Being a lecture titled ‘Building Resilience at the Grassroots in Nigeria: Local Government Administration in Perspective’ delivered by His Excellency Seyi Makinde, the Executive Governor of Oyo State, at the National Defence College Course 31 on Friday, October 28, 2022.
I must say that the topic we have before us today is an interesting one. It goes right to the heart of one of the constitutional issues which I feel is pivotal to our growth as a nation.
But before I go into the lecture proper, let us take a few minutes to look at the keywords. It is important to define these terminologies so that we can all be on the same page.
So, I will be defining three key words:
- Grassroots and
- Local Government Administration.
We will start with the first keyword, resilience.
What is resilience?
Well, I could go ahead and give you a dictionary definition and say resilience is the capacity to recover quickly, to spring back into shape. But that would be an abstract definition. So, let me give a more practical definition by using an example of two objects that you must have used.
The first one:
I am sure we have all seen one of these before. It is a spring. I remember the ball point pen we used in school in those days used to have springs in them. When you compress the spring, the size reduces and then you release it, it bounces back to its original shape. It is this ability of the spring that makes engineers apply larger springs in building things like bridges. The resilience of the spring is its ability to absorb or avoid damage without suffering complete failure.
Now, let us look at this other object.
Maybe you also played with this stick as a child. One thing that children like doing is to bend the stick to see how far it can go before it breaks. How far do you think it can go? Well, if you go anything below 150 degrees, the likelihood of this stick breaking is almost 100%. You definitely cannot describe the lollipop stick as being as resilient as a spring.
So, in this lecture, when we talk about resilience or building resilience, we are talking about the ability of an object to bounce back and not fail despite the pressure that has been put on it.
Before we leave the spring and the lollipop stick – we will be coming back to the illustration a little later – a good question to ask is why the spring is more resilient than the lollipop stick. You must already be thinking of the material from which the two objects are made as a reason.
Well, I agree with you. But let us come back to that a little later.
We will now move to the next keyword, grassroots.
You may be familiar with the saying that, “When two elephants fight, the grass suffers.” As we know, grass grows on the ground. So, when the word “grassroots” is used, we naturally think of people at the lowest level of society. And that is actually the origin of the word.
The first time the word grassroots was used was by an American politician in the early 1900s. He said, “grass root representation” is “for keeping close to the people…and for fair treatment.”
So, when we talk about grassroots in Nigeria, it has this same meaning. Speaking of a bottom-up approach to governance, where everyone is represented.
And now let us define our last keyword which is the Local Government Administration.
This one is easy to define. We are talking about the third tier of government in the Federal System of Government practiced in Nigeria. At the moment, there are 774 local government areas (LGAs) in our country. Also, there have been several issues connected with how they are run and some of those issues will be discussed during this lecture.
Now that we have the definition of terms, we will be expanding the lecture topic. Remember we are talking about “Building Resilience at the Grassroots in Nigeria: Local Government Administration in Perspective”. And I will interpret it to mean in one sentence, what do we do to ensure that the purpose for creating representation at the lowest political base does not fail?
How do we make sure that the structures at the local level do not collapse when confronted with the realities of a country like Nigeria?
Realities such as economic downturn, rising inflation, insecurity, and corruption, to mention just four.
To address this topic, we will be answering four questions
- What is the history of LGAs in Nigeria?
- How are the LGAs in Nigeria structured?
- Are these structures built to succeed?
- What can be done to build a more resilient LGA structure?
Let us take a brief look at the origin of the local government structure in Nigeria.
The history of local governments in Nigeria can be traced back to 1916, when the British introduced indirect rule at the local level. They tried to create a unified system of governance which could be applied across the board.
Of course, we all know how that worked out. While this system succeeded in some sections of the country, it was not as successful in others. Despite this, local administration was forced on the people.
