The local government system was established among other things, to fast track the pace of development at the grassroots, build and train leadership capacities in the rural areas, bring government nearer to the people of the rural areas.
Prior to the 1976 local government reform, local government affairs in Nigeria had been the concern of individual communities and states, but the recommendations of the reforms reversed the trend and created a uniform local government system in Nigeria, a development that involved more federal concern than states.
The local government was, by this development, regarded as a vehicle for even development in Nigeria. The reform was unique in many ways.
For one, it formally recognized local government as a distinct level of government with defined boundaries, clearly stated functions and provisions for ensuring adequate human and financial resources, and entrusted them with political responsibilities, where it was most crucial and beneficial.
Although the 1976 reforms was not perfect, it was however better in terms of operations, structure and functions than that of the 1950s, which did not create uniformity in the structure and system.
Subsequent reforms by successive governments in Nigeria retained its uniform structure and from 1999 to the present, Nigeria local governments, have followed the American presidential system of government.
In recent times, the philosophy and objectives of the local government system seem to have shifted from the platform and vehicle for the even development of the grassroots, to a treasure island, where the roughest sailors feast and loot the common wealth as their bags can carry.
This, perhaps explains why elections into local government councils have become an arena for the rich; playground for the strong and a graveyard for the weak.
Instead of being a platform to coordinate development at the grassroots, the councils have recently become the platform to compensate political supporters and a big farm to cultivate and pluck the resources for the next round of elections. One major rationale for the establishment of the system was to develop leadership capacities and domesticate practical democracy at the grassroots. But today, the people at the grassroots, have little or no say in the choice and selection of the leadership of our local governments. One, or a few persons impose who they want on the people and influence their opinion to appear like a public opinion.
The local government chairmen and councillors were supposed to live with the people and be accountable to them, but today, the reverse is the case, as they live in the cities remain perpetually accountable to the godfathers. Today, governors and even the commissioners' wives decide what project should be cited at any local government and the cost implications. Today any local government that did not show aggressive support for the election of the governor does not deserve, even their constitutional privileges as citizenship of the state. Today, local government chairmen are arm twisted to serve the state governors more than the people they claim to lead.
It is no more news that local government chairmen are compelled to remit a quantum of their monthly allocation, the money that was meant for development, as their compulsory contributions to fund the election of the governor and other political merchants, or be made to dance to the freezing rhythms of martial songs.
We do not think this is the best way to run local councils, particularly in the south-south. A situation where a governor will refuse to conduct elections into the local governments, only to sit on and decide how allocations to the councils are spent cannot be allowed to continue, if truly we claim to be running a democratic system of government that practices true three tier system of government.
There are still many local governments that are operating the caretaker systems. This is wrong and against the spirit of the 1999 constitution, as amended. We challenge governors of those states to immediately begin the processes for the conduct of local government elections. Rivers State, just as Akwa Ibom State, did that recently. Bayelsa State is in the process of doing same. We encourage the other states to follow.
Our local government councils should cease to exist as an extension of the state governor's office. Enough of this abuse of the constitution of our land.