’. It is a ‘sharing point’ for some, while for others, it is a private property. As a consequence therefore, underdevelopments continue to wage on as people are either ignorant of or indifferent to the reasons for which local governments are created.

Also worrisome is the undue interference from other two levels of government. This essentially makes this level of government to have crisis of recognition and autonomy problems. The question here is: is local government the truly third tier of government or a ministry under its respective state government?

While we know that the basic rationale behind the creation of local government is to meet the peculiar needs of the people at the grassroots, it is however pathetic to note that local government has demonstrated incompetence in this regard. It is therefore desirable to suggest ways through which local government could come out from this inertia and stagnation.


The suggestions of this paper are based purely on experience and direct observations and are therefore practical and problem-solving. These include:

Economic Base

The major purpose of creating local government is to bring developments to the grassroots. In order to perform this adequately, there is need for local councils to have strong economic base. In this connection, it is suggested that statutory allocations to local councils be reviewed upward.

In addition to that, councils’ shares of the federation account to be released to them directly to avoid lateness in the payment of salaries and arbitrary deductions by state government. Local government should have representation in the Revenue Allocation and Fiscal Commission, which determines and shares the federated revenue to the beneficiaries. It is not enough to have an upward review of councils’ allocations, but also advisable for local councils to look inwards for improved Internally Generated Revenue (IGR). This will make them financially self-reliant. Besides, some local councils should look for ways of attracting industries to their areas as this will propel economic development and increase their revenue base.

The section 7 of the 1999 constitution that places local government under state government has made the former to be a mere appendage to the latter. For instance, the Ondo State House of Assembly recently passed a bill which seeks to amend the laws establishing local councils in the state. The implication of this is that, intermittent reforms and undue interference do not make local councils stable tier of government. The fear of uncertainty could cause apathy and inconsistence in policy and ideologies. It is however appropriate to suggest that the National Assembly should be the creating authority of local government as this will rightly place local government as the third tier of government with full direction and control over their respective localities.

Better Welfare Package for Staff

Workers in any organisation are the ones that make things happen and as such they occupy important position in production process. This is because they put life into raw materials and change its form to satisfy human wants. In consideration of this therefore, workers in local councils should be adequately motivated in order to prepare them for the task of service delivery.

Finally, the electorate should be educated and enlightened of the danger inherent in money politics, they should endeavour to vote for people of proven integrity rather than compromising their future and that of generation yet unborn on the altar of election.

It is the belief of this paper that strict observance to these suggestions can lift local councils from their relegated position of tools of manipulation to the aspired status of instrument of change and development at the grassroots level.


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I hold B. Sc in political Science and M. Sc in Public Administration from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.