Interestingly, what the British were unable to do was finally achieved under the 1976 reforms facilitated by the Military. These reforms eventually became law under the 1979 Constitution. There was a unification of local government administration across the country. So, each LGA operated by the same structures. Up until the very recent Local Government Autonomy Law, various reforms have been carried out to make local governments more resilient.
You may wonder why what the British could not do was accomplished under a Nigerian administration.
The British introduction of this level of government, as mentioned earlier, was for administrative convenience. They wanted a structure that would link governance from top to bottom and that could guarantee that they would have representatives on the ground that would watch over the natives. For them, it was about ensuring that everyone paid taxes and levies. At the same time, they were able to use the revenue to carry out development as they deemed fit. Of course, there was no need for autonomy in this model.
The local government reforms by the military also served a similar purpose. Remember that the military administered a unitary system of government. So, they needed to control systems from top to bottom. But more importantly, the LGA was a way of creating representation. In a multi-ethnic society like ours, the reform was about making everyone feel represented and have a sense of belonging.
So, what is our takeaway from this trip down history lane?
Both the British and the Military had good intentions for wanting some form of local administration. While it was almost impossible for the British to get actual local representation at the grassroots, under the military reforms, this was possible.
Now let us take a quick look at how the Local Government Administration is structured.
The structure of the local government is similar to the state. So, the three arms of government are also represented. The executive arm is the elected Chairman and the legislative arm are the Ward Councilors. Each LGA has between 10 and 20 wards depending on how large they are.
The LGAs are also supposed to be administered autonomously. Just recently, you may have read in the news of the LGA Financial Autonomy Bill which states are supposed to domesticate and adopt before it becomes law.
Again, I would say these are great ideas on paper. The reality of what this financial autonomy will mean for some states is what we should be asking questions about. We will also discuss this before the end of this lecture.
So far, we have been able to look at the evolution of LGAs and we can clearly identify why a lot of people believe they are an important level of government. The British thought so, the Military agreed and even went ahead to make their creation part of the constitution. And since the return to civilian rule in 1999, the politicians have also seen some advantages to local governments and so they have continued to amend and reform laws particularly stressing on the autonomy of LGAs.
Now, let us answer another important question; looking at the current structure of LGAs, are they built to succeed? Or as the lecture topic states, are they built to be resilient?
Remember the illustration of the spring and the lollipop stick?
If you put pressure on the ‘coils’ of LGAs and suddenly release them, will they spring back to their former shape or will they break under the pressure? Remember the material is a strong factor in this determination.
To answer this question, let us look at the economic history of LGAs.
A Central Bank of Nigeria report which presented the finances of LGAs from 1993 to 2021, showed that this level of government generated N570.42 billion in 28 years. This means that on the average, each of the 774 LGAs generated just a little above N2 million a month.
The question you will then ask is, how are LGAs being run? For example, in Oyo State, the wage bill of our 33 LGAs is about N5 billion/month. Where do they get money for their expenditure and for funding projects if they have no Internally Generated Revenue (IGR)?
Well, they rely heavily on FAAC from the Federal Government and stipends from the state. As you can see, in the same timeframe, N24.13 trillion came from States and the Federal Government.
Perhaps, it is for this reason that the LGAs are fighting for financial autonomy. But the question is, will this create a structure that will make the LGAs resilient?
Well, let us use Oyo State as an example:
When the LGAs get their funding from the Federal Allocation, it goes into the JAAC. That is the joint account operated by the State and LGAs.
Usually, salaries of primary school teachers are deducted from the JAAC. Pensions and gratuities of primary school teachers and local government workers are also deducted.
But additionally, in Oyo State, we have directed that the salaries of all local government workers be deducted from the JAAC.
As mentioned earlier, the wage bill for the 33 LGAs in Oyo State is about N5 billion each month.
Note that the allocations to LGAs are shared using the same formular as state allocations. What this has created in the past is a situation whereby some local government councils can handle their own wage bills while others struggle. We have had situations where an LGA is getting an allocation of N8-10 million monthly whereas they have a wage bill of about N30 million monthly.
Now, imagine a situation where the Oyo State Government did not decide that the wage bill of local government workers be deducted from source, you will have a situation where the Chairman is most likely not going to be paying salaries because they cannot afford to do so.
So, I would say that the fight is misdirected: the real issues are with structural autonomy which should also derive from state autonomy.
This brings us to the fourth, and should I say most important point of this lecture.
You know what they say about saving the best for last.
The question we are answering is, how can we build resilience at the grassroots level from the LGA perspective.
Earlier, I had established two facts:
- Local Government Councils are an important administrative element of governance. This is why the British set them up and maintained them even when the locals kicked against it. With the LGA system, you can easily reach the grassroots not only with levies and taxes but more importantly with developmental projects to justify the taxes.
- Local Government Councils are important for representation. The people at this level of governance can see and feel the presence of government in their midst represented by people that they know. Sometimes, the state capital is hundreds of kilometres away from some local government areas. For example, in Oyo State, Kisi in Irepo Local Government Area is about 5 hours away from Ibadan, so before any type of development will come from the state government to that area, it could take time. The people will even feel like they are not part of the state.
We should not forget that a major issue with the survival of LGAs is the paucity of funds.
I will take us back to the illustration of the spring and the lollipop stick.
And so, what happens when LGAs are confronted with the pressures of governance?
In most cases, they snap like the lollipop stick.
You discover that even with the allocation from the Federal Government and the State, LGAs are not economically viable. They are not resilient.
So, how can we build resilience for LGAs?
A good place to start is to ask why LGAs are unable to grow their own Internally Generated Revenue. The reasons are similar to why some states are not viable. They know that whether they work to generate revenue or not, money will come from the centre.
As we all know, both States and LGAs go to the centre for allocations because of how the country is structured. Just as States are not allowed to benefit from mining of most resources within the State, the LGAs too can only make money from taxes and levies. Of course, taxes and levies are dependent on the volume of economic activities in an area. So, where there are no economic activities, how much can you really derive from this source?
And so, we quickly realise that the real source of grassroots resilience is restructuring. Think about the difference between the material from which the spring and the lollipop stick are made. Restructuring to me means that at the federal level we need to go back to the drawing board and ask ourselves if we actually need 36 States, more than 36 States or fewer than 36 States. The number of States in the country should not just be a product of military decree whereby they took a knife to the map and decided to cut as it suited them. It should be an agreement by the people.
In the same vein, LGAs should be a creation of individual States and not randomly created by military fiat. States should be able to decide whether they want a certain number of LGAs or if they want none at all. This should be the will of the people. In this way, decisions like the one we took in Oyo State in directing that the salaries of all LGA staff should be withdrawn from the JAAC can be taken without some persons seeing it as an opportunity to play politics with real governance issues.
As mentioned earlier, grassroots representation is a bottom to top approach to governance. It is making people feel a sense of belonging. Because of the over reliance on the centre, even people at the local level have no interest in local politics. If I ask the question in this room – who ran for local government elections in your wards? You may not be able to give an answer. When the people have no sense of belonging and ownership of a system, how can that system develop any form of resilience?
Conclusively, we have identified why the present structure of local government is not resilient. We have highlighted a combination of factors which includes the fact that Local Government Areas as presently structured are a product of military dictates. Therefore, the real reform that will create resilience in the grassroots are not simply about financial autonomy but restructuring of how LGAs can be created and dissolved.
I still maintain that the States are in the best position to make the decisions as to what Local Government Areas should be created and also decide whether they can operate autonomously or whether they need to just be an administrative appendage of the State Government.
As I said at the beginning of this lecture, this topic speaks to a timely constitutional issue that we should bear in mind as we continue to call for constitutional reforms in the future.
Let me thank you once again for inviting me and for listening to my lecture.
God bless you.
October 28, 2022